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Turning Web Prospects into Customer Profits:
How to Use Sales Instruction Techniques

Copyright Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

Companies live or die based on their reported sales revenues - for publicly-held companies, the scrutiny is quarterly. Gaining new customers is a critical component of increasing those sales revenues. Yet with ever-increasing use of 7x24 information technologies and non-interactive technologies (in other words, no sales professional to guide the process), the ability of most companies to answer even the most basic questions is dismal. (How is your product different? How will I use it?) We are not talking esoteric issues here - but rather the basic blocking and tackling of up-front sales information. The reason for this is that most companies are introspective when it comes to their prospects' information needs. They 'preach' to their prospects more than they engage them - never determining what information they need to make the buying decision. Hence, they make the buying process even more difficult for the customer. There's a simple methodology available to prevent this, and it is based in the proven abilities of top salespeople - providing instruction to the prospect on how to make the buying decision.

Let's take an example I recently encountered. A major office supply store had advertised a popular CRM package (acronym du jour of customer relationship management software, previously known as sales force automation, previously known as contact management) at a very attractive price. I was interested in determining if I should switch from my current contact manager, which is adequate but lacking a few features. So I decided to research this software in all the usual ways - reviewing their web site, reading reviews, etc. All I needed to make the decision was a few answers - such as how is their software different than the competition, and how difficult would it be to transfer my data to their product? Pretty basic stuff that any prospect who currently has a contact manager would ask. In other words, everyone in their upgrade market.

The exercise was pretty frustrating. Their web site wasn't much help - giving the laundry list of features, none of which really answered my two basic questions. The screen shots were fuzzy, and pop-up captions obscured most of the information. Of the four or so reviews they cited, only one had a link to the article - and that link was dead. They had a downloadable demo - one thing I don't need is another demo program cluttering up my hard drive. Their major competitor wasn't much better - they alluded to some interesting features - but didn't give a top-down demo that would give you a good grasp of how the features could be put to use. I really couldn't tell how they differed from the other product I had just reviewed. Their Flash technology demo was more annoying than informative. It was pretty clear that all their information was targeted at sales groups or networked users - but the product in question was the single-user version! (Actually - this market has been all but abandoned by the major CRM players.) And these are the two of the market leaders in customer relationship management! I guess pre-customer relationships don't count.

Truth be told - this experience is more the rule than the exception. It comes about because the vendors don't put themselves in the position of a interested prospect - and provide the kind and type of information necessary for the prospect to make the next step to becoming an interested buyer. This is one of the reasons that the need for good salespeople will never go away.

So what does a professional salesman do that can be imported to non-interactive information and web sites? Essentially, a salesman, when you think about it, instructs you on how to make the buying decision. A really good one knows the questions you have, and will draw them out of you, show how their product or service fulfills your needs, cleverly (or blatantly) contrasts it to the competition, explains why theirs is a better solution, and paints a picture of the user benefits.(This is a description of a sales professional - not the amateurs that most of us encounter. But it is the pros who make their sales quota day in and day out.)

In other words, a really good sales professional has empathy - they listen to the prospect and respond and guide the decision-making process. Your non-interactive sales information should do the same - it should be crafted from the results of listening to your prospects - and serve to instruct them in the buying process of how your product or service meets certain needs and helps the users attain certain benefits or results. When you think about it - that's really sales instruction. The goal of the sales instruction it to get you to a point of buying the product. Really good instruction will make you a skillful buyer.

Sales information that doesn't meet this criteria is little more than propaganda. And most of what is out there is propaganda - and dismissed as such by the prospects. That's why it's so hard to get through their filters.

Where do you get this information? Well, your salespeople are a good place to start. Compile a list of prospects' frequently-asked-questions (and your sales pros' answers - this step is often overlooked) and see how well your web site and sales information answer these questions. Track the prospects who downloaded or requested demos but didn't buy and do some follow-up surveys. Track your users who don't upgrade an find out why. This ain't rocket science - often, the answers are out there - all you have to do is ask. But surprisingly, most companies never ask - they are too busy trying to figure out how to make more sales.

© 2009, Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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