Industry, Slideshow

How to Educate Your Customers (and Win Fans for Life)

You know that sleazy car salesman who wouldn’t leave you alone the last time you stepped onto a car lot? You recognize the guy — he was the close-talker who […]">

You know that sleazy car salesman who wouldn’t leave you alone the last time you stepped onto a car lot? You recognize the guy — he was the close-talker who kept waxing poetic about the virtues of this car or that one, rolling off a list of jargon that gave you a headache.

 Did you trust him?

For your customers, a hard-sell sales pitch with no context is uncomfortably similar to that car salesman. They don’t know you yet. They don’t know a lot about your industry, or your company…and yet here you are, trying to sell them something.

On the other hand, if you take the time to educate your customers, they’ll be more willing to hear your pitch. Heck, if you do it right, it won’t even sound like a pitch. It’ll sound like a helpful friend, giving them more information. Last week I talked about how Wil Wheaton earned the trust of his followers on Twitter. The educational approach has benefits across all your marketing channels.

With that in mind, here’s the ideal educational process you should lead your customers through:

1.  Your Industry

It sounds counter-intuitive to many marketers, but educating your customers on your industry as a whole — including their other buying choices — can actually boost your own sales.

Your customers may be familiar with your end product and still not know much about what you do. Explain how your industry works, who the key players are, and how it affects both you and your competitors. What is a mutual fund and why should they care? What are private health exchanges and how is that changing the health insurance industry?

By giving customers this peek behind the curtain, you take some of the mystery out of your business, and start building a trusting relationship with them.

2. Related “Value Topics”

Teaching your customers about topics related to your industry that add value to your customer’s business is another way to win points.

For example, a construction company could talk about related topics like project planning, budgeting, and interior design. Or a print manufacturer can talk about graphic design, the power of print in customer engagement, environmental concerns and other related issues.

How-to articles, lists of resources, and other educational content not only keep your customers informed, it further builds their trust in you as their go-to expert.

3. Problems Your Product Can Solve (Without Naming the Product)

ostrichA major component in any successful sale is convincing the prospect that he or she has a problem that needs to be solved. That’s where this step really helps accelerate the sales cycle.

Talk about issues common to your customers, such as frustrations they experience and problems they face. These items should be related to a feature of your product, without actually pushing the product.

For example, our car salesman friend could talk about a recent hike in gas prices or safety features that reduce the cost of car insurance, without coming right out and saying his fuel-efficient car with parking-assist is the solution. This builds the need in the customer’s mind, without being pushy.

4. Your Product and Company

All right, you’ve explained the inner workings of your industry, given your customers some related how-to guides and other educational content, and discussed their pains and frustrations with them.

Now it’s finally time to talk about how your product can help.

Still avoiding the hard sell, explain features of your product that eliminate those pain-points. Give them an overview of your company, introduce them to your staff, and build up that last little bit of trust needed for them to buy.

If you’ve successfully educated them to this point, they’ll be willing to listen to your pitch. You’ve given them something valuable, and they’re happy to give you their attention in return — so long as you keep the pitch brief, and maintain the educational tone.

bored audienceThis process can be applied to an overall marketing strategy or a single conference presentation. How many sessions have you attended where the presenter starts with three slides on their company being “the best, the first, the only…” (with mandatory picture of building and logos of all of their customers) before they have shared any content that is valuable to the audience. Immediate turn off. Potential tweet #lousyspeaker

Remember: You don’t want to be that car salesman. You want to be the helpful friend. Your customers (and your bottom line) will thank you for it.

Elizabeth Gooding

Elizabeth Gooding is the editor of the Insight Forums blog and president of Gooding Communications Group

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