Selling in a Sales-Soaked World
"Are you ready for your dream career - work doing what you love - and start earning the salary you've been longing for?"
"If your coaching business is not growing as fast as you imagined it wold, like 100k in your first year fast, I know exactly what is happening. And how to fix it."
"DON'T PAY UNTIL I GET YOUR BUSINESS RESULTS!"
"Coaches...Do you want to have more impact, freedom and ultimately...income?"
Above is a beautiful pastiche of ads placed delicately in my Facebook feed about every three posts. It's not too much better on Instagram. A little better on LinkedIn (but for how long?!)...If we spend any time consuming any kind of media, we are being sold. All. Day. Every. Day.
And if we are being sold all day every day, our clients are too.
Do you feel overwhelmed by all this? Do you feel like it's hard to "cut through the noise" and "stand apart from the crowd," and "follow my EXACT SYSTEM for a 300-word Facebook ad to attract the high-end clients of your dreams" - oops, sorry, I got distracted there. Because I am overwhelmed.
Online marketing and sales is built on social triggers. It's celebrated. It's lauded. It's the way we do things around here.
And it is one of the reasons why it's hard to know how to approach sales when you don't want to manipulate people into doing what you hope they'll do - buy your thing.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling a little lost. I'm shifting business models and audiences to a large degree. Transition is hard. It feels shaky. It's frustratingly slow at times. And there are a lot of days when I don't even know how to get my day going. I'm saying this because I know a lot of other people feel that way too. It's not just me. And IT IS NOT A WEAKNESS OR A FAILURE TO FEEL THAT WAY. I'm yelling in all caps, mostly so I can hear it better.
When I feel that way, sometimes, the best thing to do is take a nap and regroup. But since I'm a human, and I need to eat and pay my modest car payment, I mostly freak out and start learning things, because learning things makes me feel better. Only, I've been doing that for a really long time, and it turns out, I already kind of have that conventional wisdom embedded in my bones. I bet you do too.
I spent the better part of a day going through an online course about sales I got as a bonus for another, completely different online course I had bought last year (I HAVE A PROBLEM, OK!? Those Facebook ads WORK! That's the thing! They work to get people to buy a thing sometimes. But do they work to help people actually achieve the transformation they promise? I-want-to-use-a-strong-obscenity-here-but-I'll-spare-you NO). Anyhoo, as I listened to the training from a person I respect and like very much, I realized I already know everything he was saying. I know all the formulas and sales call outlines and how to overcome money objections and on and on and on.
It confused me. Because...if I know "how" to do sales? What gives? Why does it still feel like a mystery?
Well. I figured it out.
And if you pay me six easy payments of $997 I'll tell you all about it.
Here's the thing. I realized that sales based on social triggers* are not OK for me to do, ethically. As a person. As an individual who respects the autonomy and authority of other individuals over their own lives and choices. *If you're not familiar with the idea of social triggers, see Robert Cialdini's book "Influence," which was written to help people avoid being sold and then twisted by online marketers to base their "EXACT SYSTEMS" on human psychology - though, to be fair, Fraud's nephew Edward Bernays invented that almost 100 years ago...And now that I've told you this, use the information for good and not evil, please.
I don't want to subvert someone's rational decision-making process with survival fears based on scarcity. I don't want to make people feel crappy about themselves in order to make a quick buck. I don't want to force a decision on a sales call because I know when I'm pressed to make a decision I freeze, and I mostly default to yes. I know a lot of people are like that. I never want to sell something to someone only to have them wake up with buyer's remorse the next day. I can't. I can't do that.
So. Here's the boring thing that's true about selling in a sales-soaked world. We still have something amazing and life-changing to offer people. We still have a duty to seek out our people - the people who need what we have - and serve them. We still can look at sales offers as invitations to a transformed (or at least marginally better, depending on your thing) life. We can take joy in that offering, and we can celebrate it. There is no shame in making your sacred work, important work, meaningful work available to people in a loving way. There is no harm done when we offer what we have in an authentic, human-honoring way.
The way to do sales in a world obliterated by marketing messages that soak so deep into our skin it's hard to "scrub it out" as a person in a mastermind call I attended the other day said, is to connect. Connect directly, personally, humanely, with other human beings. Listen to them. Empathize with them. Capture the essence of their hopes and dreams and co-create a way to make them happen with them. Make an offer. Let them think about it. Seal the deal. Make magic happen.
