Sales: are you cultivating desire when you should be focussing on dealing with skepticism?

The situation:  buyers are interested in what you have to sell and yet you are failing to sell

Situation 1: You have a website and you get your fair share of visitors to that site.  You don’t have to pay much to get them to your website as they come naturally via Google.   Your website is not an entertainment destination and you are not in an ‘entertainment type of business’.  So you can be confident that the bulk of the folks coming to your website are clearly interested in what you are offering.  You have an attractive proposition.  So why is it that only a small percentage of interested buyers actually buy from you through your website?

Situation 2: I was with a client this week and some of the folks there shared their frustration.  What is their frustration?  They they have a set of inter-related jobs that need doing and they need a ‘solution’ that does these jobs.  So they invited in a well know brand whose marketing claims to provide just the solution.  Several meetings (including demos) have taken place and my client has yet to see the ‘solution’.  To date the client has listened to lots of talk and sat through poor demos of products that the sales reps claim can be knitted together to create a solution. My client remains unconvinced and is totally unimpressed – he hasn’t even been told what the total cost of this ‘solution’ is likely to be.

What does Kristin Zhivago (Roadmap to Revenue) have to say on this?

I recently wrote a post praising Kristin Zhivago’s book Roadmap to Revenue.  As I was grappling with the question “Why do websites and sales folks fail to sell despite being in front of interested buyers?” Kristin’s wisdom came into my mind.  And that is the wisdom that I wish to share with you (and I don’t use the word ‘wisdom’ lightly):

“When someone sets out to buy a product or service, they bring two antithetical emotions to the process: desire and skepticism.  Desire compels them forward, skepticism yanks them back.

They desire certain product/service attributes.  They desire a smooth buying process, including friendly, helpful sellers, straight forward and reasonable pricing and an easy way to examine the product and compare the product with other choices.

Their skepticism comes from past experiences with sellers who promised good products and exceptional service but who delivered disappointing results.  The product or service was substandard.  The buying process was uncomfortable, confusing or difficult.  Customer service didn’t help.

Reading copy on websites, you’d think that 1) buyers have no desires and 2) buyers are not skeptical.  For some reason, marketers and website copywriters completely ignore these two realities.  The copy treats the customer as if he had to be encouraged to spend money – when, in fact, most people spend every penny they can. “

Kristin goes and elaborates on this critical theme (p115):

Desire is what starts the person on his buying process.  However, as soon as he begins the buying process, his skepticism kicks in.  The more expensive and complex the purchase, the greater the scrutiny that the customer will apply to the purchase.

The answers the customer seeks must be easily accessible on the website.  And if the buying proceeds to the next stages, the company representative must be available – and able – to answer the customer’s questions.

All companies, small and large, in every industry, don’t get this right.  They behave as if they want your business, but when you come to them, eager to buy, they behave as if your business doesn’t matter to them.  They don’t help you take the next step.”

Desire brings the customer to your website.  Once there, he doesn’t need anyone to stoke the fires of his desire.  He needs the website to allay his skepticism. He needs your website (or a salesperson) to answer his questions so he can decide if the product or service is going to solve the problem.”

Then Kristin lays it out on the table for all to see clearly and get present to what is so:

“A sale is what happens at the very end of the customers’ buying process.  Marketers typically focus all their efforts on the beginning of the buying process.  They think that what happens at the later stages of the buying process and after the sale, is someone else’s responsibility.”

Is this issue only limited to smaller less sophisticated companies?  This is what Kristen has to say on the matter:

Big companies also fail to support the latter stages of the buying process.  One of the largest companies in the world runs clever commercials showing people getting their business problems solved by the large company.  But  when the customer actually decides that the large company might be able to meet is need, he goes to the company website – and his buying process is stopped dead in its tracks.  He can’t figure out where to start.  There is nor relationship between those clever commercials and the products and messages on the company’s website.  There is no easy way to figure out whom to contact.”

What does Kristin advise?

“We have all set out to buy something and have soon become discouraged from doing so.  Our skepticism – and or our inability to find exactly waht we wanted – forced us to abandon the effort…This is one of the reasons to map out the entire buying process for our product or service, from the initial desire all the way through the purchase, and beyond, including customer support. From the customer’s perspective, all phases of the buying process are important.  Customers are just as likely to ditch the process near the end as they were at the beginning…..”

Final thoughts 

Would you buy a car without actually sitting in it, driving it and talking with (even if that is via social media) others who have already bought that car and lived with it or several months?  So why do you expect our customers to do what you would not do yourself?

