The three biggest barriers to sales

A squirrel can jump about 4 feet high and as far as 9 feet horizontally. Given that they're less than one foot from nose to tail, this is pretty amazing. We're fortunate to have a south-facing back yard with lots of mature trees, and there are lots of squirrels around. Spring and summer is great squirrel time - they're chasing each other around the trees, running across the roof and using just about every power line, tree branch and fence like a highway.

We've managed to stop the squirrels from emptying our bird feeder in less than an hour - but it took investing in a squirrel-proof feeder. Not a lot seems to stop these little guys - and they're cheeky too. The local cats, dogs and humans (us included) are often the victim of a squirrel scolding - legs wide and tail up high they will screech at you to go away and leave them in peace.

I'm always amazed at how agile these guys are. There doesn't seem to be any barriers that will stop them - unlike selling where we seem to have barriers that are very difficult to overcome.

We're going to look at three barriers that you have to overcome to make successful sales. They are:

  1. inertia;
  2. confusion; and
  3. boredom.

The first barrier to sales is inertia

You probably started thinking about buying that new computer well before you actually bought it. Over time you became more and more frustrated at how slow the old one was getting, how heavy it was and how the battery life seemed to get less and less every day.

And then one day something happened that pushed you over the edge - you started serious research, drooling over specs (ok, maybe not all of us) and getting advice. And finally you went and bought it.

But when you think about it, it took some time before you got to the point where you started doing serious research. Even though things were not perfect you were willing to put up with it, because the pain you were feeling was not that bad.

This is called inertia.

When we make our own change we gradually overcome the inertia. But when we're speaking to a potential client we have to help them overcome their inertia.

Our potential clients have a problem - and we're just the people to help them solve that problem, right? If you make contact with your client before they're aware that they even have a problem we have a long road ahead of us. We have to make them aware of the problem, highlight the pain that they're feeling and start moving their thinking. This is step 1 in overcoming inertia.

Step 2 in overcoming inertia is to paint a picture of what the world is going to look like without that pain. If there's a real pain it's not too difficult to paint that picture.

But here's the key: this has to be a pain they really have. It's not your pain, or the pain that you imagine they must be feeling - it must be theirs.

The biggest mistake startups make is to build stuff nobody wants. And it's the same with sales - if we imagine that our clients must be feeling a pain we may not be right. Go ask them.

The second barrier to sales is confusion

Now that your clients are aware that they have a pain, and that the world could be a wonderful place without that pain, they are ready to start looking for solutions.

And here's where we fall flat. We're so in love with our solution (we built it, after all) that we immediately jump in and start talking about features and benefits.

Here's the problem:

People make buying decisions with their emotions, and justify it with logic after the fact.

So while we're harping on about features and benefits, we're losing the client. Because we're not talking about their pain any more, or how they're going to feel when the pain is gone. We're talking features and benefits.

So now your client is confused.

To avoid that confusion in the first place, you need to be able to demonstrate how each feature of your solution is going to make their pain go away and take them to the promised land. Keep tying the solution back to the pain and how they're going to feel when it's gone.

I've made this mistake a lot. My original education was in software development, and I could never understand why people could not fall in love with the whiz-bang features I built into my products. I was so in love with my solution that I forgot about the problem.

Don't fall in love with the solution. Fall in love with the problem.

If you can avoid falling in love with your solution - and fall in love with the problem - you have a much better chance of keeping your clients engaged.

The third barrier to sales is boredom

You're just like 20 others. You're the same and nothing stands out. You're boring.

When clients get bored they start comparing on features, benefits and (horrors!) price. And you don't want to be there.

So how do you stand out? More features, more benefits? Here's the secret:

It doesn't matter how you stand out. You just have to stand out.

And you don't have to stand out in many ways - you just have to stand out in one way that your clients are going to remember. Here are some ways that you can stand out:

  • Specialization: you specialize in something that no-one else does. You're the expert in one specific thing, and because you're specialized it's easy to find you - and it's easy to find your clients. I know a guy who specializes in mobile strategy for credit unions - and he's doing very well, thank you very much.
  • Brand: Your brand can make non-boring. I've used the example of Worstofall Design in previous articles. They're unashamedly badass and not afraid to say it. That's going to turn off some people - but it's going to attract exactly the people they want to work with.
  • Methodology: When you throw out the traditional way of doing things and invent your own way of doing it you stand out. But it's not enough just to do things differently - that difference also has to solve a pain. So if you're different because you do "a website in a day" you're not only different - you're also solving the problem of weeks or months before a website goes live.

CD Baby stood out because of their thank-you email - here's the full text from their website:

Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow. A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing. Our world-renowned packing specialist lit a local artisan candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy. We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved "Bon Voyage!" to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day.

We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as "Customer of the Year." We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

We miss you already. We'll be right here at patiently awaiting your return.

The minimalist bicycle stands out

One of my favorite shops in Inglewood (a neighborhood in Calgary) carry an eclectic range of goods - including some of the most beautifully made bicycles I've ever seen.

These bicycles are truly minimalist - except for the frame, wheels and pedals (and chain), there's only one other thing on the bicycle: a front brake. No gears, no rear brake, no baskets, no nothing else.

This makes it unique and therefore it stands out. Its not for everyone - but the people who do like minimalism and city bicycles will love these guys. Purchasing a bicycle is usually a self-initiated change, so inertia won't be a problem. There's no confusion about what this is - not just a bicycle but a beautifully made piece of machinery. And it definitely stands out from the competition.

Coffee shops that stand out

I do a lot of my writing early in the day - sometimes starting at 7am in a coffee shop. But not just any coffee shop.

Calgary has a vibrant coffee culture. There's a wide range of coffee shops across the city, the coffee art is outstanding and the coffee great. But not all of them cut it as a place to write.

Here's what I want from a coffee shop where I can productively write:

  • Open early: I start writing between 7:00 and 7:30 - not all coffee shops open at that time (at least consistently).
  • Good coffee: almost all of them do this well.
  • Comfortable seating: I'm going to be here for an hour (or a little more). My bum hurts when I don't have something soft to sit on.
  • Tolerable noise levels: Early mornings are not too bad when it comes to noise levels - except if they turn the music up so loud that I can't hear my own music though my earbuds.

There's no inertia here - I already know that I am going to go to a coffee shop to write. There's also no confusion about what I need - good coffee, not too noisy, soft seats, open at 7am. But there are very few coffee shops in town that meet all of those requirements. And that's where I'm sitting writing this now.

Squirrels overcome almost any barrier

Squirrels are born with agility. They can even turn their back feet through 180 degrees so they can run down a tree with no problem. And no matter how hard you try to keep them out of somewhere they seem to overcome those barriers.

We're not born with the ability to overcome sales barriers. But we can learn how to overcome them. It takes knowledge, practice and persistence - not bugging or hassling potential clients, but persevering on your own efforts to get better at something.

And pretty soon - just like the squirrels - you'll be able to make it seem effortless.

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