You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach right after you sign a big deal?
It’s a bitter-sweet moment. You’ve finally closed the deal — but the thought of having to actually do the work and deliver on your promises is frightening.
What if you don’t deliver? What if something goes wrong? What if you’ve overlooked something small but critical to the success of the project?
If you’re scared, just imagine how scared your buyer is.
Hiring a professional services provider or a consultant is loaded with risk. All the fears that are going through your mind are also going through your buyer’s mind.
In the end, your buyer is the one putting their hard earned money on the table. They’re the ones taking all the risk — they have every right to be afraid.
But the work has to get done somehow. And it usually goes to whoever does the best job of helping buyers overcome their fear, putting them at ease, and making them comfortable enough to sign on the dotted line.
Here’s how you can help buyers get over their fear:
1. Find out where the fear lives
You need to ask questions to start a sale, but you need to ask the right questions to close one. Unless you learn to probe and clarify throughout the entire sales process, you’ll never uncover a prospect’s hidden objections. — Dorothy Leeds
Everyone has baggage. Your buyer may have been ripped off in the past. They may have been promised the world and gotten far less. Or they may have come across far too many talented professionals, like yourself, who ended up being a huge disappointment.
The only thing you can know for sure is your buyer is afraid of something — and it’s your job to find out what that is.
Here are some guiding questions you can ask to bring out your buyers’ hidden fears:
- What’s happened until now?
Few problems are new. There’s usually a story of what’s happened to date, how they’ve handled it, and what they’ve learned. Somewhere in that story, the fear will rear its ugly head. Bring it out by getting some context.
- What’s motivating them to take action?
As you listen to their story, try to pick up on what has caused them to take action in the past and what’s held them back from taking action. There’s probably a pattern there. And it probably has a lot to do with their fear.
- Why are they talking to you?
If you’re having the conversation, they’ve taken action. But why now? Why not earlier? What’s happened to make this important right now?
- 10 Tips For Asking More Effective Sales Questions
- How to Get the Inside Story: Asking the Right Questions to Get Passed Information Barriers
- How to Qualify a Sales Lead
2. Tell a compelling (but true) story
Never underestimate the power of stories. They are the chief means by which humans have communicated for thousands of years, and we’re all “hard wired” to be persuaded by them. — Ben Settle
Fear has a logical side and an emotional side.
The logical side requires concrete data, facts, and evidence to be convinced that there’s really nothing to worry about.
The emotional side won’t be quieted by facts and figures alone. It needs to connect with the story surrounding the data that makes your buyer feel like they’re in good hands.
Here are 3 critical pieces to use in your story:
- You’ve been there before.
Give your buyer the facts — what you achieved, how you did it, and why it worked — but wrap in a story they can relate to. Pick a case study that’s as close to their situation as possible and make them feel like they’re in the same position your client was in before you came along.
- You know what you’re doing.
Make good use of white papers and special reports to show buyers exactly how you can solve their problem. Demonstrate why your approach is the one that gets results, and therefore the safest option, without making vague claims.
- You’ve already helped so many people.
Highlight customer testimonials that validate everything you’re saying about yourself. Good customer testimonials are less about facts and more about feelings. Find testimonials that chip away at your prospects’ fear.
- How I used a Case Study to Grow My Sales by 185%
- 4 Keys to Compelling Content Marketing With White Papers
- 10 Quick and Simple Ways to Power Up Your Customer Testimonials
3. Borrow other people’s credibility
Each and every person has an unlimited ability to achieve anything he or she wants through the power of connection. — Seth Godin
Buyers want to see that you’re connected within your industry. They want to know that you’re part of a community and you’re not going to just disappear one day.
Building strong social connections is critical to putting your buyer at ease. The good news is building those connections isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be.
- Expand your social reach.
Pick a social network that your industry uses (hint: LinkedIn) and invest heavily in building relationships. A large Twitter following or LinkedIn network may seem trivial — but it reinforces the idea that you’re a major player in the marketplace.
- Network with key influencers.
Who do people listen to in your market? Who do they trust? And how can you build relationships with the,? Getting the right people vouch for you and share your content can go a long way in building credibility.
- Improve your search ranking.
Google is the ultimate trusted authority. If a site is ranking relatively high for a search term — we assume it carries authority. A strong Google ranking is the equivalent of your entire industry giving you a referral.
- Seth Godin’s 4 Ideas on Marketing in The Connection Economy
- 9 LinkedIn Marketing Tips
- How I Spent 10 Minutes per Week to Triple My Twitter Followers
4. Give your buyer a safety net
When a prospect considers buying something, he asks himself, “Am I doing the right thing?” He or she associates the purchase with risk. Since the risk is in the prospect’s mind, it is perceived, but not necessarily real. — Myron Glassman
Even if you can convince buyers they have nothing to worry about — in the back of their minds they’ll still be thinking “Yeah but, what if…?”
How can you reduce risk in a professional services environment?
Once the work is done, it’s done. You can’t exactly offer a no hassle return policy (unless you want to go out of business). And it’s hard to offer hard guarantees because results will vary depending on the client and the problem.
Here are a few things you can do to create a safety net that puts buyers at ease:
- Stand behind your work.
If what you produce isn’t up to spec — you have to fix it. Work closely with buyers during the sales process to come up with a concrete definition of success. The more detailed it is, the easier it’ll be for you to make that guarantee.
- Be honest about the risks.
Don’t claim that success is guaranteed — no one will believe you. Buyers are more likely to feel comfortable if you tell them what the risks are up front instead of pretending there are none. State the risks clearly but show buyers how you plan on mitigating those risks.
- Focus on the relationship, not the deal.
No one wants a one time deal. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your buyer. The more you work together and the more your relationship grows, the better off everyone will be. Showing clients that you’re invested in the relationship will ease their anxiety. They need to know that if they’re not satisfied with the work, your business will suffer.
- How to Counter Your Customer’s Perceived Risk
- Four Strategies That Reduce Buyer Risk
- Risk Reversal’s Role Reversal
5. Ask for small incremental commitments
Most buyers have very low tolerance for pushy sales tactics. If you push too hard too soon — the fear will take over and send your buyers running.
Here’s how to keep the sales process moving without being a pushy jerk:
- Start things off with a discussion.
Buyers may not be sure why they’re talking to you at first. The last thing you want to do is remind them of that by pushing your agenda early. Keep things clean in the beginning. You just want to learn more about what they do to figure out how you can help. No pitch here.
- Wait for a cue to move to the next level.
Taking initiative isn’t always rewarded. If you start talking services and solutions too soon — your buyers’ fear will light up and the deal is dead. Focus instead on offering incredible value and insights. Then wait for your buyer to give you the go ahead to get into details (you have to know what the “go ahead” looks like though).
- Let them do the closing.
The hard close doesn’t work well in environments where trust is paramount. Even after building rapport throughout the buying process, closing the deal is still the scariest part of it all (for you and the buyer). There is a time where you just need to ask for the close. But before you do that, make good use of scarcity, urgency, and incentives to give buyers the hint that the time to act is now.
- What I Have Against the New Buying Process
- A Guide to Understanding the B2B Buying Process
- 5 Steps to Understanding your Customer’s Buying Process
By the time you’re done, buyers should be afraid of not hiring you.
What we fear most is the unknown. After going through the motions with you and getting to the final stages of the buying process — the thought of not hiring you should be the scariest of all.
Flickr creative commons image via Michael.