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OWNER'S MANUAL

How to Sell to Humans

People buy from other people--not from companies. HubSpot's Dharmesh Shah explains how to sell more by "solving for humans."
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HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah recently did something unsettling. He's a self-described evangelist for inbound marketing, or the idea that you use content to pull in customers, rather than ads that push them away. But in front of 5,000 employees and customers, he declared, "Inbound marketing is not the answer." Shah tells Inc.'s Jeff Haden why, as the balance of information power shifts more toward the consumer, the best strategy is to "solve for humans."

Why is inbound marketing not the answer? You've built a big business on just that.

Imagine you want to buy something. You find an incredibly helpful e-book or video, so you reach out to the company that produced it (a perfect example of the power of inbound marketing). Unfortunately, your experience with the sales team is miserable.

Now, you don't ever think, The sales experience was awful, but I don't mind because their marketing was so awesome! A mediocre sales experience far outweighs even extraordinary inbound marketing experiences.

So the process can't begin and end with your marketing.

Many companies have forgotten they sell to actual people. Humans care about the entire experience, not just marketing or sales or service. To really win in the modern age, you must solve for humans. Every process should be optimized for what is best for the customer--not your organization.

But every company claims to already do that. Most brand statements say some version of, "We put people first."

Brand was once the perception people have of your company. But brand no longer lives just in the minds of humans--it also lives inside algorithms. For example, the Google algorithm predicts whether a given webpage contains quality content, so your success depends partly on Google's algorithmic assessment of your brand.

What does that mean forthe future of brands?

In the future, you won't just hit Ignore when you get an annoying sales call; you'll also be able to down-vote that phone number. Someday, we won't just see caller ID on our phones but also caller reputation. As new tools are developed, algorithms will do a much better job of evaluating a brand than an individual can, because algorithms will be based on thousands of data reactions.

In short, harnessing the power of consumer advocacy is the answer.

A delighted B2B customer is a long-term customer: He will tell friends and colleagues (boosting your algorithmic brand), and if he leaves his job, he'll take your business with him. But forget about Customer Lifetime Value. Person Lifetime Value matters most. Humans don't buy from companies; humans buy from humans, so solving for humans is every smart company's primary goal.

Give me four rules for solving for humans:

1. Humans dislike interruption. People hate ads--especially pop-ups--when they're trying to do something else. It's an irritating experience, and irritated people won't buy from you.

2. Humans power algorithms. Vocal customers will increasingly power the algorithms that determine the perception--and success--of your business. Pay attention to what they say and where they say it.

3. Humans don't just care aboutwhat you sell. They also care how you sell it. Most buyers are halfway through the buying process before talking to you. Give them the info they need so they can sell themselves.

4. Humans crave a total experience. Marketing, sales, service, delivery, follow-up--you need to deliver a whole package that caters to the customer.

IMAGE: Photograph by Adam DeTour
From the November issue of Inc. magazine

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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