Think about this simple question, if you are to pay good money to buy a service, to hire someone that would do something for you that you cannot do yourself, would you want to hire:
Yesterday, I finally settled on a package with a bridal studio with my fiancée for pre-wedding and wedding day photoshoots. Through this process, we’d been “shopping” for a couple of months and been talking to a few studios. Our experiences had been rather unfulfilling.
Most studios we spoke to were focused mainly on selling packages. We wanted to consider different packages. However, different bridal studios and packages contain so many different variables that it becomes so confusing for us. At the end of the day, studios were over-eager on making concessions, giving freebies and using high-pressure hard-selling tactics that turned us off. Their packages also had a lack of transparency and contained many unknown add-ons, it made us suspicious.
The studio that we decided upon had the advantage that they were a recommendation from a friend of my fiancée’s, who’s known as a no-nonsense and demanding “I know what I want” type client. So her recommendation made us trust this studio more already.
Secondly, they were completely transparent with their packages, they offered net-priced packages, we only had to select between 2 packages (local shoots and overseas shoots) and the terms were easy to understand.
However, what tilted the decision for me was a very important quality that the salesperson exuded. You see, the bridal business is a business where people usually go in as rookies. It’s unlike going to the neighborhood convenience store to get a pack of milk, or going to the clothes boutique to buy a dress. People are usually going into the experience for the first time in their lives (there are second marriages, but statistically, that’s not a majority, from where I live). Therefore, they go in “blur”, and they may feel insecure. They may have read online reviews, they may have consulted many friends who’ve had experiences, but they cannot count on their own past experiences. In such situations, what they need most of all, is LEADERSHIP. They need the salesperson that they are interacting with to demonstrate leadership, to provide the assurance that “we’ve got you covered”.
In the situation above, there are several things going against the salesperson:
- The differentiating factor is not obvious (this is usually true about most sales-of-services situation, e.g. coaching, consulting, photography, interior design), even the best samples trotted out by salespeople (e.g. portfolio of work, testimonials) do help to an extent, but may not necessarily be a differentiating factor because all competitors will usually showcase only their best work, and to the untrained buyer, they may not be able to tell the difference. The only test of whether we’ve made a good purchase is when the service begins, by which time, it’s too late because we’ve already financially committed to the seller.
- It’s a big-ticket item. Not only in the hefty cost of the package, but also the fact that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime purchase, the price to pay for screwing up the purchase decision is large!
- We’ve had negative past experiences with other salespeople, so went into the conversation somewhat jaded, we were less trusting towards her, we’re thinking to ourselves “Please! Not another hard-sell again!”
Yet, she was able to convince us and assure because she was able to:
- Be open and transparent – With every simple item in the package, she explained where we can save more money by avoiding extra expenses required to customize. She explained to us what the package covers, and what were additional charges required for additional requests.
- Challenged our thoughts and paradigms – We had gone in with some pretty firm ideas, which were based on our previous research and popular sentiments from reviews. However, she was sharp enough to challenge our ideas, and put forward additional considerations which we’ve not thought of ourselves. She also shared with us fresh perspectives of how we can creatively get what we wanted, with lower investment.
- Lay out the entire process – Let’s be fair, we’re all busy people. We don’t spend day and night being professional wedding planners and we don’t spend every waking minute planning our wedding. Therefore, it was really helpful for us to have somewhat guide us through the whole process, the important milestones and even the payment schedule. She was even able to educate us about things to look out for, possible reasons why the process can go wrong and what we can do about it.
For my fiancée and me, her leadership was the most important factor, because as busy people ourselves, the reason we went to a bridal studio was so that we can be taken care of. Sure, we can “D-I-Y” everything by ourselves, from choosing our tailors, make-up artists and photographers, to arranging for print of our photos, but we hire experts to do this so that we can have a peace of mind.
As consumers, we are all tired of being “sold to”. We don’t buy from salespeople, we buy from leaders, people who can lead us at every step of the sales and fulfilment process. If you want to grow your business, then stop selling, and start leading your customers.
If you want to sell more, you’ve got to develop thought-leadership. Be a leader that can add value at every step of the sales process for your prospects. Here are some steps to develop thought leadership in your business niche.
