How to Bring Customers Along

The way most companies sell is incongruent with the way most people buy.

So argues a recent Harvard Business Review article. Instead of aggressive approaches that try to overcome prospect objections, businesses would be better served by an incremental approach that brings a prospect along via small steps.

Traditional sales model
A traditional sales model calls for sales reps to call upon a lead generated by a marketing appeal. The rep is expected to take a customer through a sequence of steps that eventually lead to a sale. This approach often involves using techniques near the end of the process designed to overcome objections potential customers may have.

Today, however, customers do not fit in a traditional sales funnel. Instead, customers journey along several streams before making a decision to purchase. These streams involve researching products, viewing websites, checking social media, asking friends and co-workers and contacting other buyers.

New business strategy to drive sales
For those starting a small business or established in an industry alike, a different approach may be more likely to generate sales. The HBR article notes “the end of a sales process is the worst time to handle objections.”

Instead, most prospects think about objections well before the “close” stage of the sales funnel. To avoid argument with a salesperson, prospects may claim there is an issue such as price, when in fact, that’s not the actual objection.

Sellers, therefore, would do better by asking prospects to make commitments incrementally during the process. Such an incremental approach to commitment works not just for sales, but also for effective charitable or volunteer quests or behavioral changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking.

Small actions that gain customers
An Inc. magazine article illustrated some of the possible small actions. Downloading a white paper, accepting a coupon or promo code, or signing up for a demo or newsletter are all examples of small actions prospects can take.

What are the advantages for the seller?

    • Sales reps can gain more information about prospects earlier
    • Reps can assess whether interest is from a state of comprehension versus commitment, the latter of which indicates a prospect is much closer to becoming a customer.

Comprehension is mostly about agreement, wherein a prospect responds to information by saying, “that makes sense” or “I understand” or gives non-verbal cues such as head nods to indicate understanding.

But understanding is not agreement. Commitment requires a prospect to take action. So a small action in response to a request from a sales rep can more effectively indicate commitment. Prospects who continue to take small actions demonstrate a much clearer indication and propensity to eventually make a purchase.

Intentionally asking for these small commitments can raise objections earlier in the sales funnel, giving a rep more time to address those objections effectively. Incremental actions or commitments also show that a prospect can change, which is critical when selling a new product or service. It’s important to remember that when a prospect switches from one provider to another, said prospect must believe that the benefits of the new outweigh the potential losses of the old.

With the pressures of quarterly sales figures and the traditional approaches to managing prospects, this new approach is unlikely to take hold quickly. But small steps can lead to big gains in customers.