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!”

Why you should not confuse ‘personalisation’ with ‘personal’

There is value in personalisation

By personalising content on websites you provide me with content that is likely to be relevent to me.  And that saves me time.  It tends to make me think that you have your act together.  That you are competent and possibly sophisticated in your use of data and technology.  Because of your personalisation, you make it that much more likely that I will purchase from you.

When you send me direct mail then it may or may not be personalised.  Simply putting my name on it does not constitute personalisation.  Doing that and taking my situation and/or my past behaviour into account when you talk to me in your direct mail does constitute personalisation.  And by personalising your direct mail to me it is that much more likely that I am going to read it.  Whether I act on it or not depends largely on your timing – did your personalised direct mail catch me when I have the need for what you are offering?

Why personalisation is not enough

The big issues with personalisation as it is practiced is that it addresses the rational / functional needs.  I’d argue that the kind of personalisation that I have described is a hygiene factor.  The thing about hygiene factors is that if they are present they do not build positive emotion, engagement or loyalty.  When hygiene factors are not present then they do build dissatisfaction.

Why the personal touch matters

Customers are people – human beings.  For most human beings there is nothing more nourishing than the personal touch.  The personal touch is always a human to human encounter.  It is one human being taking the time to acknowledge, validate and uplift another human being emotionally.  I can talk about this in many ways and sometimes an example is much more direct and useful.  Please take a  look at the image below.

I have an inquisitive mind and I read widely.  As a result I tend to buy quite a few books from Amazon and it’s partners.  Most of the time the books arrive and there is absolutely no emotional impact.  This time I am really touched.  Why?  Simply because of one personal sentence written by a fellow human being who works at RocketSurgery:

“Thanks for your order, hope you enjoy this excellent book and find it useful.  Best wishes. RocketSurgery Crew”

Now the interesting thing is that this sentence would not have had the same impact if it had been typed up.  It occurs as personal because it is handwritten and it lands as authentic – as heartfelt.

The net impact of this personal touch is that RocketSurgery is imprinted on my mind (and heart) and next time I am choosing between ANother or RocketSurgery, I know who will get my business.

Research validates the impact of the personal touch

I am not alone in being moved (influenced) by the personal touch.  The impact of the personal is described in the following book: “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion”

You can download an extract of the book  and relevant secret (secret 10) by clicking on the following: Yes_Book_Extract

So what is the lesson we can take away from this?

Personalisation is necessary because it delivers on the functional (hygiene) need.  Yet it is not enough to build an emotional connection with your customers and grow loyalty.  To do that you have to be personal: leaving your customer feeling acknowledged and valued at an emotional level.

Self service is not an easy fix or why I love Kylie

Yesterday I read an interesting article on self service (well worth reading) and this got me thinking about my recent experience with the Home Delivery Network, a parcel delivery firm that operates in the UK.

One day I was handed this card by wife.  She told me that it looked like a parcel had come for me and as no-one had been home the driver had not been able to deliver the parcel.  The first thing I noticed was that the card had not been completed and so I was not able to tell:

  • who the parcel was for as there are five of us living at this address;
  • when the delivery firm had attempted to deliver it and failed;
  • what had actually happened to the parcel –  taken back to the depot or left with a neighbour etc.

What I did notice was 8 digit parcel ID and the instruction to look at the back of the card for contact details.  Reading the back it became clear that I was being urged to go to the website.  I did exactly that and entered both the parcel ID and my postcode.  The website responded with the following message: “Your parcel(s) cannot be rescheduled for delivery, please contact customer services on 0871 977 0800”.  Just to make sure that I had not made an error, I had a second go at entering the parcel ID and postcode and found that I got the same message.

So I called the number and found that straight away (no waiting) the IVR kicked in and once I had entered the parcel ID it spelt out when I could get the parcel delivered.   As it was a Tuesday, I requested delivery on the Thursday and left my home number so that delivery firm could ring me back if there was an issue.    At this point I was happy with the experience as it had been easy to schedule a delivery.

Thursday arrived and departed: we did not get the parcel delivered and we did not get a phone call to let us know that there was an issue.  So I contacted customer services (the IVR) and proceeded to listen to the option and select another date for delivery.  That date came and went: no delivery, no phone call.  Then I made a third attempt and met the same fate.

At this point I became rather frustrated even angry.  Why?  Because I wanted to get my hands on the parcel and I could not.  Every time I dialled the customer services number I found myself faced with the IVR which spelled out the dates when I could reschedule delivery.  I was wondering: how do I get through to a human being who can help me with my problem?

Then I made another attempt to contact customer services.  This time I listened to the IVR and did not opt for any of the delivery dates and found that right at the end I was given an option to speak to a human being.  I selected that option and found myself talking to Kylie.   She greeted me warmly, took my details, looked at her system and was able to tell me that the parcel was addressed to (my wife) and sent by Republic (the clothes retailer).

Kylie also told me that the delivery drivers handheld had failed and so he had not been able to upload the information into the system.  As a result I had not been able to find and reschedule the delivery of the parcel.  Then she went on to tell me that the notes on her system were telling her that the parcel had actually been delivered the very first time.  And clearly that might explain why I had a lack of success in getting the parcel delivered!

