Secrets of Selling: Think Outside the Box

By Sharon Drew Morgen, author, "Selling with Integrity"

B-to-C marketers are facing an enormous crisis in America today, as consumers are increasingly cynical and jaded to flashy marketing smoke and mirrors.

It's not surprising given the recent business scandals, the economic downturn and shrinking budgets, as well as all of the press attention on executives earning enormous amounts of money while their employees take pay cuts. And to top it off, now we face a possible war in the Middle East.

The fallout of this among consumers impacts different companies in different ways. When it comes to those that employ direct marketing advertising, for example, companies may be seeing reduced response rates and/or decreased customer spending. Or perhaps new customer acquisition is falling as consumers become more reluctant to patronize new, unproven businesses in the wake of the dot-com implosion.

The economic horizon for businesses today is certainly cloudy - but that doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a "silver lining."

The bad news is that there's no easy answer for how to undo the damage that recent events have inflicted on the American consumer's psyche. However, the good news is this: Moving forward, businesses that sell with integrity and foster mutually beneficial relationships with their customers will set themselves apart from the crowd. And the key to success starts with thinking outside the box-.

Some common industry beliefs

Historically, direct marketing campaigns have been based on the following beliefs:

1. If a marketer creates the right campaign, response rates should be at industry standard or above;

2. If the marketer can identify the right demographics, he or she can target the right audience;

3. A specified percentage of people will respond given a specified number of contacts;

4. If the marketer presents the right message to the right audience, the customer will know how - and when - to buy.

However, because people are now withholding their spending and companies are tightening their belts, that industry rhetoric doesn't necessarily hold true. The addition of new media further complicates matters as consumers are constantly bombarded by mixed marketing messages.

What to do?

To begin, maybe it's time to add some new thinking to the presuppositions behind "sales" and "marketing."

Until now, marketers have created campaigns around the positioning and presentation of information. The assumption has been that information is the instrument that will teach people how to make a buying decision.

The reality, however, is that information on its own does not make someone buy. Rather, all it does is form one aspect of the decision process once people have already made a decision that it is time to make a change or to add something to what they are already doing. By the time consumers know they have a need and identify what they need to satisfy it, the only step left is to line up all of the competing solutions and choose the best one. Often, at that point, it becomes a price decision because the information is so similar that there's no way to differentiate.

In reality, there are many steps that need to take place before a buyer makes a purchasing decision. Buyers need to go through a thought process that leads to action on their part. The process includes:

1. Recognition that something isn't right in the buyer's situation - that there is a need that needs to be addressed;

2. Acknowledgement that there is no way to fix the missing piece by using the resources currently available to them - that a specific purchasing action is required.

Herein lies a key deficit in many of today's marketing campaigns. If the marketer is focused exclusively on the information presentation of their offer, he or she has not addressed the real "selling points" of their product or service - first, that the customer does, in fact, need the product or service and, second, that it is of greater benefit to the customer than other alternatives.

The most successful marketers are those that arrange all of their information to address these points in a way that demonstrates that the purchase of their product or service is a responsible buying decision.

Do you want to sell - or lead someone to buy?

Ultimately, the marketer's job is to help buyers buy, whether it's via telemarketing, e-mail, direct mail, print advertising, or the like. So why not use marketing tools to help customers "decide how to buy," rather than just "selling?"

This seemingly minor shift opens up enormous possibilities for increasing returns by forcing marketers to examine how customers decide what they need, how they choose one brand over another, and what loyalty means to the customer. It creates new avenues to meet customers needs more successfully in these trying times. Consider how this logic might impact a telephone marketing campaign.

A standard telemarketing call offers one-way, product/data driven information according to scripts, with the belief that buyers who might need this product will become interested as a result of the data (and the efficacy of the script itself). However, if the marketer were helping prospective buyers buy, he or she would start off by asking the prospect if it's a good time to speak, and go on to ask some simple questions designed to identify the customer's product or service needs:

This approach creates a real dialogue between buyer and seller. And though it might require more training and effort, the additional revenue would more than make up the difference.

The bottom line is that, to more effectively sell to today's consumers, marketers must find new and innovative ways to prompt customers to self-identify where they are in the purchasing cycle, as well as where they want to get and what needs to happen for them to get there. It's no longer enough for marketers to simply push information at people, no matter how creatively it's produced. It's time to sell with integrity by helping buyers make their best buying decisions.

 Sharon Drew Morgen, author of The New York Times business bestseller, "Selling With Integrity: Reinventing Sales Through Collaboration, Respect, and Serving," is an international entrepreneur, a business consultant, sales trainer, author, and keynote speaker. She has increased sales for diverse corporations of all sizes and has written many articles for major business publications. Sharon can be reached at or




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