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Value Added: The Soft Sell

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Do you feel undervalued by your organisation or clients? In this new series Brian Griffin explores how a little sales savvy can boost your career.


Year after year, I’ve witnessed the apprehension with which the vast majority of trainers/coaches regard the promotion and selling of their services. Such concern is perfectly understandable and in many cases quite justified.

The most frequently cited objection to “selling” training/coaching services is that it’s unethical (many find the thought of using “sales tactics”, to be quite repugnant). And it’s true, hard sales practices are inappropriate, and indeed, rarely efficient. Yet, if you truly believe that your services can benefit individuals and organisations, then you are under a professional obligation to ensure that as many people as possible give you a fair hearing. It is a dereliction of your professionalism if you don’t use all your wit to bring more people to the view that “training/coaching works”.

However, whilst ethical sensitivity can be a very real and justified concern, this posture is all too often used as a convenient smokescreen that masks two underlying concerns – namely, fear and “snobbery”.

Fear can be divided into two components: (i) “Am I adequate for this task? Could I really possess the ability to woo a prospect to a purchase?” And (ii) fear of rejection. Who likes to be told, repeatedly “No, get out of my office.” This simply wears one down and corrodes one’s fragile confidence – therefore we avoid putting ourselves in situations where it might occur.

“Snobbery” is my shorthand to describe professionals’ reluctance to be, in any way, associated in people’s minds with salesmen. Just looking at BBC’s Watchdog programme sends most sensitive people recoiling in horror at the antics employed by smart-talking charlatans. Consequently, service professionals all too frequently prefer to adopt more “genteel” methods, such as networking, thereby sidestepping any danger of embarrassment or rejection – and you mix with a better class of people.

But this is rarely enough to get us the sales we need. We must find a way to conquer our fears and spread the word. Our business is unequivocally that of adding value to individuals and organisations. Therefore, we must devise and apply a modus operandi that gets us in front of prospective purchasers and gives us opportunities to help them recognise the role that our training/coaching can play. It must also be a modus op within which we are comfortable and our prospective clients are treated professionally.

So, if you were to come across an ethical process that treats Prospects with respect, eases their concerns and encourages them to look positively on you, would you adopt it? If you could overcome your fears and learn to live with them, would you be happier? And finally, if you accept that the effective selling of services does not require sales gimmickry, but instead is a highly sophisticated skill that focuses on matching Prospects’ needs with your skills; would you feel better about it?

There is a way – it’s called “Consultative Selling”. Follow this series of articles to acquire the skills to sell your services ethically and powerfully.
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Lesson 1: Nobody Wants Your Services

The phone rang the other morning. A consultant friend asked if I could call him back, right away. Mystified, I did so, then asked what was going on. He replied that he just wanted to hear the phone ring! You see, he’s been going through a slow period recently. Despondently, he muttered “It seems as if nobody wants to buy my services.”

This set me thinking, and of course, it’s true. Nobody wants our training, our consultancy, our mentoring or our coaching. What they do want is what it can do for them.

For example, I don’t want my tooth filled – what I do want is no more pain. I don’t want my car serviced – what I do want is not to be stranded at the side of the road again. I don’t want your IT support – what I do want is to stop wasting my valuable time mucking about with things I barely understand. So what are people really looking for when they consider buying your services?

Nobody wants your services: they want what your services can do for them. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to send them beating a path to your door. Using a specialist service supplier is a gamble for them and they can be very twitchy about paying out good money on the strength of your fine words. Indeed, don’t expect them to lend a receptive ear until (i) they’ve tried every way possible to resolve their problem themselves, and (ii) the problem they’re experiencing has eclipsed the agony of opening their wallets.

You see, fundamentally we buy just two things: good feelings and solutions to problems – and that’s it. For example, a new hairdo is primarily a good feeling purchase, whereas a mortgage is a solution to a problem. In reality, you’ll find that many purchases have an element of both, but one will always predominate. What are you primarily offering – good feelings or solutions to problems? By carefully ascertaining prospects’ real reasons behind their enquiry, and matching their wants to their needs, you’ll start to pick up far more business.

Finally, remember that customers can get services like yours from a lot of suppliers, but they’ll buy from the person they like. Prospects’ buying decisions are heavily influenced by how they feel your services are likely to meet their aspirations and equally by how much they like you.


About the author: Since the late 1980's Brian Griffin has focussed exclusively on helping training companies, consultants, trainers and others to better market and sell their professional services.He is a Chartered Marketer, a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development; a Fellow of the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He writes regular columns for a variety of media and is frequently guest speaker at conferences and seminars. For more information on go to www.sellingservices.co.uk.

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