Layer To Sell Complex Ideas

Posted on 01. Apr, 2011 by Tony Wanless in B2B Marketing, Content, expertise marketing, knowledge business, sales strategies

This post was previously published in a Financial Post column Minding Your Business, Dec. 27, 2010. Author Tony Wanless writes a monthly column for the newspaper.

Entrepreneurs who make the transition from corporate worker to independent business operator invariably face one major hurdle that hobbles their business in the early years. They don’t know how to sell appropriately.

This isn’t because of a lack of information: There’s enough information on selling out there to keep researchers busy for years. Instead, the selling gap exists primarily because of attitude.

Most knowledge entrepreneurs — those who deliver some service or product based on a skill or special knowledge–don’t see themselves as salespeople, but rather as experts in some particular pursuit such as technology development.

Entrepreneurs in more traditional businesses may also suffer from this because it’s unlikely their former jobs or experience involved direct selling.

But selling is the essence of being an entrepreneur, especially in a new economy in which you’re just as likely to be selling ideas as you are hard goods.

Entrepreneurs must sell clients on buying their services or products, investors (or donors) on backing their ideas with hard cash, and employees on executing their plans enthusiastically and vigorously.

At first, most new consultants or other entrepreneurs operating in the knowledge sphere usually buy into the traditional sales advice encompassed in the ABC mantra — “Always Be Closing.” But, because they’re not professional sales people, that very often feels uncomfortable. Also, it rarely works because their services or products are too complicated and/or create sticker shock among prospective clients.

A sales process called layering, and more recently funnelling, will probably feel much more comfortable and produce better results. It’s a longer procedure with several smaller wins instead of the One Big Sale that either works or doesn’t.

In layering, the entrepreneur gives information and services in small chunks that are easily digestible. In that sense it is best suited for selling complicated or expensive items or services, especially knowledge products. Rather than overwhelm–and probably scare off — potential customers with every detail in the big all-encompassing whopper of a sale, the entrepreneur who is using layering offers clients just what they need at a particular moment.

Layering can also be described as giving people increasing tastes of the final product in progressive steps. At first simple items are offered. Then, in a step-up process, more information and continuing sales are added later when the entrepreneur and the client are more involved.

If you think in terms of layering information, you will be building longer-term relationships with customers or clients instead of forcing them to decide whether to go for broke or not right at the beginning. Also, layering allows you to analyze and gain more perspective on people’s reactions.

Of course, you can’t keep adding steps and never reach a destination (or close, to use the old parlance). But by segmenting buyers into various need stages, you will eventually close the largest sale to those who specifically want it.

In that, another term for layering is the sales funnel, which is much used by online marketers. With the funnel, general sales leads are moved along a path that features ever more complicated (and hence expensive) products or services. Perhaps only one in ten leads will make it to the bottom of the funnel, but by then that lead will be convinced of the value of the final product or service. And you will also have sold something of value to the other nine who have dropped out of the process.

If you’re an entrepreneur who is running into resistance from prospects about the complexity of your product or service, or the sticker shock that goes with it, layering may help you establish longer-term relationships with prospects that eventually win them over.


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