Step 1: Be a complain connoisseur
That’s right! You’ve heard it right. I’m sure you’ve heard of chocolate connoisseurs, champagne connoisseurs, coffee connoisseurs, but complain connoisseurs? There’s a common joke where I live in Singapore, that Singaporeans’ favorite pastime is complaining. I know we don’t want to face complainers all the time, chronic complainers are blamers, people who think their lives suck because of something outside of themselves, but that’s a topic for another article. I’m not asking you to be a complain magnet, but a complain connoisseur. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a connoisseur as “a person who knows a lot about something (such as art, wine, food, etc.): an expert in a particular subject”. To be a complain connoisseur, you’re someone who appreciates the value of complain. Behind every complain is an unmet need, a problem that need to be fixed. Instead of just dissing a complaint as “ah! Another complaint!”, be present to how it’s communicated, the underlying emotion, what’s the unmet need in the complaint. That may offer hidden sales opportunities, and opportunities to develop thought leadership in areas that your customers value.
Step 2: Ask “Why can’t / don’t” questions
I know that this flies in the face of most self-help, positive thinking type advice, “Instead of asking ‘why can’t I _______?’, ask ‘how can I _______?’” Positive thinking is helpful, but if we only “look on the bright side of life”, then we’re missing a HUGE chunk of opportunities. Life’s not always rosy, and as a salesperson and entrepreneur, you should know that most opportunities are found in those areas that are the biggest pain in the a**. From my own business experience, and from the complains I hear from my coaching clients and students, I often ask the “Why can’t / don’t ______?” questions:
- Why can’t so many seemingly intelligent, talented and qualified people succeed in business?
- Why don’t so many seminar goers practice what they’ve learnt after the initial hype of the seminar has died down?”
- Why can’t so many single men and women find lasting love and intimacy?
- Why can’t some warm, sweet and caring people become leaders that their contemporaries respect?
- Why don’t people generally pay as much attention to their health as they do their quest for success?
- Why can’t ______?
- Why don’t ______?
(Disclaimer: The above are based on my observations and experiences, and I talk about “many” and “some”, and in no way am I suggesting that it’s always the case or drawing “cause-and-effect” conclusions)
By asking “why can’t / don’t _____” questions, you train your mind to start to brainstorm and look out for possible solutions. You can get valuable insights to these questions by:
- Asking them directly
- Observing their behaviors for discrepancies between their actions and desires
- Noticing their language patterns – what are common stories people tell themselves why they can’t get what they want?
Step 3: Develop “Why not do _____ instead?” hypotheses
Use answers to the “Why can’t / don’t” questions above to develop some possible solutions. If people are always complaining about a particular situation, and if they have so many “why can’t / don’t I _____” reasons, then you can develop and brainstorm many alternatives. These hypotheses will have to be:
- Logically backed – develop a sound logical backing for your suggestions. If necessary, do your research from multiple sources (books, websites, expert interviews, data from existing studies).
- Tested – You can try these hypotheses out on people the next time they come in complaining. Suggest alternatives to them, and encourage them to take on your new ideas for fit. You may not get success every time, and many people will rather stay stuck where they are (trust me I know this!), but you may get some success cases.
Step 4: Share Success Stories
The success cases you’ve seen from your testing phase, will form the basis of your thought leadership positioning. These are empirical evidence that people have adopted your suggestions, your thought leadership and have received positive results. With the permission of your successful customers, showcase these success stories on multiple channels, through your websites, social media and your marketing collaterals (brochures, samples, portfolios).
Why the Need for Thought Leadership Sales?
- Your clients aren’t the experts at what you do. They don’t spend every moment thinking about the things you’re thinking about.
- Because they’re focusing on their own businesses, they may not have the same clarity of thought that you do.
- They’re often too attached to their own ideas, locked into their own paradigms, their own biases.
Therefore, you have to be that person to challenge their assumptions and the way they look their businesses. You’re in the unique position to educate your clients, to provide them with thought leadership, to be the trusted guide to guide them along a process they not experts in.
If you want to sell more, you’ve to stop selling, and start leading.