Marketing: don’t spray and pray

For the first time in a while, I came across a really pushy, door-to-door
salesman. It was an experience I’m not keen to repeat! This particular one was
selling for an energy supplier. He brought to mind another person who appeared
at my door selling stuff out of a large bag. With the energy salesman I
literally (but politely) closed the door on him but he still kept throwing
information at me, edging to the side so he could see me through the ever
decreasing doorway. The other guy begged me just to have a look, while he lifted
various household cleaning items out of his bag. Now, I don’t know about you,
but sometimes I might have bought something, just out of pity. Given the current
economic climate, I kept my five pounds and politely said goodbye.

In each case, they sprayed me with information, praying that some of it might
stick. I wouldn’t suggest that we, in the accountancy world, would ever be so
crass but, having been sold to many times, I have seen examples which might be
considered in the same vein. Brochures landing on my desk, unsolicited phone
calls highlighting the latest offer, or even worse, generic responses to an
enquiry which did not address my particular needs.

So why does this happen?

It’s all about the seller’s agenda. Obviously, if you are a business
developer, you are likely to be rewarded on sales. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
However, if the selling techniques used are entirely about what is good for the
business developer, it suggests thinking about the client’s needs are somewhere
down the list of priorities. Short-term sales may lead to long-term avoidance of
you on behalf of the client.

In accountancy, we are selling expertise and relationships. Our professional
advice is generally a significant investment for our clients – we are unlikely
to get the sale based on foot in-the-door tactics. Our client needs to truly
understand and believe that we are competent in their world – that we understand
their particular pressures.

There is also likely to be an exchange of sensitive and confidential
information – there needs to be trust in that relationship. Our client needs to
feel that we are on their side – not worrying about our business development

Clients will also want to feel that we are compatible – that we will work
easily with them and not jar with any of their values. I vividly remember having
to remove a supplier in my last company, who was technically very competent, but
whose sexist attitudes led to a complaint from a female member of staff.
Sometimes it’s the values that clash.

The way to avoid this?

* Decide what your ideal client base should look like. Which company’s values
will match yours?

* Build relationships over the long term, without a business development
agenda at the forefront.

* Think like clients. What is important to them? Can you help? If not, don’t
‘spray’ them with information anyway, and ‘pray’ that some of it sticks.

“I’m not a salesperson!”

The other principle reason that business development might go wrong is an
(understandable) discomfort with the whole idea of sales. For many of us,
business development brings to mind the door-to-door salesman idea. Horrible!

Strangely, in a misguided attempt to generate business we might, however,
adopt a similar approach. We might ask the marketing department to produce a
brochure on our latest offering. We might sponsor some events to ‘get our name
out there’. Or we might have a game of golf with appropriate people and drop
into the conversation that we have a new service.

We are paid to be experts after all – we love talking about our professions,
or the latest technical challenge. This might be relevant, but only if the
client is interested as well.
Or we might just avoid the whole area. Business development is seen as rather
beneath us – after all, our clients should already know how wonderful we are.

So what should we do?

* Recognise that you are in a business – and businesses need clients. Take
time to get the clients you love working with.

* Build relationships over time. Find out about your clients. Give them
focused information when they want it.

* Stop selling and start building the motivation to buy. Drop the image of
‘spraying and praying’, and imagine your clients running after you, begging you
to work for them because they feel you are interested in them.

If you do business development in the right way, doors will be opened to you,
and there won’t be a brochure in sight!

Alison Hartley is a consultant at PACE Partners International

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