motivating the customer (follow up to judgment, customer, agent, arbiter)

Maybe I need to make this a series.

I’m not a “born salesman.” Not who I am. For starters, my brain chemistry is pretty hard-wired against it. Maybe it’s because I was the youngest child…whatever the case, the instinct upstairs is generally defer or avoid in a conflict, rather than fight or demand. Add to that, I’m not naturally the glowing, beaming type either. I’m not a curmudgeon, but let’s just say I have to work pretty hard to win somebody over on charisma.

The upshot is I’ve learned to be more observant when I need to sell. One of the most important observations I’ve learned is to get very specific about the customer’s motivation. Generally, there’s a chain of people that need to be ‘sold’ to make a sale. Even if we’re selling to an individual, they might be, in their minds, deciding if their spouse, coworkers, or peers, would agree with their buying decision.

Sometimes the motivations along the way are plain as day and we never see them. If you’re selling something to a company, there are probably “business development” types that aren’t strictly salespeople, but a significant portion of their compensation is incentive based. If you can make yourself or what you are selling in some way valuable to those types, even if they’re not the decision makers, they can be very helpful. The more generalized their role the better. In other words, an inside sales appointment setter isn’t going to care what you’re selling.

But even those without obvious motivation still have some kind of hidden (real) motivation.

Here’s a personal example: a friend planning to sell her house needs some repairs done and called on two repairmen to give estimates. I’m guessing both will give similar good bids because they’re aware of the competition. They both were smart in trying to tap a hidden motivation though, knowing price parity was probably going to occur.

One happened to know the real estate agent my friend is using. He immediately set out to emphasize that relationship by knowing everything the agent (the “expert” in this scenario) would want in a make-ready project. I’m guessing he will even call the agent and ask her if there are any specifics she recommends beyond the repairs in the bidding process. The motivation he’s trying to tap: making my friend’s life easier by satisfying the agent, who ultimately is the “expert” in selling the house, the ultimate objective.

The other happened to know the roofer who had done repairs to her house before. Some water damage in a room was on the list of repairs. The damage was from a roof leak. This bidder went out of his way to inspect the roof, which was not on the list. His plan was to help my friend get the roof repaired for free and coordinate this with his friend the roofer. He was trying to tap another motivation: saving my friend money and time on a needed repair that the other repairman probably didn’t identify or include on the bid, but would probably be caught in a home inspection.

I’m not sure who my friend is going with, but the point is these street-wise repairmen knew to get the job they would need to tap a motivation above and beyond providing requested services at a competitive price.

Sometimes we need to create a motivation. I’ve spent some time trying to raise sponsorship money for non-profits and events. Raising this kind of money on the cause alone is challenging. And often, making obvious concessions for promotion makes your effort seem distasteful to the target. So I try to create triangles. With an event, I would often ask myself who I could invite as special guests that a sponsor would want the chance to talk to. With a general sponsorship, I would create a picture in my head. I would envision a giant image of a T-shirt with two sponsors on the back. Who would like to be next to each other? And with individual fundraising, there’s no secret why organizations include lists of existing donors in their material. Two points of this “triangle” are one point the non-profit and one point the existing donors. The other point, figuratively far away, is the target donor. The target may not be too motivated by the non-profit, but they want to be in the herd of the second point, existing donors.

This all goes back to the judgment of the customer article. If we don’t vigilantly look for the customer’s motivation, we aren’t doing anything to stack the odds in our favor (while the other guy probably is). When we whine the customer didn’t make the right choice, or get down that our offering doesn’t have the right merits, we’re being self-centered. We need to focus on understanding the individual customer’s judgment and motivation.

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