This episode of the Coders’ Startup is all about sales–specifically, sales strategies for small businesses that work today, not five or ten years ago. I should clarify that these strategies are working in early February, 2016, when this post went live. Take note if you are reading this at a future date, as it’s very possible that what works in sales may have changed by then.
Much of the information in this episode has been mentioned in previous episodes, so consider this a laser-focused summary and aggregation of all the gems of knowledge we’ve dropped about sales over the past few months. This is beneficial for you if you’re primarily interested in how to increase your sales, as you won’t need to go hunting through every episode to find the information that will help you most.
We’ll jump right into this topic without further ado, beginning with tactics I’ve learned from my business-to-customer perspective, with Carter later offering insights for the business-to-business approach.
Give Value First and Build a Relationship
For real-world context, I’ll explain my sales strategies through personal examples. I have recently managed to accrue some decent sales with my new monthly recurring revenue product, Coders Campus, using the tactics I am about to describe.
If you missed the episodes in which I described my approach for Coders Campus, you should know it’s a subscription-based website where I offer all my products in one package and teach my customers how to become well-rounded, full-stack developers.
Shortly after launching this new product, I was faced with the question of how I could get people to buy into it. The first part of the answer was simple: give away free content.
I know it may seem like you get hammered over the head with this message again and again. We’ve mentioned Gary Vaynerchuk and his book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, several times on the show. He is a huge proponent of giving value first, and there’s a reason why he wrote a whole book about it: because it works!
Over 30 years ago, Dr. Robert Cialdini published his classic book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, in which he explained what happens to a person psychologically when they are given something for free and how you can use this phenomenon to your advantage.
In short, people like to be given valuable things for free, and they like the people who give them free things. More importantly, receiving a gift creates a need to reciprocate the gesture, which is why people are more likely to buy from you in the future if you give them free content.
As I’ve said in previous episodes, people are also a lot more likely to buy from you if they know, like and trust you, and giving away free content is the first step toward building this relationship. All of this is why my strategy for selling my Coders Campus product was to send out an email series with one goal in mind: give, give, give.
I gave everyone on my email list access to five very long webinars I had previously recorded; in the middle and at the end of each webinar, I inserted an advertisement for Coders Campus that outlined the benefits and features of the product and created scarcity.
This formula of benefits, features and scarcity works for me time and again, whether it’s presented in an email, webinar, podcast, or what have you. Always hook your audience with the benefits of your product and incite them to action by creating scarcity.
In this example, after I had given away all five webinars, I gave my audience three days to use a coupon code that would take 15% off the price of the product for life. I tried to sell them on the magnitude of the bargain I was offering, and a lot of people subsequently signed up for the product.
If you don’t like offering discounts on your products, you could also create scarcity through limited-time bonuses. Whatever your preferred method, never forget to use scarcity to your advantage, because it just works.
Convince Your Audience to Engage with Your Free Content
Of course, you can’t assume your audience will actually engage with your free content just because you present it to them. If you send them a link in an email, you need to sell them on clicking it.
Be sure to present the content in a way that stresses its benefits, much as you would do when pushing for a sale. Use copywriting strategies (such as those we discussed in Episode 39), strong headlines, bolding and bullet points, and so on, to stress the benefits of the free content.
If you use an automated email sequence (as you should), chain your emails together so people who do not consume your content receive a new email reminding them to do so.
Email service providers such as Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign and ConvertKit allow you to tag recipients if they did not consume your content, click a link, make a purchase, or otherwise perform the action you wanted them to take. You can then direct them to a new email series designed to get them to engage.
So, let’s assume someone did not watch the free webinar video I sent them. A few days later, I can send them a second email to remind them why they really need to check out the video and try again to sell them on its benefits.
Here’s another example. If someone doesn’t buy from you the first time you ask for the sale, don’t assume they’ll never buy from you in the future. Instead, build in some kind of contingency. Offer a special bonus or discount on the product, send them the same offer again in two months, or try to sell them a completely different product.
The bottom line is: if you don’t have a contingency plan in place, you’re losing out on potential sales.
Consider the following strategy that comes from the book Invisible Selling Machine by Ryan Deiss, CEO of DigitalMarketer.com. First, hook a potential customer with a great lead magnet you know converts well, and if they don’t end up purchasing your core product, redirect them to a new piece of content to reintroduce them into your sales funnel.
