Product demand and brand scores are down and the reasons are tough to manage. There are a multitude of factors influencing buyers: some are within our control and many are not.
Factors such as bad experiences with retailers and intermediaries, mediocre service levels, the increasing number of competitors with similar products and brands, and cheaper pricing are just some of the causes. The tricky global situation is also creating a more conservative spending climate where saving is now the prevailing consumer mindset.
With all of this, how do we influence our customers so that they want to buy from us? How do we successfully compete for their time and attention?
To try to understand what influences people, it helps to understand how the brain prioritises information and how that influences behaviour. The brain is continuously receiving enormous amounts of information via our five senses. It cannot process all this information consciously so much of the information is sent to the subconscious for storage and automatic retrieval.
However, to function effectively the brain needs to prioritise information so it can make decisions about what it needs to focus on at any given time. The human brain is designed to pay conscious attention to four key areas and they are organised in order of priority via the DIDI system:
- Interesting (novel)
The conscious brain will pay immediate attention if something is Dangerous; this overrides everything and prioritises the actions of the person concerned. Given the current economic climate perhaps many people are now prioritising Dangerous as their main influencing factor. Moving to a more cautious approach, they are scrutinising the ethics, viability, etc, of organisations.
Given there is very little differentiation between comparative products themselves, and in the absence of other value-added differentiators, price becomes Important to buyers.
Determining what buyers or customers see as Dangerous and Important is critical for any business because this is where our brains focus. If the areas of Danger and Importance can be satisfied then we are in a position to focus on Delightful and Interesting.
So what exactly is influencing your customers and prospects?
The digital revolution and the explosion of social media have profoundly changed what influences customers as they undertake their purchasing decision journey. When considering products and services, consumers now read online reviews, compare prices and have easy access to literally hundreds of alternative sources of supply. This information is constantly interacting with our brains and causing us to reprioritise our conscious brain’s priority ranking system.
So, once face-to-face with salespeople, customers are putting themselves in a strong position to drive hard bargains. Many of their conscious brains are being programmed by this information to look for bargains. And after the purchase they become reviewers themselves – demanding ongoing relationships with suppliers who they pressurise for added attention, incremental service and support levels, fundamentally changing the scope of the primary activities in a value chain.
What is surprising is that although sales leaders have access to terabytes of data about buyer behaviour, many still can’t answer the fundamental question: How exactly are customers and prospects being influenced and what is of priority to them?
So how do you get your buyers’ attention?
One way to change this stereotypical thinking is recognising that social media can be harnessed as a sales tool, rather than a sales enemy.
One of our clients – a global fast-moving consumer goods producer – relied heavily on traditional marketing as its push and traditional sales as its pull through strategy. Awareness of social media resulted in a shift from above-the-line television and newspaper advertising, which had become white noise and no longer a priority to their buyers’ conscious brains, to internet-based social interactions with its consumers where interactions were much more important, delightful or interesting. This organisation then coupled this social media interaction with in-store promotion and support to the retail channel by their salespeople.
Sales no longer attempted to sell product. Once listed (at head office level), sales assisted store managers to determine the most effective in-store locations, shelf-space and promotions (in other words – sales focused on providing priority solutions, rather than just products). This change in mindset and activity resulted in an increase in buyer spend, in spite of the premium prices charged by this FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company.
Beyond direct value/volume measures, there is a simple three-step approach that should be considered when developing the sales strategy that drives sales measures:
- Measure the impact of sales effort on the “conscious share of mind” of customers and prospects;
- Measure the prospects’ awareness of the organisation’s value proposition – is it a priority to your buyers;
- Measure the call-back that salespeople have had with specific prospects.
A simple tele-research campaign with well-constructed questions will soon tell sales management how well the sales force has managed these three activities and managed to capture DIDI share of mind – either of the organisation’s current customer base or prospects in a territory.
Remember, everybody lives by selling something.
Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit www.barrett.com.au