Would you buy your own product that way?

Everyone buys things… and everyone has opinions on where they like to buy, how they like to buy, and what makes them buy?  Why then… do so many companies forget these experiences when they plan out their own sales strategy and pricing models?

When talking with entrepreneurs and their sales teams, an exercise that I like to go through is to have them think critically about their own product and its sales cycle.   Then, I like to have them really think about how they buy similar products and what the experience has been for them.   The results of the exercise are very often quite interesting, and revealing about why some fledgling products have trouble getting traction in sales.  A great deal of it boils down to a particular view of what and how you should charge and feeling “justified” in charging something, or using a particular sales tactic, yet you need to know if you were on the other side of the table… how would you respond to these situations?

Some examples:

  • The over-aggressive sales guy: I had a conversation with an entrepreneur recently who was directing his sales person to call and email, and call and email, and call and email these prospects until he got an answer from them.  When the customer said, “call back on Monday.” on Monday at 9:30AM, he was questioning why the call hadn’t been made.    Later that same day, he complained that a sales rep had been hounding him to make a decision, and was frustrated that this sales rep had no appreciation for the fact that buying his product wasn’t the most important thing on his list.   Hmm… seems like a pretty evident disconnect.  This entrepreneur’s revenue pressure was causing him to force the exact aggressive behavior that was irritating him by another company because he was under the pressure.     Taking a small step backwards and looking at the situation critically, he should have recognized that aggressive sales tactics often don’t work.  He was fully aware of that fact, but forgot it.
  • Set-up Fees:  Another company recognized that in order to get their product up and running for a customer they had a significant effort that they had to deploy, and therefore they decided that they needed to charge a set-up fee in order to re-coop that cost.  Yet… this same management team resisted a set-up fee for a service they were deploying because it made the initial pain very difficult – and it caused that decision to take about 6 weeks longer than if no set-up fee were charged.   Do I think that looking at their set-up fee in a vacuum that they are justified for wanting to charge a set-up fee?  Yes.  But I don’t know anybody that likes paying set-up fees – and it makes the decision for the prospect needlessly harder.  When you are trying to make the most sales you can in the shortest amount of time, adding obstacles to the sale only hurt you.  If you charge $5,000 / mo, and your set-up fee causes a minimum 6-week delay in the sale (if you get it at all), then your set-up fee better make up for the $7,500 you lost by even HAVING a set-up fee.  When this customer was challenged on it, the response was still that it was labor intensive to set-up and therefore a set-up fee must be charged, when in reality the set-up fee was just an obstacle.  Think about it from the customers perspective.  If paying a setup fee is painful, then don’t do it!  (or understand that sales will suffer)
  • Free Shipping / Promotion Codes:  How many times have you left one site for another site because one site charged for shipping and the other one didn’t?  Have you not bought on a site because they didn’t offer (or your couldn’t find) a promotional code?  Yet, I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who forget this simple lesson.   Don’t you like to get a deal?  If you see a promotional code field, but have no promotions, do you frustrate your sales targets?   I worked with a client who justified that he needed a shipping fee, “because the shipping costs really hurt my bottom line.”  Is this true?  probably.  But… his target market was used to no shipping fees.  Therefore, even though he was justified, he was using a practice out of the norm that was hurting him in terms of sales.  Once he looked at it from his customers perspective, suddenly he figured out a way to overcome the shipping dilemma (offering free shipping over a particular cart amount).
  • “In your face” selling:  Most entrepreneurs that I talk to, during the exercise, talk about how they hate when a site/email/ad has so many calls to action that it feels slimy – yet I look at their site/emails/ads and it looks like a late night infomercial with “BUY NOW” messages plastered all over it – or very obvious slipperiness to get people to buy.   I’m certainly not a conversion expert, nor am I a design expert, but I know slimy sales when I see it.  Take a critical look at the marketing materials you have, and ask yourself if you’d be offended by what you send – or question its tactics.
  • Difficult return or cancellation or trials:  The simple most important thing to me when I sign-up for a new service, is knowing how and when I can cancel provided I don’t like the service.  Once I do this, how do I delete my data.  How can I make sure you would pester me or use my information?  These are the things I think about when I sign up for a service, and I know many people who agree with me.  Yet, I have clients who create their service and purposely make it difficult (or more subtle) to cancel.  Why?  The reasoning is that if its easy to cancel… people will.  I say, if your service is good, then people won’t cancel.  Knowing, and trusting, that I can get out of our relationship is a faster path to get INTO the relationship.  Ask yourself about how you would feel if any of the subscription services that you use made you feel like you were being held captive?

There are many, many examples that I have experienced with entrepreneurs.  If you have any other great examples, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

My posts on this topic to date have been much more subtle (i.e. Colorbrind Prospects, Easier to Buy = Easier to Sell).    I think that for many companies, this is a critical problem in their sales DNA.  Its very easy to think about how you’d LIKE to sell your product and how you’d LIKE to get paid for your product – but its not about you – its about your prospects.  And, if you were your prospect…. would YOU buy from you?  Would you like the way you were being treated?  Would you trust the person on the other end?  If you can’t unequivocally say yes, then you need to re-think your sales strategy / tactic / pricing.

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