The ability to sell is a universally required skill. From entrepreneurs and service providers to employees, at some point, each of us sells something – a product, a craft or even ourselves. Considering how important the art of selling is, it is mildly surprising that those that need it most still trip over simple hurdles.
A consumer's buying decision is more emotional than rational. Even when we focus on product features, the final nudge to seal the deal tends to be unconscious and emotional. So as a salesperson, you learn that while product features are essential, other things matter too.
What is your value proposition?
Your value proposition is a quick spiel that summarises why a customer would benefit from buying your product. Even relatively undifferentiated products should have a value proposition. For instance, United Bank of Africa and Guaranty Trust Bank serve the same purpose as commercial banks. However, UBA's positioning as a Pan-African bank acts as a key differentiator from its rivals, effectively demonstrating how it would be a better choice.
So, why should a customer buy your product?
Chances are you have come across social media posts where an entrepreneur seems to expect patronage, based on the fact that they took the time to create a product. Unfortunately, commerce is not charity. Although a seller may be able to successfully guilt people into patronizing their business, such a seller has not gained business. They have received charity, and it is incredibly difficult to make regular customers out of people who buy out of pity or guilt.
Think about it this way: if you can't give customers a compelling reason to buy your product or patronise your services, you're not selling a useful product. And if you aren't able to sell a story – not just a product – then you face an uphill task.
What problem does my product solve?
This is one of the first questions entrepreneurs have to ask themselves when going into business. "How useful is my bright idea?" Many entrepreneurs have brightly catalogued their business misadventures. If you listen to enough podcasts featuring serial entrepreneurs, a recurring theme is how they created incredible products for which there was no market. An idea can be great in theory, but entrepreneurs who intend to monetise their idea have to be able to present their product as a solution. A good salesperson needs to effortlessly take on the role of need-satisfier.
Before Jumia most people agreed that e-commerce was not to be ventured into in Nigeria's low trust environment. Jumia put out their value proposition as "the online store you can trust" and pushed through the obstacles that still exist with e-commerce today. There was a distinct need that they courageously tried to solve.
Of all the internet-based businesses that have thrived recently, Iroko TV stands out the most here as they filled a need that was so obvious that it remains a puzzle as to why more people do not venture into Nollywood. The need is so great that Netflix, one of the best performing new media firms in the world, identified an opportunity to venture into online Nigerian movie content.
How do you demonstrate empathy?
When people think of empathy, they typically think of how humans replicate other people's emotion. However, empathy is not just about emotions; it is about being able to see things generally from another person's perspective.
Adam Smith, most famous for "invisible hands" and market economics, highlighted that humans feel disconnected from those who do not empathise with them. When a seller focuses on finding ways to make a buyer empathise with them in to buy their product, she forgets to be empathetic to the buyer.
One YouTube blogger I recently subscribed to figured that putting out videos accusing subscribers of not "supporting" her is an effective way to guilt people into watching her videos. But a more astute blogger would have tried to identify how she was failing to serve viewers' needs – that is empathy.
One great example is how Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky went door to door to meet Airbnb hosts when the business was in its early stages. Brian Chesky himself narrates the story of an Airbnb host who handed him a "to-improve" list which was very instrumental in the reorganisation of the business. The trips Brian Chesky made were to be able to design the product for the customer. Being able to understand how their customers (hosts) viewed the product helped Airbnb expand from New York to 191 countries.
Customers do not exist to do creators favours by purchasing their content or products; those people are called family. Clients also do not exist to support creators or their "hustle", but to consume content that satisfies a need. We could all sell smarter, and the starting point would be trying to understand why exactly people just aren't buying.