Acquisition doesn’t follow Retention and Engagement just so we can spell the word “CREAM” (although you must admit — it is kinda cool that we CAN).
It’s easy to understand that retaining an existing customer takes less effort and expense than acquiring a new one. In previous posts, we discussed how to retain good customers, why retention is of primary importance, and how to engage prospective customers. Of course, in order to retain any customer, you have to acquire them after you’ve engaged them.
So… how you DO you acquire a new customer? Not how you luck into one, or stumble upon one (as we often do when just starting out) – how do you go out into the cold, harsh world, and come back with new business to put on the plate, and keep the cash flowing.
Do you differentiate yourself in the mind of your prospective customer? How do you distinguish your brand from your competitors? The answer to these questions – the solution you come up with, whatever that may be – is called positioning. Before you even get to talking about money, the person you’re engaged in conversation with must conclude that you are offering something of value worth paying for.
People buy brands, NOT products. It’s not a “car“, it’s a “Mercedes Benz“. Not “sneakers“, but “the latest [Air] Jordans“. You want your brand to stand in as shorthand for the qualities and benefits of the product you offer, whether that be hard goods or intangible services. Stop hawking your wares and pitching products, and start communicating value. Speak in terms of what matters to your prospect – their unfulfilled desires and unmet needs.
Once they discover that you’re both speaking the same language (because YOU’RE now speaking in THEIR terms), instead of struggling to convince them to make a purchase or striving to overcome their natural objections to spending money, it becomes a matter of recognizing that you are both in agreement, and deciding on a mutual course of action: doing business together.
Positioning is WHAT you’re trying to do – presentation is HOW you do it. Are you formal and serious, cool and casual or odd and quirky? How you present your brand positioning message depends on your prospective market, your offer and the image of your company, brand or product you’re trying to put forward.
Positioning is “who we are compared to our competitors”. Presentation is “hey there – LOOK AT ME!” You can’t position yourself in the minds of your present or potential customer if you don’t get their attention and hold it long enough for the message to get across. This is where theatrics and aesthetics come into play. Beauty and charm are not the most important aspects of acquiring customers, but they are important aspects.
Don’t overdo it to the point of gimmickry, hype or chasing after the latest “flavor of the month” fad. DO pay attention to quality, consistency, craft and detail. Spellcheck. Proofread. Get people who aren’t in your field to review your presentation and give you honest feedback. It’s not important that it looks good to YOU – it’s extremely important that it looks interesting to someone who’s shopping for the value you have to offer.
You’ve positioned your brand. You’ve presented your value. The prospective customer has shown interest in your product or service. Now, you must make an offer – or, in other words, you propose that they purchase your product or hire your services. If business is indeed a relationship (it IS), then consider the point in a romantic relationship at which a proposal is made.
One person announces to the other their desire to take things to the next level. This doesn’t just come out of nowhere – it’s usually the result of several discussions between both parties, in which they’ve considered taking that next step, and after they talk about the conditions that would apply if they actually did. A business proposal is pretty much like that – minus the romance, of course.
Just as you wouldn’t propose on the second date in a romantic relationship, you risk chasing a potential client away by making a business proposal too soon, without clear agreement and understanding from all parties involved. It’s tempting to rush to the proposal phase at the first evidence that your prospect appears willing to buy, but please – wait. Just like romance, the time to make your proposal should be obvious. And when the time is right, you should encounter almost no resistance from your prospect.
In a perfect world, you make your proposal at just the right moment, your prospect accepts without hesitation and “voila!”, the deal is closed and you make the sale. We all know, however, that the world is not perfect and things don’t usually work out that effortlessly. You can have the perfect positioning, flawless presentation and top notch proposal… and still encounter objections.
Saying “no” is a natural impulse, so it pays to be prepared for this response. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes: what would cause them to stall or reconsider after going through your pitch and presentation, agreeing with you every step of the way and even asking you to prepare and deliver a proposal? There are several obvious reasons, right off the bat:
- Your proposal wasn’t as clear on value as your position and presentation were
- The prospect is not the only decision maker – or perhaps not the decision maker at all
- You were gun shy, and didn’t mention the price until the proposal phase
- The prospect projected business to go better for them than it actually has, and now they have cash flow woes
- The prospect was actually just gathering options for their short list, which you mistook for them being ready to buy
Most objections from a properly qualified prospective buyer (who is the only person you should make a proposal to) tend to fall into a situation similar to the ones above. All of these boil down to problems of communication. Either
- They didn’t understand you
- You didn’t understand them
- Things have changed between the Presentation and the Proposal
In any case, your job is not to try to convince your prospective customer of anything. You may have heard of “overcoming objections” in discussions about the sales process, but to us that’s 20th Century thinking. If, as we suggest, the 21st Century sales conversation is about value, then Persuasion is about identifying where the value conversation broke down, and getting things back on track.
Don’t be afraid to ask your prospect directly “what has changed since we discussed this proposal?” Remember: they should already have agreed to accept and review your proposal. If not, then you probably just took it upon yourself to decide “things look like they’re going well, so let me hit them with something that’s going to look like a request for money instead of an offer of value.” The key difference is whether the prospect is actively involved in the proposal process.
Assuming you did make sure to get a positive request from the prospective customer before sending them your proposal, then something has changed in the time it took them to say “yes” and when the proposal arrived at their office or in their INBOX. Are they struck with sticker shock? Then you either never discussed the actual price, and just sprung it on them in the proposal, or your proposal doesn’t lay out the value so that it clearly equals or exceeds the price you’re asking.
You might have done everything right, but things may have changed in the prospect’s world. Don’t just take a sudden “no” for an answer. Politely inquire if any issues have come up since you both discussed the proposal. Be patient, and be mindful that it can be embarrassing for a potential customer to admit they’re unexpectedly short of cash… especially if they were really enthusiastic about your offer. We don’t recommend reducing your price, but you could either let them know that you’ll hold the offer – and the price – until they’re ready to buy. Or, you could offer them a payment plan that breaks the cost into smaller chunks and spreads them out over time.
Be mindful of your own cash flow, though. Don’t make so generous an offer that your business suffers for it. Sometimes, you’ll have to say “no” to that prospect – sometimes for a short while but, on occasion, it’s just not a proper fit. Remember: the point is not to “make money” or merely to “do business”. Your goal is to acquire a good, solid customer – the kind of customer that you can do lots of business with.
Business that will benefit both your company and theirs…