Barkers in the Skepticism Swamp
Some time ago, I wrote an article about how software buyers were mired in the "skepticism swamp." It's even worse now.
If you're selling software, you have to be able to overcome the massive amount of disbelief that has built up in buyers' minds, thanks to all the promises that have been made to them - and broken. Everyone promised higher productivity, increased efficiency, and plug-and-play. HA.
What everyone delivered was installation headaches, integration nightmares, missing-in-action service, and navigation that required that you know the program intimately before you could do anything useful with it.
Today, software buyers and users consider each purchase an investment - of time and grief, as well as the money. They know they will have to learn how the new software works (and doesn't). They know that they will have to port their existing data on to the new program, and won't know how well that works until they've gone through the agony of doing it. They know that there will be functions that they won't use very often, and each time they do, they will have to resort to the Help utility, because the intuitive approach is not the one taken by the programmer of the software.
In spite of these well-known realities, software vendors are still selling software as if they are standing in the middle of Application Amusement Park - instead of Skepticism Swamp.
"Step right up! This one is really different! Try it, you'll love it! Free trial! 30-day demo!" The barker yells out, in the form of flashing buttons on websites, or a salesperson on the phone. Buyers slog past the barker, who is standing up to his chest in stinking swamp mud, but doesn't even know it. He ignores the fact that they all look dejected, tired, and angry. And, he has no idea that they don't believe a word he's saying.
When one of the passing buyers finally turns to the barker and starts asking questions, the barker responds to the questions with more of the same simplistic, too-loud, happy talk. Even if they're buying a product on which they will run their whole business, which represents a very serious decision for them, he will literally sing out his answers to their questions, on the phone. "How well does it integrate with QuickBooks? It's a snap! Really, it's no problem at all. Lots of our users have done it."
"Oh, you need that function? No problem!! It's not in the software yet, but it will be - in about three months. Want to have a demo next week?"
In these calls, on one side of the phone conversation, you have someone who is simply trying to get straightforward answers to serious questions. On the other, you have someone who is behaving like one of those bouncy, flouncy dogs that are popular with vacuous, tall, blonde models.
When I listen to sales calls made by people selling software, I'm frankly surprised that the buyers are as patient as they are. The buyer who asks those important questions is answered in a dismissive, irritating, chatty, insulting way, and yet maintains his composure. He waits until the salesperson is done, and then asks the question another way until he finally either gets the answer, or realizes that the salesperson cannot - or will not - answer the question. He then moves on to the next question. It's painful to listen to.
Have you listened to your salespeople lately? One CEO recorded and sent me three calls. In his email, he said he hadn't recorded the salesperson before, and, now that he heard what was actually happening in the calls, he was "horrified." Sometimes I marvel that people buy anything, given how difficult salespeople make it for them.
The good news is, salespeople can be coached, and they can change their behavior. They can be made aware of their inappropriate attitudes, their bad habits, and their complete ignorance of the reality of the buyer's situation. They can be made to hear things they have never heard before, in the person's questions and the person's tone of voice.
However, they have to be coached individually, and by someone with enough sales and marketing experience (and psychological savvy) to identify the problems, then guide the salesperson to adopting the appropriate personal behavior. It's not enough to put your salespeople through the generic, formulaic training that is so commonly offered by sales trainers. Salespeople have heard it all a thousand times. They know how to smile and nod and say, "Yes sir, no sir, just as you say sir, no problem."
For example, telling a salesperson, who constantly interrupts buyers on the phone, to "start every answer with a positive," will only mean that he will still interrupt the customer, and every time he does, he will start his sentence with the word "yes."
Even the smallest meaningful improvement in the behavior of your salespeople will improve your closing rate. That's obvious. It will also reinforce proper behavior; when salespeople discover that something makes it more likely for the customer to say "yes," they tend to repeat it. And, your customers will be more likely to refer others to you. "This is a good program. And their salespeople aren't the usual normal, obnoxious types. It was actually pleasant, getting my questions answered, buying the software, and getting it up and running."
That's the kind of "word of mouth" that grabs the attention of even the most jaded potential buyer, and transforms them into an "almost" believer. Their entire attitude is changed. They come to you with hope - rather than skepticism. They are open to the idea that you might be different. It's up to you to live up to glowing description they heard from your current customer. It's your sale to lose.