Confidence is catching

Have you ever lost a piece of business you really deserved to win? Seen a contract go to a less qualified competitor? Felt less than confident when making a verbal pitch, only to find out later that the client had reservations about your ability to do the job? You may have been a victim of a lack of confidence, not lack of ability.

What we believe is true really matters. If we believe in what we’re doing, others will believe it too.

Recently, Psychology Today related a study where research psychologists asked groups of men and women to perform a series of mental rotation tests and then quizzed them on their level of confidence taking the tests. In these tests, participants were presented with one standard figure and four alternative figures. Two of the alternative figures are rotated versions of the standard figure, whereas the other two are mirror images of the standard figure – and test subjects were asked to determine which is which. Here’s an example of the sort of thing they were faced with:

At first, the researchers found a big difference between the results of men and women on these tests (men consistently scored better). However, when the participant’s level of confidence was taken into account, the gender differences evaporated. The researchers decided to test the robustness of the “confidence” finding by asking participants to complete the tests under two different scenarios – the control group (A) was allowed to skip a test if they felt they lacked confidence in their answers, and the test group (B) was not allowed to skip any tests.

While they did find gender differences in the control group A, there were no such differences in the test group B. These findings support the idea that the differences in results were due to confidence, and not ability.

When I review proposals and tender responses for organisations that aren’t winning as much business as they deserve to, it’s obvious where they lack confidence in their pitch and their offer. The writer’s doubt and fear have soaked into every page, and they leave a stain that’s hard to ignore.

Re-read your proposals from the customer’s perspective. Do they answer questions, or create them? Do they inspire confidence or in fact, do the opposite?

The first sale is always to yourself. When you are sold, the customer will be too.

The problem with Unique Selling Propositions

For a long time, the world of marketing was very taken with the idea of unique selling propositions. The idea was to find the thing that's unique about you, compared to other people in your market, and position yourself on that.

The term unique selling proposition (USP) was first proposed in the 1940s as a theory to explain why certain advertising campaigns were successful in convincing consumers to switch brands.

An example is M&M’s classic 1954 slogan “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand".

Like a lot of consumer marketing concepts, the Unique Selling Proposition doesn’t translate well into a business-to-business environment. There are four primary reasons for this:

  1. Unique Selling Propositions encourage us to look externally for validation, by comparing ourselves with competitors as the main yardstick of our own value. This is isn’t very helpful, and it also has negative psychological effects.
  2. A Unique Selling Proposition is often very superficial; really just an attention-grabbing slogan, like “melts in your mouth, not in your hand”. This is fine if you’re selling a $2 packet of chocolates, but doesn’t work so well when you’re selling a $2m IT system or $200m construction program.
  3. Business development in business-to-business markets is way more complex than simply “selling”. The purpose of business development is to create value that customers can buy, and selling is just the transactional bit that follows on from that. 
  4. Finally, just because something is unique, doesn’t make it valuable. The world is full of unique things that no one bought, like Jell-O for salads, toaster bacon, and blue French fries. (All real products that tested well with consumers, but tanked horribly when they made it into retail stores.)

Last week, I looked at how the sales environment is changing due to the effects of market disruption.

In this new sales environment, you can forget about unique selling propositions. What you need to find is your commercial value proposition; the connection between what you know and can do, and what makes commercial sense for your customers to buy.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Is it time to pimp your proposals? Stop wasting time and money on proposals that go nowhere. The Pimp My Proposals program will give you the feedback, content and structure you need to build compelling proposals that win business. Learn what you’re doing wrong, and how to fix it. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

We are what we buy

“Who am I?”

It’s a big question, and one that has occupied psychologists and sociologists for hundreds of years.

A more useful question, when it comes to buying and selling, is “How do I see myself, and who do I want to be?”

We all have an identity that we want to show to the world, and we confirm that identity through our actions. Therefore, what we buy, and who we buy it from, both affect the way we see ourselves.

Let’s look at a few examples.

  • If you’d like to be seen as a good person, someone with integrity, you might be on the lookout for ways to “do the right thing” – probably without even realising it. As a result, you might find that you end up buying ethical, environmentally or “green” products and services over alternative options.
  • If you’d like to be known as a generous person, someone who gives to others, you might find yourself sponsoring a child in a developing country, or contributing to (and sharing) online fundraising campaigns.
  • If you’d like to be seen as a frugal person, who is good with money, you might enjoy sniffing out a bargain and sharing these good deals with your admiring friends and family.
  • Or if you want to be seen as a productive person, who gets things done, you might like trying out and talking about gadgets that help you to do more in a day and to make the most of your time.

We all buy things, and we all play roles while we’re doing it.

In going about your day-to-day purchases, you probably don't give a lot of thought or attention to this.

However, identity shapes all of our buying decisions – both good and bad. How does your identity affect what and how you buy?

This is an extract from my new book Value: how to talk about what you do so people want to buy it. To order your copy, go to http://www.robynhaydon.com/buy/

The problem with selling services

Do you work in a service industry or service-based profession? Many of us do. In Australia, services employ more than 8.6 million people, representing 76% of all employment.

If you’re drawn to this kind of work, you probably want to use your expertise to help others, to do good work, and to make a difference. But in the real world, we must first convince people that they need our help; we have to convince them to buy from us. And this isn’t always as easy as it should be.

Products are fairly straightforward to sell, because we can touch them, feel them, and understand through experiencing them how they work.

Services on the other hand, are not straightforward at all.  Like a product, a service solves a problem, but the problem is often hard to see, and may be completely unknown to the person who is experiencing it.

As a result, people are often suspicious of buying services, because they don’t understand them and are worried that they might never get the outcome that they were promised.

But these people – your customers - have real problems that you can solve, and they need your help. It's your duty and responsibility to get out there and help them, but this means getting past your own fears and biases first.

Doing is easy. Selling can be hard.

Back in Renaissance Italy, artists were supported by wealthy patrons who admired their work.  This system had benefits for both parties.

Artists received a living wage, access to luxury materials (such as gold and lapis lazuli) and commissions to produce art on a size and scale they could otherwise only dream of.  Patrons used the art they produced as a means of expressing and enhancing their social status. Without this patronage system, we wouldn’t have many of the works of brilliant artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo or Raphael.

In service industries, we also need to find patrons – customers –who get what we do, and who see the mutual benefit in commissioning us to do it. This is essential if we are to have any chance of bringing our gifts into the world.

It’s easy to accept the excuse that it is all about price and that customers don't want what we have anymore. That isn’t really true. They may want it – and they probably need it – but like the rest of us, they are time-poor, risk-averse and battered by disruption and change.

Our job now is to give them extremely compelling reasons to do things the way that we suggest.

This is an extract from my new book Value: how to talk about what you do so people want to buy it. To order your copy, go to http://www.robynhaydon.com/buy/