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HOW TO SELL ANYTHING

How to Fix Your Sales Message

Don't force your customers to do mental gymnastics to understand where you fit into their business.

Sales messages are important. Their purpose is two-fold: First, they should help convince prospective customers to buy from you; and second, they should help convince your existing customers to stay with you.

Unfortunately, most sales messages accomplish neither of these tasks--primarily because they force customers to do mental gymnastics, according to sales guru Dean Schantz.

Dean points out there are three generic types of sales messages:

  • "Is" message:  This explains who you are as a company, with the intent is to create credibility so that the customer will want to buy from you. Example: "We're the largest manufacturer of widgets in Kansas."
  • "Does" message: This explains what your company does for customers, making that offering visible to the customer.  The emphasis is on features, functions, and price. Example: "We supply high-quality widgets at the lowest price possible."
  • "Means" message: This explains what working with your firm (and buying its products) will mean to the customer's business and profitability. Example: "A lack of widgets will never stop your assembly line again."

Most sales messages fall into the "Is" or "Does" categories, both of which force a customer to translate the message into something that's meaningful to that customer.

Why the Message Fails

When you make an "Is" claim about your company, the first question that pops into a customer's mind is: "Why is this important to me?"

This is especially true when an "Is" message uses vague terminology like "We're the leading supplier of ..."  But even if the "Is" message contains a metric (say, "We are a billion-dollar firm"), the significance of the metric may not be obvious to the customer.  The customer might, for instance, think that huge revenues mean that they'll get lost in the shuffle if they have a problem.

Similarly, when you explain what your company "Does," it forces the customer to figure out how those features and functions fit into what the customer is trying to accomplish.  Once again, the first question in the customer's mind is: "Why is this important to me?"

Sure, some customers (especially the techies--who may not have decision-making authority) will make this translation automatically. But many customers won't, which leaves you communicating something that the customer may either not understand or consider irrelevant.

Better Way to Communicate

By contrast, "Means" messages do the heavy lifting for the customer.  Because these messages address the customer's business concerns, the customer can more easily understand how your firm and your offerings fits into what they are trying to accomplish.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Is: "We are a leading provider of market-enablement software."
  • Does: "Our software sends emails, tracks responses and prints reports."
  • Means: "We can increase your lead conversion rate as much as 50%."
  • Is: "We are a human resources training firm."
  • Does: "We offer a comprehensive suite of onboarding courses."
  • Means: "We can bring your new hires up to speed in half the time."

Note that a truly-effective "Means" message also contains a quantifiable financial benefit. This further lightens the customer's burden of understanding where your offerings fit.

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Last updated: Sep 18, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.




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