PRN Exclusive: Why PR Professionals Need To Practice Trust-Based Selling


(PR is, in its own way, a sales profession: In this case, the selling involves ideas, information and messages. From the agency side, there is a business aspect with efforts to sell the agency's viability to prospective clients. But perhaps the best way for a PR professional to sell is not necessarily to treat the subject like a PR issue. This is explored by Charles H. Green, the founder and principal of Trusted Advisor Associates, in this exclusive excerpt from his new book "Trust-Based Selling," which is published by McGraw-Hill.) Creating trusted customers begins in the sales process; in particular, with the way we answer questions. Do our answers increase our perceived credibility, reliability and intimacy? Do they show a focus on the client, or on ourselves? Do they show a willingness on our part to be collaborative, long-term focused, and transparent? Or do they reveal us to be self-focused, squirreling information so as to get the sale? Are we focused on the relationship, or just the transaction? You decide which answers sound best to you. 1. Why Should We Choose You? Here's how not to answer: "We are confident that XYZ can do the best job for you. We have the best/most accumulated/relevant experience, and we have the best/most experienced/most capable team. We are committed. We want to win. We have skin in the game, and we have the desire. We want this job, more than the others do. That's why you should choose us." In answering this question, resist the temptation to list reasons why you are the best choice; don't give in to the desire to say how much you can help them. If you haven't had experience doing this kind of business with this kind of customer, then it is presumptuous of you to tell them why they should hire you. And if you haven't done precisely this kind of work with precisely this kind of customer, they will think it's presumptuous even if you know it isn't. And even if you have done precisely this kind of work with precisely this kind of customer, they'll more than likely come up with a reason why that work and that customer were entirely different. You don't win, and you don't get to help your customer by answering this question that way. Instead, say: "I don't know for sure that you should choose us. Not just yet, anyway. Given what I still don't know about your situation, it would be presumptuous of me to tell you flatly that you should hire us. But we are often the very best choice for many clients. It depends on your situation. I would suggest, if I may, that in your case it will particularly depend on A, B, and maybe C. So what we should do, together, is to focus on A, B, and C. Depending on what comes out of that discussion, the answer should be as clear to you as it will be to us. We are committed to helping you figure out just who you should choose. The last thing we want is a customer who hires us incorrectly, for the wrong reasons. It will do you no good, and make us look bad. No one wins. If we do our best to help you make the right choice--regardless of who that is--then I'm confident we'll get at least our share of wins, because we are the best choice for a number of customers. So let's talk about A, B, and C. I'll let you know when I think I have an answer to your question--or maybe you'll let us know if you get there first. But I suspect we'll both know together." 2. What Makes You Different from Your Competitors? Here's how not to answer: "The unique/defining/distinctive characteristic of XYZ is that we are the only firm who focuses on/specializes in/uses the approach of blah blah. This creates exceptional value for our customers, motivates our employees, and creates distinctive competitive advantage for XYZ." Resist the temptation to repeat your mission statement, your corporate advertising tagline, or your recruiting literature. First, the prospect client has probably read it. Second, most such literature usually sounds the same. But most importantly, that's all about you. While yes, they did ask about you, that doesn't mean it's what they really want to hear. Answer the question directly and move it back to something of relevance and importance to the client. Say something like: "In talking to our customers, the distinctive characteristic they most often point out about us is our service network [or other true statement]. However, that's not always the most important reason people select us. The way we see it, the distinctive characteristic of competitor A is their size. For competitor B, it's their product design. But while these are the differences people most frequently point out or notice, they're not necessarily the differences on which people end up basing their decisions. Everyone buys for his own reasons. In your case, you've mentioned service integration [or other true statement] as a key issue for you. Could we talk more about that? Maybe that way we can see if there are differences between competitors that are important to you in your business." 3. How Much Experience Have You Had Doing XYZ in Our Business? Here's a typical answer that won't do much to build trust: "We've had considerable experience across a number of dimensions. In your industry, we've had clients in the X and Y sectors. In this product/service category, we have offerings in the P and Q lines of business. And we have some extremely experienced people we can draw from in our company. We're highly confident we have the experience to make this a truly winning initiative." As a general rule, watch out for the overuse of personal pronouns (I, we) and of adverbs modifying adjectives (extremely, highly, truly). Questions like this are credibility traps. The customer doesn't mean them to be, but they are. They invite you to inflate your experience, without ever speaking to your limitations. Unfortunately, such answers lead to cynicism. Instead, try this: "Let me try and answer that specifically. XYZ is 23% of our business--it's our third biggest line of business, so we have depth on the product side. On the industry side, we've never worked with your company before, so obviously we're not directly experienced with you. Nor have we done business with your competitors, except for some small sales two years ago to Competitor B. However, 12% of our sales across all lines go to your biggest customer segments--so we have experience with and understand your markets. In terms of team capabilities, Joe here ran both customer service and engineering for the XYZ line for us. He is one of our three team leaders in the XYZ business. And Mary has sold for seven years into your key customer segment. The team therefore highlights our firm experience. Does that help answer your question?" Contact: Charles H. Green, cgreen@trustedadvisor.com.

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