The process of selling usually consists of three phases: marketing, lead nurturing and sales. You will always have to do marketing, but depending on what you're selling you will do more or less lead nurturing and actual sales. (If you're not familiar with these three phases, get the free Beginner's Guide to the Tornado Method.)
Takes smartphone apps for example. You build the app, put it up on the relevant store and wait for buyers to start buying. Your marketing makes people aware the product exists, but there's little lead nurturing or sales; potential buyers will do their own research and eventually make the purchase from the app store.
When you're selling something that requires lead nurturing (where you build trust with your buyers and establish your authority in the field), the process is a little more complex.
For example, if you're selling a course to help professionals do marketing, your own marketing will drive them to your website. From there, you may get them to subscribe to an email course or watch a webinar; those that do are "engaged" and have a higher probability of purchasing your course.
But if you jump from your lead nurturing (that email course or webinar) directly to offering them your course, your results may not be that good. The problem is that your potential client is still in learning mode; they're learning about your product or service and hopefully getting excited. They're not quite ready to buy yet, and your offer may actually put them off.
A better way to go from lead nurturing to sales is to build a bridge.
Build a bridge from lead nurturing to sales
To get potential clients from the "learning" state of mind to the "buying" state of mind, there is a transition. And the best way to help those potential clients make the transition is to build a bridge.
The concept of the bridge is quite simple:
Your potential client has indicated that they're interested in what you have to sell. They've followed the email course or watched your webinar, perhaps visited your sales page again and maybe even downloaded a lead magnet. They're a potential client and their engagement with your content has qualified them as higher-probability prospects.
Rather than going straight out and making them an offer, tell them that you're going to make them an offer. This is your bridge, and it may look something like this:
Thanks for completing my 5-day email course on how to supercharge your marketing and fill your sales pipeline. You may be interested to know that I will be offering a special discount - for a limited period of time - this coming Monday.
Of course, a full marketing email will contain more copy and more details, but this paragraph is the essence; you're giving them advance warning that you have a special offer coming up. Then, you can craft your "special offer" emails and communications to build up awareness before the offer starts, and encourage them to buy while the offer is active.
Use the bridge to build demand
Your bridge gives you the opportunity to build demand for your product. There are at least two things you can do:
- Create a sense of urgency: Your offer is going to be valid for a limited period of time only and will not be available again for some period of time.
- Create a sense of scarcity: Your offer will only be available for a limited number of customers.
Both of these techniques will help potential customers make a decision sooner rather than later. If they were not ready to buy in the first place this "pressure" will not cause them to buy. However, if they are ready to buy this may just push them to make the decision now.
Fo many of us, this kind of "pressure" is distasteful. We don't like being pushed into a "hard sale" ourselves and we are reluctant to make it part of our sales practices. But you don't have to make this a hard sell; you can be quite factual about the fact that the offer is only valid for a limited period of time to a limited number of customers.
The difference between a "hard sell" and a "soft sell" is in the presentation.
We can all recognise a hard sell. Big letters, lots of exclamation marks and bold colours are all signs of a hard sell. You don't have to do that - your sales copy has to be compelling but it does not have to be over the top. Stick to your own style and don't try to do something you find distasteful.
Example: online sales of info products
Info products (self-study courses) are great candidates for building a bridge. Your lead nurturing usually consists of an email course, an online webinar or a free download (a free preview of your info product is a good way to give people a sneak peek of what they will get).
Sophisticated marketers will use tools like Drip to send out the emails, invitations or previews and track engagement (to see if people are really interested in what you have to offer). At the end of the lead nurturing sequence you can decide whether the prospect is engaged enough to have a high probability of purchasing your product.
You can then build the bridge.
The bridge is typically a series or two or three emails announcing a special offer that will start at a particular time and run for a limited period of time. This gives potential buyers advance warning that there's an offer on the way, and the good stuff they've just been through (the lead nurturing sequence) is about to become available at a discount or with some other incentive.
Finally, a series of sales emails announce that the special offer is now live and potential buyers have a limited time to purchase a limited availability of your product.
A bridge is not for everyone
The concept of the bridge is attractive, but it is not always the right thing to do.
For example, if you sell consulting services, your sales process is going to involve a series of conversations with your potential clients. In this case, there is no need for a bridge. You will still need to establish trust and build your credibility though (and I've found that showing clients you have a well-defined process is often the key to making a sale).
I've also seen business owners use what I call a "soft bridge". In this case, there is a lead nurturing sequence (an email course or pre-recorded webinar) followed by an offer to a free 1-hour strategy session. At the end of the strategy session the seller will determine if the potential client is a good fit - if they are, the seller will send the potential client an information pack of their upcoming course and leave it at that. If the potential client is really interested, they will buy. If not, the seller does not waste any time pushing them to make a decision.
Progressing a sale from the lead nurturing stage to the offer stage can be difficult if your potential client is not in a "buying state of mind". To help them make the transition, you need to build a bridge.
The bridge announces an upcoming special offer, incentive (or even availability in your schedule). This prepares potential buyers for the offer and helps them seriously consider whether they would buy or not.
You can use the bridge to build demand for your product. Create a sense of urgency by limiting the offer to a specific period of time, and create scarcity by making it available to a limited number of buyers.
You can use a bridge for many kinds of products or services, but not all. Think carefully about whether you can use a bridge, and what the most appropriate kind of bridge would be. Sometimes a soft bridge will be more appropriate.