The Hardest Sale

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I’ve been planning to write on this topic for a while, but it’s taken me a bit to put my thoughts together.  I decided to just shoot straight.  For those who don’t know, I have a background in retail management.   On any given day I managed hundreds of employees, dealt with thousands of products, and I can’t even begin to quantify the amount of cash that I was responsible for.  I worked directly with CEOs, business owners, organizations, politicians, and the every day customer.  I coordinated with our corporate trainers, hired, and fired.  I met with every level of leadership at our corporate office, that also happened to be just down the road.
After leaving that field, over the years I’ve done a few other things.  I worked in direct sales, started some niche businesses, and so on.  So, when it comes to sales… retail… marketing… business… I’d surprise you with what I know.
Because of my background, when it comes to sales… I am also a skeptic.
That may surprise some people. Others not so much.
As a customer, I will be your hardest sell.  I can also be your best customer.

I’m going to give you some insight into the mind of a customer who thinks like me.  Why?  Because, maybe you are opening a business in 2021.  Perhaps you are wondering why people are not falling through the door to hire you for the service you provide.  You may even wonder why it seems so hard to reach people for your ministry or non-profit.

Have a Good, Functioning, Website.
If I can’t find what I’m looking for on your website, if it takes me too long to check out, if your verification processes are broken, and if I feel the slightest inclination that my information is not safe… I leave without purchasing.    It’s pretty astonishing how quickly a poorly designed and developed website sends me packing.  At least it was until I watched  a TEDtalk that said customers want to execute their purpose on your site within 3 clicks.  Longer than three clicks or three searches to find what they are looking for?  Gone.  Longer than 3 clicks (or page loads) to check out?  Gone.   I guess I’m not alone, the numbers don’t lie.
Even if you are not selling products, but looking for information, make it easy to find.  Make sure those links work.
Not that I said a “good, functioning” website.  Not perfect.  Not high tech.  Not all the bells and whistles.  Just one that has the information, and it works like it is supposed to.
Be straight forward.
If I have to hunt for the information, it makes me question how forthcoming you are.  If I can’t find out about your company/product without providing my information first, I will pass on by.  If you are promoting your product, but you can’t say the name of what you sell or the company that sells it, I will pass on by. 
If you are trying to recruit a person for a sales company, be honest about commission.  Nothing irks me more than when people tout what the top 0.5% of the company are making as something “anyone can do”. (This coming from someone who did direct sales, was the director for her state, won trips, etc.)
A skeptical customer wants full disclosure, otherwise it seems suspicious. I shouldn’t have to work to be your customer.  I shouldn’t have to disclose my personal information until you disclose what you are selling, how much it costs, etc.
If you are offering a service, clients like me want to find that information on your site quickly.  What do you offer, how much does it generally cost, what does it include.  We want upfront pricing, or at least an estimate so we have an idea of what you are expecting for pay. 
If you are a ministry or non-profit, we want to have a clear idea of who you are, what you stand for/believe in, and how you serve the community.  I can’t tell you how many church websites I have visited that don’t have their service times or even the church address on the website.  Parents want to know if you offer a children’s program or youth group.  Women want to know if you a have a Women’s Ministry. For non-profits we want to see statistics on who you serve & how much of your raised funds go directly to those whom you serve.
Understand we wait, watch, and learn.
If you provide a service, course, class, etc. I sit back and watch. I want to see what kind of sales person or business owner you are. I am watching to see what people say about you, or how you respond to others questions or concerns.  If it is a company or product that I am unfamiliar with, I am doing research too.  I am looking up the history of the company, customer reviews, customer criticism, BBB comments, and looking at FB/yelp ratings.   I want to watch how you conduct business, how you respond to competitors, etc.
