Selling Your Service Or Product - The Basics

Last week I was talking to 14 boys and girls about IT. Their school offered an orientation day and I was invited as a speaker. One of them was especially interested in selling products. Now this is something I wanted to talk about for a long time on my blog. Maybe you remember the "talk about business" series?

I used to make a big part of my living as consultant for eight years. I had the opportunity to learn from great, international coaches and at the same time practice what I learned. The basic idea of selling and consulting is always the same - no matter if we talk about software or a vacuum cleaner. And still so many people (even big companies) do it horrible wrong. Of course really big companies get away with it most of the time, but this is due to other factors. For us it is interesting to know how we should market and sell our product or the service we just built.

Marketing And Selling Is Important

I know enough people who think sales persons or marketing departments are utterly useless. They believe a great product is enough. Most of the time those people are the ones who build fantastic applications, hardware or services. Sadly those are the same people who do not understand that not everyone is like them. If they see something new and think it could be interesting they give it a try. Other people just don't.

Customers do not want stunning websites with a lot of descriptions what a great product can do. They do not even care about the built-in cheese grater. They want someone who listens to their problems and tells them how they can fix it with this special product. Some tech-savvy, misanthropic assholes will be offended and disagree, but "humans need humans" was, is and will be a universal truth.

No matter how good your product is, if no one knows about it, if your competitors send someone with a demonstration device to potential customers or if people do not fully understand your product no one will buy it. Not even if it is the best one available.

Know Your Product

If you do not know the product you cannot sell it. It is really that easy. If your potential customers asks questions and you have no idea or have to call someone or read your own flyer - then you have a problem. There is nothing that makes selling harder to impossible than being caught off guard on basic questions.

This does not mean you have to know every little detail. You should know if your web service is able to send newsletters to customers. You do not have to know how to partition databases to scale it.

There is a difference between knowing a product and knowing every detail. On the one hand, you should know as much as possible - but on the other hand it's no shame to call your office and ask a developer if and how this special scenario could be realized.

If a client has some special needs and you talk to one of your developers before promising that it will work you have another advantage: Your client can be sure that you are not just some sales person promising pink ponies to land a deal. At least this is what clients believe. Developers know the software they build and what it is capable of, right?

Know Your Contenders

If you are selling a software as a service, for example, then you have to know your competitors. What if a potential client already is a customer of someone else? What if they ask you about the differences to evaluate which solutions fits their needs? You have to be able to answer those questions. But there is one thing you should not do:

Never start telling your potential customers why other products suck. Never ever.

I cannot stress this enough. If you are not explicitly asked about the differences, you talk about the strengths and advantages of your product. And if you are asked you talk about the strengths and advantages of your product.

I know some people will call me fanboy for this one but the example just works. Imagine an elderly women who wants to buy a smartphone. You tell her that the new Samsung Galaxy 7 has a 90" screen, 500 cores and 45 petabyte memory. I just give her an iPhone, tell her to type the number of her daughter, hit FaceTime and she can see her grandchild.

You can tell her that the iPhone has far inferior hardware. I can tell her how easy it is to use and that she can always call her daughter and see her grandchildren rise. I do not have to explain to her why the specs don't matter, manufacturing quality or anything else.

Some of you might now argue that this example is wrong because the Galaxy and "what if"… you get the point. This example sucks, but it's the best one I can come up with at the moment. Let us continue.

If You Have A Bad Product

You should be aware of the weaknesses of your product. There is, most of the time, not only one product for a certain task and most of the time you have different trade offs if you choose one of the products over another.

But what do you do when your product is just bad? Cheap components, known problems, not matching any use case?

Stop selling it. If you sell crap people will notice at a certain point. Get another job.

There was a new client I visited for the first time. Coffee was prepared and it was just a matter of "What do you need?", "What makes sense for you?", questions and statements. How did I get this client? Another client recommended me.

The new client knew that I do not make promises I cannot fulfill and that I also admit if there are weaknesses in one of the products or scenarios where it is problematic. And still, I did not need to convince him that those products are still worth buying. I showed him how he can solve the problem he has with the product I have. Nothing more.

This appointment only went so smooth because a previous client recommended me. Not my product. Customers and clients sometimes care more about the people who sell something than about the actual product. This also means that you do not sell them something they do not need - or your reputation will suffer.

Service Always Starts After You Sold

Take care of problems. Call or email your new customer personally. Do not let your secretary handle everything. Know their birthday. Maybe, if it came up in a conversation, the birthdays of wife, husband or kids. Remember the dates and gratulate them personally.

This is one of the differences between selling something and building a client relationship. Be nice, keep your promises and from time to time just let him know you remember him without directly calling to sell something.

Maybe you have candy or other merchandise stuff with your company brand. Throw it away. Kids do not want company branded chocolate. They want an ordinary chocolate bar they know and like. Most of the time this branded stuff tastes awful, and no one needs yet another ruler.

Know what your client likes. Wine, Whisky or chocolate - get something that tastes good without your brand. These are birthday or Christmas gifts people remember. Especially if you have a present for their kids or even a snack for their pets.

In A Nutshell

These are only rough, not completely elaborated points about best practices. They can be a bit different depending on your country, on your product, your personality and your client.

But there are some things I consider to be a universal truth:

There is a lot more to say about selling and marketing and I will likely take the time and talk about every point in its own post.

But if you now think: "Doh, of course! This is simple. No need to talk about this stuff!", ask yourself if every sales and support person you encountered in your life followed this easy and simple principles we should not even have to mention.

But now that the basics are clear we can talk about some more serious and in depth about those points.

>> posted on Nov. 27, 2012, midnight in business