Did you know that the largest segment of your Ideal Client pool either isn’t aware of they have the problem you can solve or they are aware of it but not actively looking for a solution? In fact, at any given time, only about 3% of those clients who have the problem you can solve are actively looking for a solution by scouring the internet for answers, asking friends for recommendations, making telephone calls and so on, according to Chet Holmes' The Ultimate Sales Machine (his book may be a bit outdated, but I believe the numbers still reflect reality). Most companies are in a dogfight for that 3%, which plants the businesses squarely in the red ocean talked about in Blue Ocean Strategy. If you’re only chasing that 3% with your marketing strategy, you likely find yourself swimming among some big sharks in your field.
However, if you inject greater influence into your messages by setting your clients’ buying criteria, your marketing materials (via Education Based Marketing, as well as traditional marketing copy) will not only ring true to the people who are actively looking for the solution you can provide (a very small percentage of your Ideal Clients), but you will also capture the much more numerous inactive Ideal Clients who have the problem you can solve and who are either aware but not looking for a solution or unaware they even have a problem. Setting buying criteria by aligning your messaging with what your clients value, believe and feel will allow you to connect with their hearts and not just their heads. Most purchases are made based on emotion, with logical reasoning only coming in later to justify the purchase.
In fact, non-profit organizations have discovered that by including an emotional story in their donation request letter, they can more than double the amount of a donation. Emotional stories and cues work just as well with for companies large and small. Check out the infographic below for an overview of emotional selling.
Through a bit of education and ethical influencing, you can show that much larger segment of your Ideal Client pool that they urgently need the solution you’re offering.
The principles of Education Based Marketing relating to giving value and setting your Ideal Client’s buying criteria must infuse every marketing effort you undertake – from your website copy to webinars to speaking engagements – or your strategy and sales will fall short. You’ll end up feeling like you’re delivering amazing value with your content (which you are) but also feel like you’re spinning your wheels when sales don’t come pouring in.
As a result your business may unnecessarily fail to connect with those you can and should help. And, that’s tragic. Not only is it a missed opportunity for you to connect with your Ideal Clients, it’s a missed opportunity for them to find solutions to their problems. The world needs what you have to offer… there are people waiting for the solution you have!
7 Tactics to Influence Clients and Sell More
When setting buying criteria your task is to increase the relative importance of attributes associated with your brand (you and your product or service), as well as the increase the perceived value of your brand on these attributes. Educate your consumers on the value you provide and which specific factors are important to consider while also leveraging compelling emotional cues and language familiar to your Ideal Client and giving them compelling reason why each criterion is important. If you don’t educate them, they will default to judging your offerings based on price or criteria set by your competition. Moreover, a large percentage of your Ideal Clients may not even think they have the problem you can solve. By setting the buying criteria, you have the opportunity to place the problem within your prospects’ field of awareness, thus opening up an entirely new segment of potential clients who would otherwise not resonate with your message.
I’ve listed below methods you can use to set buying criteria, with examples of how others have done it.
1. Win the features and benefits comparison battle. Many tech or software companies use grid comparison charts to compare their products to others’ or their own (in order to upsell services). Take Quicken, they list three different options for their software: Starter Edition, Deluxe and Premier. The Deluxe and Premier versions list features that the Starter Edition doesn’t include. By listing these additional features, Quicken plants in consumer’s minds which features are important (and the consumer probably never knew she wanted!). Human nature is to “want more” and it is likely more people purchase the Premier version of the software, despite its higher cost. You can view the full comparison table at http://www.quicken.com/compare.
When comparing your program, product or service to a competitor using this method, be sure to list at the top your best features or benefits that you also know your competition doesn’t have and ones that differentiate you the most. You don’t have to list every possible feature or compare yourself to all of your competitors (select one or two). All the boxes in your column will be checked but your competitor’s column will have notable blank spaces or x marks.
Here’s a chart comparing Citrix to a select group of their competitors:
2. Set up your competition up to fall short in the buyer’s eyes. This is where your Education Based Marketing Strategy is an essential player. Free reports, checklists or other educational material to influence which factors potential clients should consider important as part of their decision-making process. Highlight areas you know your competition is weak in by including “must ask” questions or “must have features” in your list that you DO have but your competition does not.
For example, I recently received such a checklist from a Senior Home Healthcare agency I was considering for my elderly father. They included in their information a list of what services a quality home care agency should provide and the “Top 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Home Care Agency” with yes and no checkboxes and notes below each question. Additionally, they supported the validity of the criteria with a compelling reason why: the health and safety of my elderly father.
I have no doubt that if I were to call around to other home healthcare agencies and use their lists, that most would not answer at least one question favorably, causing me to regard those agencies as “less qualified” than the one that sent me the list of questions. I might even think, “I sure am glad I had this list! Otherwise, I never would have thought to ask those questions,” which positions the “consumer advocate” agency as an Expert Trusted Advisor in my mind.