When I told Kylie that my wife and I had not received that parcel (despite what her systems said) Kylie went on to clearly explain what I need to do.   She was great and she completely changed my mood and my attitude: she took away my frustration because she had shed light on my situation and provided me with a clear path that I needed to follow to close the matter out.  Above all she had a friendly, helpful disposition throughout our conversation: she made me feel that she was on my side.

So here is my take on self-service technology:

Your self-service technology is only as good as the people, processes, technology and data that sits behind your self-service technology

If you consider my experience, you find that the driver left the card behind even though he had delivered the parcel according to Kylie.  Second, the delivery driver did not fill in the data fields in the card: either he should have filled in the data fields or the data fields should not be there.  Third, his handheld failed to update the data into the delivery tracking system.  Fourth, the IVR allowed me to schedule a delivery even though there was no parcel to be delivered as it had already been delivered.

Give customers an incentive to use the self-service technology: make their life quicker and easier

At first I jumped at the idea of rescheduling the parcel delivery through a website.  Why?  Because, in the past I have had to make a number of calls and/or wait a long time to have delivery depots answer my calls, find my parcel on their system and then reschedule a delivery.  Even when the website did not work, I was happy to use the IVR to schedule the delivery as it was quick and easy.

Give customers an easy way to bypass the self-service technology

It is necessary to give customers an easy to find option to bypass the self-service technology.  Why? Because the self-service technology can fail and does fail as it did in my case where neither the web nor the IVR was able to tell me that there was no parcel left to deliver or to deliver that parcel.  In my case, I made four failed contacts with the delivery firm before I was able to figure out how to get through to a helpful human being – a customer services agent called Kylie.

Also because not all customers can or want to use self-service technology.  A case in point is the UK supermarkets replacing cashiers with self-service tills where the customer has to do the work of the cashier.  I am in that segment of people who do not agree to the proposition that I should do the work of the supermarkets especially as the two times I have made the effort the process has not worked and I have had to wait for one of the supermarket staff to come over and sort out the issues.

The more you replace human-human interactions with self-service technology the more important human beings become

Why?  Because human beings are usually the best at dealing with and sorting out the problems that you create for your customers through the introduction of self-service technology.  This is where Kylie was great: she simply defused by frustration and anger by listening to me, getting where I was at and then helping me through to the solution.

Whilst self-service technologies can improve the functional experience it tends to be at the cost of the emotional experience

At a recent conference I heard several female customers mention that whilst they appreciated the ease and convenience of banking electronically with First Direct they did not feel any emotional bond with First Direct because they never spoke with a human being.   This points to a truth: whilst technology can make life easier it rarely makes human beings feel acknowledged, appreciated, respected, valued.  This is why I love Kylie:  she made me feel all those things when the self-service technology had left me feeling insignificant, neglected and helpless.

Using transparency to improve the customer experience

Wikileaks has been in the news and the whole thing about Wikileaks is that it makes transparent stuff that has been kept hidden from us.  In the UK we had the equivalent of the latest Wikileaks disclosure when MPs expenses were published.  And this has got me thinking on the following question: how can organisations use transparency to help their customers and themselves?

If I look at frustrating contact centre experience yesterday (how not to communicate) I find myself thinking that there is real power in the contact centre and the website working together to provide information that is valuable for customers.

For example, the website could display a real-time feed of customer demand and backlog that is hitting the contact centre.  Furthermore the website could make available all the historic demand falling on the contact centre – day by day, hour by hour.  And the website could provide charting / analysis tools to similar to the ones that financial websites provide if you want to take a look at the share price movements that day, that week, that month, that year etc.

If I had had that information I would have been in a better position to work out when to make contact with the call centre – typically when there is the lowest demand on the call centre and the most available capacity to take calls.

It is a fact that most of us tend to keep the promises that we make in public because we wish to maintain, even enhance, our reputation.  Companies can use transparency in the same way.  What if companies published the following on a daily basis:

  • the volume of contacts coming into the contact centre;
  • an analysis of these contacts by category – customers ringing in seeking information, seeking to transact, ringing up because they have a problem and need help to get it resolved, making a complaint, offering ideas on how the company can improve, complimenting the company;
  • how the company is doing in terms of SLA – from a customer and internal perspectives;
  • an analysis of the complaints by cause e.g. product issues, delivery issues, pricing issues, billing issues, service issues etc;
  • what actions the company has taken or is taking to deal with these issues and the impact these actions have made on customers and their experience –  hard statistics not fluffy talk with no commitments; and
  • customer satisfaction scores – versus last month, last year, against SLAs etc.

By being transparent the company would better engage with customers as it takes courage and commitment to make this kind of information available.  And the entire company from the Chairman down would have their reputations and integrity at stake:  that tends to be one of the most powerful motivators to fix the things that are broken.

Clearly, if customers can see that the company is taking things on that matter to customers and making progress – climbing up the hill – they are likely to support the company, even pitch in and help it to improve.

Any company, any executive,  that is truly committed to competing on the basis of creating superior value for their customers the kind of transparency that I have outlined above should occur as a wonderful opportunity to take the lead, to differentiate itself, to build customer engagement and to attract new customers by word of mouth thus cutting down on acquisition costs.  I wonder which company will go first and embrace this kind of transparency?