How to serve your customers by selling to them

by | Apr 4, 2007

Look Ma, No White Shoes!

You’ve heard the jokes and seen the cartoons about used car salesmen in white shoes and belts and loud plaid jackets. Yikes! For many of us this is the archetype of overt selling. As a result, your business, like mine, may have been keeping sales in the closet, depending on the kindness of strangers and the admiration of your network to bring in revenue.

Like me, you may have bent over backwards to provide value without requiring reciprocity. You write newsletters, you blog, you offer complimentary introductory session or ebooks. And if you don’t, odds are you are agonizing over what you can give prospective customers so that they will value you and your work without asking them to give back.

How thoughtful. How generous. How unhealthy.

Yes, unhealthy. Because when you don’t invite your customers to reciprocate, when you don’t issue clear, open, and regular invitations to buy, you consign your business to a kind of financial anorexia.

Anorexia stems from a distorted body image. Sufferers can languish and even die from starvation, yet they are convinced that they are fat. What’s more, they are convinced that being fat is a fate worse than death (literally). Similarly, if you are not okay with making money, with selling, real selling, then your business is likely to starve.

Financial anorexia

Would it be okay with you if people saw your business thriving? Or do you cling to the notion that somehow starvation is a more artistic or enlightened path? Heaven forfend that your clients or customers would think you are in business for the money!

And of course, you aren’t in business for the money any more than a healthy adult lives to eat. Yet, your business needs money just as certainly as you need food, and the more up front, clear, and effective you are at selling, the better your financial “diet.”

Okay, in theory, but how do you take care of your business without pressuring your customers and alienating your audience?

Subordinate selling to service

Selling is essential to financial survival, but there’s more to it than that. Unless you sell, you are letting your “just-right” customers down.

You see, your customers and clients – like you – have a lot more on their minds than whether or not your work can help. They could be crying out for the work you do, but distracted by the slings and arrows of everyday fortune: leaky plumbing, aging parents, boomerang kids – the list goes on and on.

In other words, if you are serious about helping (and you are), you’ll need to open your mind to selling. How do you keep selling from co-opting your values and your vision? Read on.

Keys to Selling that Serves

Begin with the end in mind

Stephen Covey had this one exactly right. (If you haven’t read his classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it’s well worth your time.) Before you sell anything to anyone, remember why you are going to do it.

This first key is the most important. If it is missing, you will run out of steam before you even begin the sales process.

Remember the archetype of the white-shoed car salesman*? It runs deep, and unless you consciously establish the service foundation for selling every time you write copy or tell someone about your work, you risk getting blind-sided by shame. And guess what? As soon as shame starts to burble up in you, your customers pick up on it.


Walk a mile in their shoes

What do your “just-right” customers need to know in order to make a decision? What could get in the way? What are the stakes if they fail to act?

I’m willing to bet that 90% of happy couples would not be together today if one partner hadn’t been willing to hang in there when the other seemed to hesitate or pull back. If the course of true love doesn’t run smooth, why would the course of deciding to buy something that’s a good fit?

When you stand in your just-right customer’s shoes for a while, you’ll see what steppingstones they might need in order to buy something that will truly serve them.
Are those steppingstones for everyone? Of course not. Is that a problem? No, and to find out why not, keep reading.

Dance with no as well as yes

When you are clear about who you are serving and how, open your heart even wider so that people who don’t need what you offer or who are not ready to buy, are free to decline. Rather than arming yourself against someone’s decision not to buy, open yourself to it.

Imagine a prospective client or customer considering and then deciding against your offer. Watch them closely in your mind’s eye without pretending to know what they are thinking. Just watch.

When you let go of what you think that they think about you, what do you see? Do you notice that they are simply taking care of themselves as best they know how? Good. Now notice how your heart eases as you unhook your self-esteem from their choices.

This heart’s ease completes the circuit from intention to serve to decision to sell to blessing all of your prospects whether or not they decide to buy. Selling becomes a conversation in which you advocate for those folks who want and can benefit from your work so that they can notice, consider, and decide.

*By the way, I love my car salesman, DJ Dougherty at Peninsula Subaru here on the Kitsap Peninsula. Why? Because he served me every step of the way. Two and a half years after buying “Blanche” from him, I still tell everyone I know about how happy I am with my car and with the process of buying her. How would it be if your customers told their friends about you because they loved the way you sold to them?

What do you think? Discuss this topic by posting a comment.

technorati tags: sales, selling, intentional selling, service, customers, clients, respectful sales