I'm not a sales person, but running my own SEO company has placed me into that role. I am my client's primary contact, not only for project management, but as the first sales contact when inquiring about our services. I rather enjoy the role of project manager, but I've never felt entirely comfortable with the sales role.
Over the years, though, I've gotten quite good at it, or at least parts of it. I can't sell everybody that calls, nor do I try, as I loathe high pressure sales tactics. I'm more casual and conversational with some good processes in place for follow up. But making a sale involves a fair amount of persuasion. There are a number of persuasive tactics available for both the aggressive and passive individual, everything from fear to manipulation to coaxing to demonstration. Some of these methods are positive, some are extremely negative. I don't really want to discuss the negative avenues but rather the overall process that positive persuasion entails, and what you can and should do in order to be more persuasive to potential clients and customers.
Persuasion Starts with Availability
One of the most important things you can do to be more persuasive is to be available. After all, you can't persuade someone who can't get in touch with you. When our phone rings, someone picks it up. The only time the phone ever goes to voice mail is before or after business hours, which is generally after 6pm and before 7am all week. Unless it's a holiday, if you call, we'll answer. Any sales or information calls are forwarded to me, as the primary sales contact and project manager. If I'm not available a message is taken and calls are immediately returned as soon as possible. Also, anytime a prospect fills out the form on our website, I place a follow-up call almost immediately. Forms that come in after hours are handled early the next morning.
You'd be surprised with the impression you can make with a quickly returned phone call. I can't count the number of sales I've made because I'd called and gotten a contract signed before another SEO company even returned the prospects call or email.
The Conversation of Persuasion
I know that high pressure sales work. If it didn't there wouldn't be so many people out there putting the screws to potential customers. But that's not my game. I'm more of a conversational type of person. If I'm talking to someone about our services and they tell me “no”, I usually just leave it at that. I'm certainly not going to hound them or keep bugging them to sign up with us, but I also realize that if I can conversationally keep them talking then I've got a chance at changing their mind.
This happened just the other day. I had been talking to a prospect and he called me back as promised (a rare event, indeed) to tell me he had decided to go with another company. This company was “three times cheaper” than our services. Instead of letting him go at that, like I often do, I decided to ask him if he wouldn't mind telling me what the services are the other company was offering at a third of our price.
Through that conversation I was able to point out the differences between our service and my competitors and provide him more information on what makes our services unique. I ultimately convinced him that we were the right company to go with.
The Honesty in Persuasion
I have a strict No BS policy. When clients call and ask about our services I don't make promises that can't be kept and I let them know up front what the situation is going to look like. Actually, you could say I take the “Scottie” approach. For those non-sci-fi fans, Scottie was the engineer on the original Star Trek series. Episode after episode the enterprise's engines would be damaged and the lives of the crew were at stake. Kirk would call Scottie and ask him how much time until the engines were fixed. Whatever the answer was, the death of the crew was going to result if the engines were not repaired far sooner than Scottie estimated. Of course, Scottie always came through in the end.
I would rather under-promise and over-deliver than the reverse. I always try to present the most likely and worst-case scenarios. This ensures that any new client fully understands that the process of optimization is not a short-term, quick fix solution, but a long-term investment. Who knows I've probably lost quite a few sales over the years by taking this approach, but a happy client is much better to work with than an angry one.
Following Through to Persuasion
A big part of our sales process is our follow up with prospects. Years ago I implemented an auto responder system for anybody who fills out a form on our website. Once a form is submitted, an immediate notification is sent out indicating that we have received the information. A followup email is sent out once a week for six weeks. These emails provide information detailing the benefits of SEO. They also include additional information about our services, client testimonials, and more.
I usually have already started a dialogue with the prospect, but these emails provide an additional point of contact with information that they might not have considered during our conversations.
When I send out a proposal to the prospect, I let them know that I'll be calling again in a few days to follow up and answer any questions they may have. By then, some have read the proposal and are ready with more questions, some are not. And of course, some can't be reached, in which case I simply keep trying.
In addition to the auto responders and no-pressure follow up calls, we also send out a letter or two via snail mail. In dealing with online businesses, where almost all communication is conducted by phone or email, we've been told these letters are a nice touch that also adds credibility and legitimacy to our company. Every little bit helps!
There is a lot more that goes into persuasion than these tips mentioned above. You can read my series on establishing web credibility, which stemmed from a study published by Stanford. Credibility is a big part of the persuasion process, but persuasion really is more about creating a path from the beginning to achieving a desired outcome. What you do along the way will determine whether or not you are able to persuade.
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Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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