401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Are you committing Selling Suicide?

gaspe-cliff-l[1]Every day I see companies committing Selling Suicide. They are desperate for new sales, but because they are clueless about what their buyer cares about, they place one barrier after another in the way of the buyer – a buyer who was already on their site, virtual money in hand, totally committed to buying. Only the most determined buyers make it through the maze of confusion, conflicting messages, and missing information. It is so sad.

Witness a real-life Selling Suicide situation.

Software buyer. In a hurry. Leaving for a trip the next day. It’s now 10PM. Needs some software to work on an important project, while traveling.

Finds the right program, actually an upgrade of a program he’s tried before. The upgraded version solves his problem. Decides to buy it. Note: He is now ready to buy. That’s all he wants to do. BUY. NOW.

He doesn’t need to be convinced to buy. He’s already running down the virtual streets, waving money.

He finds the product upgrade on the seller’s site, after clicking through far too many pages to find it (it’s not under “Products” – it’s under “Support”). There’s a paragraph of product information, a picture of the software CD, and a Buy button.

The CD picture has immediately raised a critical question in the buyer’s mind: Is the software only offered in the CD version, which would be snail-mailed to him? Or can it be downloaded – NOW? The buyer continues to go through the multi-screen buying process, hoping he’ll finally be told the answer to the download question. But it doesn’t happen.

He even risks the cost of the software in the hopes that he will be able to download it immediately – that’s how much he needs it. Plus he knows – at 10PM – that he will not be able to ask anyone at the company if he will be able to download the program.

The company asks for his shipping and billing info during the buying process, which worries him even more. Has he just spent hundreds of dollars for a CD that he won’t get until after he returns from his trip?

After giving the company his credit card data, he sees a receipt from the company, but no download button. The first line of the receipt says he will receive an email with an order confirmation.

He quickly checks his email. A new message is there, from the company. But there is nothing in the email about a download. Darn! Has he just spent the money – and the time – for nothing? Has he just been suckered?

He goes back to the website and checks the receipt, reading it carefully.

There it is, buried in the copy: “To complete the upgrade, return to [the software package] and choose the ‘Click to Activate’ button.” This is not intuitive, and he never saw a “Click to Activate” button in the program. But at least he suddenly has hope. He starts breathing again.

He goes back to the software, and has to hunt for the Click to Activate button. It’s in an odd place.

Normally he’d expect to find it in the “Help” top menu choice, as an option in the Help drop-down menu. But it is not there.

Instead, the Click to Activate button is buried in the far left of the top menu, in a little (non-standard) icon that has a drop-down. One of the choices is “Help and Support.” A window pops up, with 10 choices on it. Buried in that window is the Click to Activate option.


Are you committing Selling Suicide?

Your selling process makes sense to you. You and your webmaster have worked it all out. You have agreed with what the webmaster wants to do. He wants to do it the way he has done it for other clients, because it is easy for him, or because doing it that way will allow him to bill you more.

However, if you were able to crawl into the brains of your buyers, and go through their actual buying process, you would see how much your e-commerce site is killing your own sales. Death by dozens of little cuts. You’d see what you were doing wrong and what you could do about it. Here’s what this company should have done:

  • At the very least, there should have been a caption under the CD which said something like: “Also available as an immediate ‘click to activate’ upgrade from within the program, after purchase.” People read captions under pictures, especially if the picture raises a question in their mind. This would have solved the whole problem. And, of course, the Click to Activate option should have been really easy to find – as an option in the program’s Help menu.
  • Better yet, the company should have followed the more common industry convention. Instead of asking the customer to go back into the program and update it there, it should have been offered as a download. Under that picture of the CD, the seller would give the buyer a choice: “CD via Postal Mail,” or “Download after purchase.” If the buyer chose “Download,” he could have moved right through the shopping process, click-click-click, and once he had his receipt, he could have had the choice of downloading right then, or downloading via a link in an email you sent him.

Every company in the world, with rare exceptions that you can count on the fingers of one hand, commits Selling Suicide. They place both large and small barriers in the way of the sale. Only the most determined buyers make it through the obstacle course these companies place in their way.

How do you stop killing your own sales?

Observe people trying to buy your product. For example, if you sell software, interview your current customers, while sharing a screen, watching them relive their buying process. They can tell you what they were thinking as they made the purchase.

You may have to compensate them somehow for their time, and whoever conducts the research better be smart, knowledgeable about your product, and personable. Record the conversation and their screens. See where they get hung up and where your content – or lack of it – raises new questions in their minds.

Go after those barriers. Find them and eliminate them. You’ll breathe new life into your top-line revenue.


  1. This is an excellent article and it hits reality head on. I have been there many times
    and just wanted a buying process to be easy and fast.
    Buy the time I was finished buying I was so stressed and angry i never wanted to deal with the company again. The original buying experience will stay with me forever no matter how good the program is and next time I will look for a different
    Thank you for an outstanding article.

  2. Great Post,

    I ask my clients if they know what it’s like to try and buy from their own companies and it often raises eyebrows.

    As I discuss in my recent blog post http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/get-your-sales-team-in… if you have not changed your buying process in the last six months it’s broke, and you are needlessly losing sales you could be winning.

    Market leaders adjust their sales process to match how buyers want to buy….not how you want to sell.

    Mark Allen Roberts

  3. “The webmaster… wants to do it the way he has done it for other clients, because it is easy for him, or because doing it that way will allow him to bill you more.”

    Ouch?! It’s amazing that so many web designers/ coders/ masters can still get away with baffling with BS, recycling ancient code they did for another client, and then sending in a massive invoice.

    I’ve seen several small companies end up with next-to-no sales because their greedy and inept “webmasters” were only in for themselves, and didn’t operate as business partners looking for a win-win.

    My suggestion: At the very first whiff of this attitude, call them on it. Be prepared to fire them. Don’t listen to their technobabble, find someone with a better attitude, and save your company!


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