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How to Get Prospects to Act: Another Perspective

22 July 2009

Thanks to Jeff Weinberger, who wrote the Afterword for the book, Sales 2.0, for this guest post, which suggests that sales executives share something in common with sustainability and nonprofit professionals: we all need to establish a relationship with our buyers, prospective members or constituents, starting with raising awareness and culminating in purchase or action.

Jeff runs the green initiative for Cisco WebEx and works extensively with not-for-profit organizations. This post,  “Not Just Hammers”comes  from his blog, Disruptive Marketing.

A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but you don’t get very far unless you take the second step (and then the third, and the fourth and so on…)

Not long ago I was having dinner with a friend who also spends time supporting not-for-profits and we were lamenting how hard it can be to get people in general (the general public, mass audiences, whatever you want to call it) to do the (sometimes simple) things it takes to make a big difference in the world, whether in human services, environmental protection or any number of other fields.

Which is the same challenge marketers face every day – how to get people to act, or specifically, express interest and buy.

How is this the same thing? When we talk about lead generation, demand generation, the marketing funnel, prospect and customer engagement and any number of other terms we use to describe the parts of the journey from first prospect contact to closed sale and beyond, we are really describing a journey of increasing commitment by the buyer to the seller (and, I hope by both to the on-going relationship)

Let me offer this as a way to think about the development of the buyer-seller relationship:

Start with Awareness. Someone in the market becomes aware that we offer a product or service that he or she may need. From the seller’s point-of-view, we become aware that there is a group of potential buyers in a target audience. One example of how we make this happen is advertising.

Then we move to Interest. That same prospect has determined that there is a potential that our offerings may meet some needs and is willing to explore further. We see positive response to our communication (regardless of vehicle) and become interested in pursuing the potential buyer. We provide information, marketing offers and other ways to engage and get this information.

Next is Motivation. Now the prospect has determined that she has a motivating need and that our offering can help. He or she now actively wants to pursue a purchase. And we see the possibility of turning the developing relationship into a source of revenue. We might offer a sales call.

And then comes Action. The prospect buys. We sell. We deliver.

Finally, at that point we have a developed Relationship. The customer wants to succeed with our offering, we want the same. We provide help and support to make that happen and cultivate on-going sales and other offers as we learn about more needs.

Granted, there’s a bit more complexity here and we all know it’s never that linear. And you probably label your process and funnel stages quite differently, but I have not found many people who’d disagree that Motivation precedes Action, that Interest precedes Motivation or that Awareness precedes Interest. It might all happen in an instant (think about the last time you bought a candy bar at a grocery store register display – “there’s chocolate”, “I like that”, “I’m hungry/craving”, “I’ll buy one”, granted not much of an on-going relationship there if you don’t count, as Ms. Morgenstern would have called it, the relationship between the chocolate and your hips!)

So, now back to the problem.

The problem, remember, is getting people to take the actions they might know are right, beneficial or helpful. For example, we know that recycling is good for the environment, but most of us don’t recycle much of what we could. The same can be said about the other small shifts we can all take to improve the environment, better support the not-for-profits we choose and act in a number of other ways that seem obvious to us (side note: I now see that this is true of preventative healthcare as much as sustainability)

I’ll spare this rant, but please consider there to be a long set of paragraphs aiming to debunk the economic view of people as rational beings and that all of this is a result of utility maximization. Suffice to say, it’s not.

Let’s look at how we convince people to do green acts, and participate in (volunteer, donate) not-for-profits.

Many not-for-profits (this is particularly true with ones focused on diseases and serving the under-privileged) try to generate Awareness. They want people to know about the cause or problem.

That’s an admirable goal, and an important step. But not nearly enough.

Once I know about your cause, why you think it’s important and how big the problem is (usually what I hear from these organizations), now I need a reason to move to interest. At this point, I am more likely than not to say something on the order of “that’s nice, I hope you solve that problem” and move on.

What we leave to chance is Interest, Motivation and Action.

So why don’t many organizations succeed at these steps? Mostly from not having built tools. Often, the question is asked “OK, I’m ready and willing – what do I do?” and without the tools in place, action is not possible

No sales organization would consider trying to get a prospect emotionally charged about their offering then just sit back and expect the prospect to show up with a contract, check, cash, whatever, in hand. There’s a process, there are specific actions every sales rep takes and tools they use to give their prospects as many ways as possible to close the deal.

Not-for-profits can learn a lot from their commercial counterparts.

And dare I say, many of those commercial counterparts can learn a lot about where their marketing is missing a step just by looking at their customer’s journey and on what parts they are not partnering.

I know from my work in sustainability and not-for-profits that we have lots of problems that need to be solved. Now.

I also know most of them don’t look like nails. But let me suggest that we at least start showing people how to get hammers. And whatever other tools they need.

What tools do you supply your prospects who ready to buy – or move to the next step? What can your business learn from nonprofits, the sustainability or healthcare reform movements?