In my case, I could redirect someone to an evergreen webinar I recorded that’s designed to provide valuable content and get them interested in purchasing my product. This is essentially what John Lee Dumas of the EOFire Podcast does, except he sends you an email invite to his webinar every single week until you either watch the webinar or unsubscribe from his email list, because he knows you are very likely to convert on the sale once you consume the webinar.
The B-B Perspective: Prove Your Worth
Everything we’ve talked about so far is geared toward business-to-customer sales, but Carter can confirm the basic principle of delivering value first holds true for business-to-business interactions, though the process looks a little bit different.
When Carter’s company makes contact with a new lead, they first do a one-on-one call with the client to see if the business will be a good fit for them.
If the business is a good fit, Carter and his team then initiate the process of understanding what the business is like, how it operates, and what its struggles are.
Carter and his team are very aware that any client considering their services is most likely investigating other companies at the same time, so they are sure to surpass expectations and prove to the client that they know how to “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk.”
To do this, they create their entire plan of action for their client’s business, including items such as 30-day, 60-day and 90-day goals, and present the plan to the client.
Many people think that if you give the solution to your potential customer, then they will take it for themselves and have no further need for you, but what actually happens is you show them how you will get the results you are promising and thereby demonstrate your worth as a service provider.
Carter has found that this strategy works so much better than presenting case studies, references, tripwires in the form of information, or other traditional methods of demonstrating worth. He attributes their ability to get business to this method and claims it gives them an 80% close rate (which is insane!).
This is a case of telling what you’ll do versus showing how you’ll do it. Telling a customer what you can do for them is easy and basic, but showing them how you will do it is extremely valuable. It creates authority for yourself and makes them want to do business with you.
Using this strategy gives your customer the information they need to make a confident purchase, which is good for you as a seller, because everyone wants to be confident in their purchases.
As a brief aside, customer testimonials are another way to demonstrate your value to potential customers, and they’re great for your sales.
The team behind SamCart, the service I use for my checkout pages, recently ran a split-test on all their customers and determined that one great testimonial beats out three average testimonials. Therefore, only show your great testimonials to potential customers!
Serve Up a Strong Call to Action
And now for our final sales tactic, although this is one is really a necessity.
For the first two years of my entrepreneurial career, I repeatedly made the mistake of giving away value without providing a call to action. My email funnel was just me giving away a bunch of free stuff and never explicitly asking for the sale.
Many beginning entrepreneurs struggle with the call to action, but it’s something you need to be intentional about. You can’t afford to be afraid to ask for the sale, because then you won’t make any sales.
So, how can you get better at this if it’s difficult for you? In my case, I had to struggle for two years before I finally realized my sales strategy wasn’t working.
Around that time, I was fortunate enough to discover the DigitalMarketer article, “Customer Value Optimization,” which lays out the path to success. I learned you need to have a call to action or else there’s no real point in giving away all that free content.
In order to get better at asking for the sale, you need to step up to the proverbial plate, fight through the nervousness, and simply ask for the sale. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll start to realize it isn’t so horrible.
Then you can move onto the next thing that seems scary but is absolutely necessary for your business. There will always be a scary “next thing” to tackle, but you have to learn to keep stepping up to the plate.
Rest assured that your audience will let you know if you are pushing too hard for sales. Even then, the worst that can happen is you might upset some people, and they might complain to you.
On the flip side, the worst that can happen if you don’t push enough for sales is you’ll end up losing a lot of potential business. It’s much better to err on the side of being too aggressive and risk annoying a few people.
To recap, never forget to have a call to action after you give away your free content. My rule of thumb is: give away five free things and then ask for the sale–or, if the content is especially large, insert your sales pitch in the middle.
This concludes our episode on sales tactics that work right now (February 2016) for small businesses. Again, most of this was review from previous episodes, but now you have it all in one place in case you missed any pieces in the past. If your business practices are falling short in one of the areas we mentioned, start fixing them. You’ll thank us later.
For your reading recommendations this week, choose from one of the many books and articles we mentioned in this episode; as always, the links are collected at the bottom of the post.
I’ll also recommend the app HabitBull for the second week in a row. This app is really helping me keep on track with the three main habits I want to build. Check it out if you, too, want to create new habits for yourself.
I hope to revisit the topic of paid traffic in a future episode, as I’m currently working on a few new ideas in that domain, but I’m not quite ready to talk about them. Stay tuned, and until next time, happy learning!
Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Invisible Selling Machine by Ryan Deiss
“Customer Value Optimization” article at DigitalMarketer.com
EOFire Podcast with John Lee Dumas