From where I stand and view the world, based on lived experience, it occurs to me that Kristin speaks ‘truth’ – she has identified what is so.  Too much focus on cultivating desire and little or no consideration on addressing the skepticism by answering the questions honestly/accurately.  Too much focus on messaging, telling and making loft claims and almost none on professionally demonstrating the solution AND showing such a solution in actual operation.

An invitation, an offer – do you want to get a free copy of Roadmap to Revenue?

I think so highly of Kristin’s expertise captured and shared in her book Roadmap to Revenue that I asked her if she would be happy to send me a copy that I can offer you free.  She agreed and I have that book in my possession.  So here is my invitation, my offer:

I have one FREE copy of Roadmap to Revenue and I will post it to the first person who sends me an email asking for it.  I have one request – please only ask it if you are going to read it / make use of it.  If you know that you are not going to do that then leave it for one of our fellow human beings who will use it and get value out of it.  A useful book should not be left sitting on the shelf!”

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

6 thoughts on “Sales: are you cultivating desire when you should be focussing on dealing with skepticism?”

  1. Maz,

    Very interesting point. I buy the concept but now for the practicality, how? How on a website do you overcome scepticism?

    Ease of Use?


    I’d love to know your thoughts



  2. Hello James

    Good question and here is what I’d do:

    – Anticipate the questions and concerns that the buyer is likely to have. How? By asking buyers how they go about buying and what kind of questions and concerns show up for them. Kristin goes into this in detail in her book.

    – Provide specific answers (as opposed to general waffle). For example, “this product is only suitable for the ipad1 and the ipad2 and does not work with the iPad3”.

    – Provide tools and information that helps customers to make sense of your product range and figure out which product is right for them. For example, invite them to answer questions and then show what customers like the bought. Or for each product show who it is aimed at and why? Be specific about the strengths and weaknesses.

    – If you are going to provide case studies then get into the details as opposed to the general meaningless rubbish that goes into case studies. The details are what gives life to claims. I can tell you that I fly aeroplanes (like one of my colleagues did) and no-one will believe you until you come up with details that lend credence to flying aeroplanes (my colleague failed to provide these details so we all made fun of him behind his back, was a long time ago!);

    – Review, honest reviews, good and bad, from customers who have already bought and used the product.

    The key point is that there are no generic answers. The power comes from interviewing customers to understand their buying process – how they buy, the concerns they have, the questions that come up for them, how they decide…

    I hope that answers your question.



  3. Hi Maz,
    Thanks for this post. Made me think about empathy and how it can be one of the hardest skills to learn (if you don’t have it already) but also one of the most rewarding. Do you think it might help if companies were to stop for a second and ask themselves (or someone else with less domain knowledge than they have) the following: If I was a prospective buyer what would I want to know, understand, believe before I felt comfortable in making a purchase?



    1. Hello Adrian

      We do not live in an empathic culture – we live in a competitive culture where the underlying drive is to be the winner, to defeat others. So empathy does not come easily to us because to some extent it has been driven out of us. Furthermore, there is no permission for people to show empathy as it is seen as being ‘soft’ – just think about how managers react to the ‘soft’ stuff – they put it down.

      Yes, it would help if people in business actually encouraged, practiced, valued ‘walking in the shoes of the other’ and acting compassionately. And no, this is not easy because the centre of business as usual is greed, selfishness, and short-termism.



  4. Hello James

    I am not sure that one needs empathy to show up as empathic in the sense of addressing customer needs. Allow me to explain.

    The nature of our default existence is that stuff shows up for us a certain way. For example, a tree seen in the shade shows up differently to the same tree seen in the sunlight. Or the tree in Summer when it is fully laden with leaves shows up differently than in the Winter when it is bare. We have learned the difference because we have been confronted by both situations.

    So the key is for the company to create a platfrom where many different views on customers can be shared. And the Tops have to be open to and listening actively to these views. One of the most important views is that of the customers – not one customers, many customers. What gets in the way is that Tops think that because they have seen the ‘tree in the Winter’ it is that way all year round, year after year.

    Which gets me to the central point: the people in power, the Tops, must have a listening for ‘what is it that I know that is not so’ and ‘what is it that I don’t know that I don’t know’. If this is present then these Tops will find ways to getting access to answers to these questions. If not then any answers that do turn up will be ‘ignored’ or ‘dismissed’.

    Does it help to have insiders try and step into the buyers shoes? Yes if and only if the people seeking to step into those shoes have had intimate connection to customers. Else it is likely to be a futile exercise worse still it could be totally misleading. Most of us mistake ourselves for the world! We think that the way we see the world is the way that the world really is and so everybody sees it that way. That is not true – not wholly true!



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