June 25, 2009

From Selling Products to Selling Ideas

Ideas, beliefs and causes are more compelling than products, or services. In an age of increased choice, competition and commoditization, features and benefits are not enough to really connect with your customers. So how can you link what you are selling with a cause, idea, or concern that your customers are passionate about? Or how can you get passionate about the problems or opportunities your solutions address for customers?

How to Really Connect with Your Customers

So, if ideas are the real currency of the age, why are you still selling products and services? Find a cause that is inimical to your product, or service - one that really matters to your customers, as well as their own customers. Don’t settle for being a sales person, identify with, join and build a tribe (we will let Seth Godwin explain this term later) around the causes, values and passions shared by you, your company and your customers.

The most powerful way to build your business is to stop selling, moving beyond features and benefits, as well as from points of pain and problem identification to igniting purpose, passion and imagination. That means focusing on a cause that is inimical to your product, or service and that really matters to your customers, or their own customers. It is to become an advocate, champion and thought leader.

The Most Effective Way to Connect With Your Customers
Listen to what matters to your customers. What issues are they concerned about? What is at the core of success in their industry? What are they passionate about? To what values do they aspire? What ideas engage, or have the potential to engage them?

People want to identify with values, causes and ideals. They want to connect with others who share them too. In this way building momentum behind a cause is not a one man job, it involves connecting with others who share the same passion and the building of communities around it. That is its power as regards sales.

Salespeople can blur the traditional customer – seller distinction, by being part of a movement, network, or community. In this internet age, everybody has an opportunity to find and the air their voice and to connect to others worldwide for whom it resonates, no matter much in the minority they might be.

What is your cause?

So what is the cause you can lend your voice to? What cause can you champion? For example, the salesperson selling warehouse management systems might focus on a particular cause relating to warehouse performance, sharing their ideas and becoming a thought leader, promoting or championing new ideals, connecting with potential customers who share the same concerns, etc.

Now, of course you cannot champion a cause just because you think it will help you sell more. To carry it off you will need to have a genuine conviction and commitment regarding the issues concerned. You will also need to have something to say, a strong voice, a unique perspective, or value to add.

Sharing passions, purpose and ideals means standing for something larger than just a product, or a commercial transaction. It requires not just following, but challenging the status quo. It often requires breaking new ground and being on the edge, whether that is Michael O Leary and the purpose of low fare travel, or Al Gore and the environment.

What are the new tools for selling ideas?
How this happens has been propelled by means of the web, with blogging, online forums, social networking, etc. the viral means of selling ideas and connecting with others. Indeed, the web gives everybody, salesperson, or not, the means of finding, developing and airing their voice.

Again taking the example of the warehouse management system sales organisation that wants to connect with its customer and prospects in a new way. It begins by members of the organisations sales or marketing team:

- Setting up RSS feeds to read relevant news, articles and views from cyberspace. That means tracking those issues that are topical, what others are saying, who is influencing opinions, etc.
- Joining forums and groups relating to the topic of interest, including those on linked-in, facebook, etc.
- Setting up a blog to air views, share useful information with others and build a following. The fact that this has a positive effect on google search ranking should not be forgotten about.
- Commenting on other blogs and feeding the conversation.
- Writing whitepapers, delivering webinars, pod casting, hosting presentations, webinars, online, etc.

From Salesperson to Tribal Leader
Tribes according to Seth Godwin are what matter most and leading them is how you can really affect changes in society, economies and business. See his video on TED below.

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