In his new book, God Is A Salesman, author Mark Stevens explains that first-class salespeople should emulate the "ultimate salesman" by quietly and invisibly demonstrating why customers should believe in them and in turn buy from them.
IndustryWeek posed some questions to Stevens based on the principles of his book.
Q. You advise that it is important for companies to treat the people they sell to, as well as their employees, as family members. Can you explain?
A. When companies think of the people who buy their products as "customers" they treat them as numbers. And no one wants to be a number. We want to be valued. We want to be surprised by gestures of thoughtfulness. Thinking of the people who support our businesses as family members is like looking through a prism and changing every aspect of the way we relate to them, for the better.
While speaking at the Siemens global CEO conference in Berlin this past October, I noted that every three years I purchase a new Mercedes and each one is always better than the last, often in little details only a long-term Mercedes owner would notice. Sitting in the audience was the company's CFO. When I completed my speech, he approached me to ask which improvements I was referring to. He seemed genuinely delighted to learn of my pleasure and said "We feel like we are all family members. We drive the cars too, not because we make them, but because we want to see first hand how they perform and then suggest to the engineers how to make them better."
Q. One of your key principles is that companies should make an iron clad guarantee. Is that realistic?
A. Yes, but not the kind of guarantee you may jump to at first thought. Forget the lawyers and the fine print for a moment. The guarantee people want most is that the company will stand behind their product. They want to know that whenever there is a legitimate problem, the company representative they talk to will address it until the customer is thrilled: no questions asked.
When I was at the Nike campus consulting with senior management, they advised me of their guarantee policy: Just say sorry you weren't thrilled, take back the shoes and offer the customer a new pair of shoes and an added benefit to make up for the disappointment. Simply providing a credit is not nearly enough. It's a wash. A great company, one that believes in giving an iron clad guarantee, does so and then demonstrates its commitment by providing the customer with an added gesture of commitment when and if something goes wrong. This is the kind of guarantee that matters most to people....and it is in sync with being treated as a family member.
Q. You advise that it is important to make potential customers "an offer they can't refuse." Does that mean a low price? Or some form of staggering innovation?
A. Neither. It means creating a message that demonstrates that the product is greater than the sum of its parts. Henry Ford is widely viewed as a skilled manufacturer, and he was, but his greatest feat came in the marketing and sales arena. No one could move the metal like Henry. And he did so by selling more than cars: he sold the freedom to leave the farm at night, to visit relatives and neighbors, to see more of the world. That was an offer Ford's prospects, an entire nation, could not refuse.
One of our clients, Red Boomerang, creates IT backup software. When we went to market, we knew we needed a highly compelling way to sell that. Something, yes, greater than the sum of its parts. With this in mind, we developed the concept of Protect Your Genius. Everyone creates plans, poems, pictures, photos -- intellectual property that is their genius. Red Boomerang backs this up in remote storage but we sell it in a way that people can't refuse: protecting your most valuable assets. Your ideas.
Today, anything that is perceived as equal to the sum of its parts isn't good enough. Increasingly, Nokia's won't be able to compete with iPhones or Google Phones. Ask Steve or Sergey about an offer you can't refuse. They live by it.
Q. Why do you say people buy trust before they buy products?
A. In almost every case, a manufactured product has a competitive entry that is just as good or even better. Why is one a category leader and another an also-ran?
Trust! Consider the following companies, leaders in a wide range of industries, that are leaders for the primary fact that people believe in them. Trust them: Toyota, Maytag, Levi Strauss, Anheuser-Busch, Proctor & Gamble.
So much time and money is often spent on advertising and other forms of marketing without sufficient consideration of the trust factor. And that is money down the drain. If people don't believe Chevys will serve them safely and reliably, that GM could care less about them as human beings, they will make sure Toyota takes the global top slot in car sales no matter how much money Chevy's ad agencies throw at TV.
The real bottom line is that there are no shortcuts in business. The companies that commit themselves to their customers, that think ahead of the curve, that seek out shortcomings proactively, that engage in relentless improvement, they have a family of loyal customers who know a guarantee when they see one and trust them for life.
Mark Stevens, is CEO of the global marketing/management firm, MSCO. www.msco.com