3. Create a category of one. With this method, you employ buying criteria and education to put you in a category all alone, so competition is irrelevant because they simply and factually can’t provide what you can. When erectile dysfunction drug Cialis decided to take on Viagra for market leadership, they changed the conversation around the issue from simply focusing on “Can he or can’t he?” to “For what amount of time can he?” (ability versus duration of ability). By establishing duration as an important criterion and then demonstrating their superiority in that area, Cialis successfully influenced physicians’ recommendations and patients’ requests for the drug in their favor. If duration was important to a patient, then Cialis was the only logical choice (an example of a client being aware of the problem and swayed to buy from you versus the competition). And, if duration had not been a previous buying criterion, it now would be (an example of a client unaware he had a particular problem (lack of duration) that now he believes he has and must solve).
4. Speak to your clients’ emotions and personal beliefs. Let’s consider another example of successfully using buying criteria to lead the consumer to her own logical conclusion that going with your brand, program, product or service is the smart decision. This method relies heavily on education and emotion, as you are attempting to influence your clients’ buying criteria away from a current set of priorities to a new set of priorities. I’ll take an example from the auto industry. When considering purchasing a car, people have a set of buying criteria, such as safety, appearance, reliability, performance, resale value, price, color and so on that they prioritize in their minds. A student with limited money to spend on a car may place price as the highest priority and appearance or reliability second. Like me, other parents will likely place top priority on safety, then reliability and utility, with other criteria being of less importance. For me, if a car doesn’t have one of the highest safety ratings, I won’t consider it, period.
Volvo, has worked very hard to convince their primary segment of consumers to use a very high safety standard – one only they meet – as a non-negotiable buying criterion. This is Volvo’s set of Ideal Clients. But, for many other consumers, the buying criterion of safety ranks somewhat lower on their list of priorities, opening up Volvo to competition risk from other brands within that secondary client segment. Volvo uses compelling and often emotionally disturbing ads to illustrate the dire consequences of compromising on safety in an effort to bump up safety to the number one priority within its secondary set of potential clients and bump other brands out of the running. Images of crushed Volvos with stories of the passengers who survived or billboards with photos of other brands’ cars crushed to smithereens convey a strong emotional feeling.
If you’re Mercedes, on the other hand, you want to emphasize what you can provide – a luxury driving experience and amazing styling – and bump safety down the list of priority buying criteria with a more “of course we meet requisite safety standards” type of approach. Mercedes attempts to limit the discussion to factors it can provide by helping the potential client trust that all other “basic” criteria, such as safety and reliability, are already taken care of with their cars and that the real question consumers should ask themselves is “Wouldn’t I look and feel great driving a Mercedes?” – a question that speaks to the consumer’s vanity and belief of “I deserve the best.” In the ad below, Mercedes even speaks to the belief that men who drive their cars are more desirable to women.
5. Keep yourself from being commoditized by limiting your competition to other high quality brands. According to Investopedia, something becomes commoditized when one offering is nearly indistinguishable from another. Unless you’re in the game of selling a very high volume of your programs and products at a low price (a hard game to win), you want to use buying criteria to vault yourself into the “upper class” of your niche or market and position yourself as one of the key players. You’re not seeking to entirely eliminate your competition but rather to limit the competition you have to highly regarded brands or players in your field in order to keep from having your brand be commoditized, where you win or lose based on almost entirely on price (think gasoline or paperclips). That raises your brand status and perceived value. Once you have limited your competition, you can then employ one of the other tactics above to either discredit or eliminate your competition or make them irrelevant to your potential clients altogether.
For example, Mercedes would never be perceived to be in competition with Kia, as they have used their advertising and education to create different sets of buying criteria for their Ideal Clients (Mercedes for luxury and Kia for affordability). Mercedes’ competitors would then be limited to other luxury brands, such as BMW, Lexus, Porche and perhaps Ferrari on the high end.
6. Use proprietary language to differentiate your product or service and create an “apples to oranges” comparison model in the client’s mind. Most companies use industry standard language in their marketing and if you do, too, you’re stuck in an apples to apples comparison model. This positions you as competing against everyone in your market and makes you look common. If you create your own proprietary terms for what you do or offer, then you’ve just differentiated yourself from your competition. For example, in the financial services market, pretty much any advisor can set up a 401k plan for you. However, if you package your services as a “Nest Egg Protection Plan” or other unique term, no one else has that and can’t logically be compared to you.
7. Position yourself as an Expert Trusted Advisor and consumer advocate while setting buying criteria with interactive educational events. In all of the tactics above, education plays a key component. As previously discussed in this blog post, educating your clients helps position you as an Expert Trusted Advisor, as well as influence your clients’ buying criteria. You can share your information through checklists, special reports and PDF downloads, but even more effective is teaching your potential and current clients through live events.