It will take a bit before I am willing to give you my money.  It will take longer for me to make referrals.  I will never recommend a company, product, service, etc. that I have not vetted.   However, once you have gained me as a customer, you will have one for life.  Remember, at the beginning I said I can also be your best customer.  If you are honest, have great customer service, and your products are amazing… I will tell people about it.  If I’m being quiet it means I just not convinced enough to put my name on the line just yet.
It could take me a year or more of having your service before I recommend you to someone else.  I’m not judging you based on your immediate performance, but over the long haul.
In the case of a ministry, I’m looking to see how the ministry navigates in the community, what are the messages that are taught.  I don’t take recommendations lightly, so don’t be offended if I’m not screaming your name off the roof tops yet.  It means I’m learning more about you, your staff, your purpose, who you serve, how you serve, the results of your efforts.
Be clear about who you are.
I am skeptical of anyone who is bouncing from one business to the next.  I am uncertain about people, businesses, products, or events where the purpose is unclear.  I will become cautious if I even begin to question your integrity.   I will also begin to question moving forward if I feel there are less than genuine intentions.  Nothing will shoo me away faster than a sales pitch wrapped in concern.  Nothing will turn me off faster than when I feel you baited me into a conversation that ends with a sales pitch.
I’m not suggestion I need to be BFF’s with everyone I do business with, sometimes it’s just that… business.  But, don’t feign a relationship for the sake of the sale of your product or to pitch your service that I “need”. 
The same can be said for ministries and churches.  Be careful that you are not using gimmicks to lure people in, that you are putting on a show for the sake of awing the crowd, etc.  We can see through those veiled attempts to look cool or be the next big thing.  We are still seeking substance.  If your ministry or church is on it’s 10th name in as many years, rebranding after rebranding, my skeptic meter is going off.  I’m going to be very hesitant to visit or recommend anyone to you.
Finally, don’t waste my time, money, or emotional currency.
While this really is a given, even for those who are non-skeptics,  you’d be surprised that I need to say it.  I remember back in my retail management days thinking about how much time was wasted in meetings.  I don’t want to waste my time on things that don’t give me a return on that investment.  I’d rather sit at home and read through documents at my leisure than sit through a long sales pitch.
My husband and I were once asked to attend a meeting, but we really were not given much info.  At the end of a lengthy presentation, we were asked to join up with this revolutionary company.  We couldn’t because of my husband’s employee contract having a non compete clause.  (First of all, had we been given the full info from the start… we wouldn’t have gone and wasted our time or the time of those who put it together). 
The gentleman continued on trying to “help us” find ways around it.  (Second, don’t ask me to bend the rules for your advancement, that is not helping me).  No matter how many times we tried to excuse ourselves, he kept going until we finally had to firmly shut it down.  (Third, sorry… I’m not risking my husband’s job, that has benefits, pension, etc. for anyone.)
When you don’t fully disclose what you are doing, and a skeptic feels like you lured them into something… taking their time, taking their money, etc…. you can’t undo the damage from that.  We will run and never look back.
When attempting to sell a service, don’t promise more than you can deliver.  Or try to sell me on something that I very much don’t need.  I remember once getting a message from someone that I hadn’t talked to in several years.  She opened with the typical “long time no chat” only to ease into the sales pitch of her service that she felt I needed. 
For ministries and churches, don’t make promises to people to get them to engage that you can’t keep.  Or call someone in for a meeting, only to keep them waiting.  Nor set up an event, and invite everyone, only to pitch to them on the spot for donations.  Dave Ramsey folks didn’t budget for that!  When we see that you are disorganized, going off the cuff, and don’t have clear vision it makes us wonder how reliable you are.  And, for skeptics, those are all red flags to us that will send us running for the mountains.   
When you are honest and put the cards on the table…
When you are patient and let us take our time to assess…
When you respect and value us as a person before sale…
When you exhibit integrity and responsibility…
When you clearly present information, or make it easy to find…
When you are upfront about your expectations…
Skeptics can end up being your most loyal customer, regular client, or dedicated member/supporter.

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