Connection is what is missing in all the sales copy and Facebook ads that are swarming around our heads all day every day. Connection is about real people being together - and we can do that in online spaces as well as in person. It's about seeing someone for who they are. It's about showing up just as yourself without mask, without pretense, without a hidden agenda to manipulate someone's weaknesses and exploiting their human psychology to get what you want. It's about creating a space away from that noise that tries to tell all of us we are not enough, we are too much, we will never measure up - except, if you use my EXACT SYSTEM for whatever, you finally will be OK. No. Let's let go of that.
Here's a way to do sales that still gets you closed deals without suckering people into it:
- Connect with people - in person, online, wherever. Network, Direct Outreach, ask for Referrals, and Keep in Touch (why are these capitalized? Because, they're Book Yourself Solid® Self-Promotion and Sales Cycle strategies, which are intended to be used for good and not evil);
- When they're ready, they'll let you know they're ready to have a sales conversation (and can you ask them if they're ready? Of course)!
- In your sales conversation, you'll listen to where they are now and what challenges they face. You'll hear their hopes and dreams and where they hope to be in the future. You'll understand what that will mean to them. You will ask if they'd like help with it, and if they'd like that help to come from you. If they say yes, you'll share with them the opportunity you have available, and ask if they're interested. If they say yes right away, great. Book the business. But. If they say they have to think about it - here's where my approach differs...this is where most coaches help you "overcome objections."
- If they're not ready to book the business, give them space. Give them space, and close the container. You understand people need to think about a big investment. That's OK. Why would they not do that? Why would you want someone, as a sales person once suggested I do to overcome my money objection, to put $15,000 on a credit card? That's endangering people. And no matter how much you believe in your own EXACT SYSTEM or whatever you sell, there is no excuse for getting people to financially endanger themselves so you can enrich yourself. If that's your thing, stop reading my blog right now because it makes me feel dirty just thinking you might be lurking near my words.
- Now. By "closing the container" I mean, when you're on that call, say something like, "I completely understand needing some time to think this over. I think it sounds like we'd be a good fit to work together, and I'd love to work with you. And I also really want to make sure you feel like this is the best possible decision for you right now. Let's schedule a call in a couple days to reconnect so we can talk details and decide whether to move forward." One person I know also gives their prospective clients a journaling exercise to help them think the opportunity through thoroughly. You can follow up with an email to thank them for their time, and attach a worksheet or more information, or nothing at all, and just trust that they are capable of making a good decision for themselves, and that if they're truly your ideal client, they'll pick you.
This isn't all that different from the usual sales conversation, except that it allows time for human brains to do the thing they need to do in order to make a big decision. It's not that hard. It's not necessarily that you'll close less business, but you'll close that business in a slower, more human-focused way, which, to me, is worth a lot.
So, if you use this EXACT SYSTEM to book more sales, you'll probably be so rich now. Just kidding again. Because, side-bar: getting rich isn't the only reason people are in business. I want to have enough money to go to the grocery store, save money, give money, and travel sometimes. I don't need to be "filthy hot stinking rich" as some online entrepreneurs put it. There's nothing wrong with having a business that serves the life you want to live, and for that life to be pretty normal. We're not in business just to grow a business. We're in business to support our lives and to support others in theirs. Set your sights where they need to be to make you feel like you're secure and happy. If you want to be rich, fine! I don't judge that - but if that's not really your thing, that's OK too. I feel like we're mostly told that we should want to make all the money, and if we're not hitting $100k in our first year, we're losers. Well. Look. Most people don't make that kind of money. Most businesses fail in the first five years. Let's do this the slow way. Let's take the tortoise at his word and know that "slow and steady wins the race."
Slow down. Breathe. Connect. Create containers for humans to do what they need to do, and enjoy your work.
Sarai Johnson is the best-selliing author of a few books, the founder of Lean Nonprofit and Sarai-Johnson.com, and a transformative speaker, and coach. She helps audacious souls bring their sacred work to life in the world without burning out or selling out, and currently works with nonprofit consultants, healers, and artists to help them make more money so they can go about the business of changing the world for the better. Sarai is a Book Yourself Solid® Certified Coach, GrowthWheel® Certified Business Advisor, Certified Cognitive Behavioral Group Facilitator and 200-RYT Yoga Instructor.
Check out the upcoming Book Yourself Solid® for Nonprofit Consultants coaching cohort program launching in August 2018 here (FYI, it is more than $997 by a little, but the point is, you should be totally cool with investing that money in yourself and your business if the time is right for you - and don't do it because you think Sarai can magically make you rich without you putting in the work, because it totally doesn't work like that). Learn more about Sarai's work here, here, and here.