It’s not about what you’re selling. It’s about what customers are buying.

At my company we often talk with owners of companies that are doing some really cool things, even as they’re struggling with sales.

I think we’ve heard just about every excuse imaginable as to why the sales aren’t coming in. Customers don’t have the money to spend, XYZ Company has stolen market share or (the best one) that the industry as a whole isn’t buying at the moment.

Is this due to global economic uncertainties? Unless you’re a publicly-quoted multinational, then it’s doubtful.

If you’re a start-up, sole trader, or small-to-medium-sized company (SME or SMB, depending on which side of the road you drive) then ten will get you five that the most likely reason why your sales are disappointing you isn’t that competition is too tough. It probably isn’t that the no-one’s buying at the moment.

The most likely reason why your product or service isn’t selling is that the way that you’re selling is outdated, outmoded, and ineffective.

Talking Rather Than Listening

The reason that your customers aren’t buying from you isn’t because they no longer have money to spend. It’s probably because you’re trying to ‘sell’ to them, rather than being considered as adding value to their purchase decision. It’s because you’re talking at them and not listening to them. It’s because you’re beating your chest about how great your company is, how your products are better than anyone else’s, how you’ve been in business for 20 years, etc.

In other words, the same old BS that has bored customers on and off for the past 100 years.

The problem with selling in the same way that your father and grandfather did is that, today, your customer is a very different proposition. The internet has produced a newly-empowered, more enlightened type of customer. A customer who’s more knowledgeable, more discriminating and more demanding than at any other point in history. The sales relationship is no longer about you, your company, your products or your services. It’s about meeting your customer’s needs and adding value to the equation.

If you want to grow revenues, increase customer satisfaction and drive your brand’s visibility and awareness, then you need realize that “selling” has changed. Customers don’t buy what you sell; they buy what they see as your value to them.

Good business practices aren’t cast in stone — they need to change and adapt to the commercial environment. Outdated methodologies and disciplines simply wither on the vine, and the overwhelming majority of sales processes implemented by companies are exactly that: Outdated.

It’s amazing how many salespeople within companies still think that they can base their business on sales principles that were invented half a century ago. Unless your customer is Don Draper, selling like it’s 1963 isn’t going to cut it. Today’s customers have heard it all before. They see the antiquated sales techniques, old-school “pressure” sales closes and “Aren’t We Great” sales presentations coming from miles away.

A quick question for you: When an existing customer has an enquiry, why do they prefer to talk to a knowledgeable customer service person rather than the sales rep that sold to them in the first place? It’s because they see the customer services person as a source of reliable, trustworthy information that will help them make a decision. The sales rep, in contrast, is seen as being someone who’s just there to sell them something.

The Empowered Customer

Organizations need to wake-up to the realization that their customers are a very different breed to the ones from just a few years ago. Today’s customer does their homework before they even engage with a company. Today’s customer already knows about you, and what you sell (as well as what you’re competition’s doing).

Today’s customer buys. They are no longer sold to.

Show them how you’re a peer — not just another supplier. Educate them, converse with them, take the time to understand their situation. Then help them solve their problems. But whatever you do, don’t even think about “selling” to them. Not only will it not work, but you’ll alienate them by insulting their intelligence and wasting their time.

At the end of the day, the single largest contributory factor to building revenue isn’t about sales. It isn’t even about marketing in the strictest sense of the word. It’s about engineering everything about and around the customer.

If they don’t feel at the center of your world, they’ll go to where they’re the center of someone else’s.

( First published on the KEXINO Small Business Marketing Blog )