By live events I’m referring to teleseminars, webinars, Google Hangouts, coaching calls and live workshops or seminars. By far, live, interactive events are the most successful tool to turn a prospect into a paying client. Why? Because you are able to let your personality shine, as well as more effectively influence your potential clients’ buying criteria.
Let’s say that I put together a webinar entitled “The 7 Critical Questions You Must Ask Before Hiring a Business Coach” or “The 5 Easy Steps to Finding and Thriving with Work You Love”. At this point it probably won’t surprise you that the 7 Questions and 5 Steps will include buying criteria I meet, solutions I provide and lead to programs and products I offer. Perhaps more importantly, I get to establish myself as an Expert by speaking on the topic and have a chance to establish myself as a Trusted Advisor by educating my audience. Webinar attendees receive valuable information while getting to know me better. Most of all, live interactive events offer personal connection at a level which static educational material (like downloadable reports) simply can’t replicate. Of course, static educational material has its place in an Education Based Marketing Strategy, but I would hesitate to rely solely on such content. Behind every product and every brand is a person, a leader. Your Ideal Clients will connect most deeply with you, not your product.
How One Grocery Store
Successfully Changed My Buying Criteria
The concept of using buying criteria can be challenging to grasp and using it correctly can be difficult, which may be why so many people don’t use this highly effective sales tool. In fact, if you set buying criteria incorrectly, you can actually UNSELL your clients!
I’ll give you a practical example of buying criteria from my personal life. I’m very interested in following a healthy lifestyle, including eating healthy, real foods that nourish my body. I avoid anything with genetically modified ingredients (non-GMO), artificial colors and flavors and synthetic chemicals. I buy organic, locally-sourced produce and products to the extent that it’s possible and gluten-free and low-sugar items if they are packaged items. Therefore, my inherent buying criteria for food are:
- Locally sourced
- no artificial ingredients, flavors or chemicals
Those criteria are supported by believable and compelling reasons why I should only buy such foods and a marketer might include reasons, such as:
- Poisonous chemical residues remain on conventional foods that can’t be washed off;
- Consuming such chemicals can lead to all sorts of health problems, including cancer, metabolic disorders and weight gain;
- Genetically modified foods have not been proven to be safe for consumption and have caused multiple health issues in test animals fed GMO ingredients. Moreover, GM foods often require the heavy use of toxic pesticides and herbicides for their cultivation; and
- Local and organic foods measure higher in nutrient content than conventionally farmed foods.
If I were the owner of a grocery store that sells organic and local foods, I might put out a free report, article or video with the title, “The Top 3 Ways Conventionally Farmed Food is Poisoning Your Body and Ruining Your Health” or “The 7 Easy Steps to a Vibrantly Healthy Body” as part of my Education Based Marketing strategy. The marketing piece would then educate my Ideal Clients by laying out the criteria mentioned above, the ways in which health is being compromised by conventionally farmed foods and how local and organic foods support a vital, healthy body. I would also be sure to mention that you can find all sorts of local and organic foods at my store!
As the owner of the store, if I wanted to align myself with an Ideal Client whose buying criteria included the above list but also included “budget friendly” or “low cost”, I could create EBM material like, “How to Buy Organic on a Budget”, “The 5 Reasons Why Conventionally Raised Food is Actually More Expensive Than Organic Food” or “The Top 3 Ways Eating Organic Saves You Money.”
In reality, my personal food buying criteria really narrows my grocery store options to two chains here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, and those are New Seasons Market (which is locally owned) and Whole Foods Market. While both stores carry items that meet my buying criteria, New Seasons bills themselves as “The Friendliest Store in Town!”, and based on my experience, they are!
Do you think it’s likely that one of my core personal beliefs is that it’s important to be friendly? Of course, it is, since “good” people are generally friendly (my internal association based on childhood conditioning). Maybe I also believe that friendly people are “better”, which would make “The Friendliest Store in Town” the obvious choice. New Seasons Market has successfully influenced my buying criteria to include “friendliness” as a factor (which previously wasn’t even on my radar as an important grocery store attribute) and, therefore, raised the chance I would choose them because “friendliness” aligns with my core personal values.
Moreover, my experience shopping at New Seasons has supported my decision to shop there. (This is where the integrity part of being an Expert Trusted Advisor comes in.) If I’ve ever had a problem or didn’t like something I purchased at New Seasons, even if I just mentioned it off-hand to the cashier when I was checking out months after my original purchase, the cashier has insisted on giving me a full refund… even without a receipt! Now that’s what I call fantastic, friendly client service!
The result? I’m a Raving Fan of New Seasons Market! It’s where I do 99% of my grocery shopping (and that’s a lot of shopping for my family of four!). Additionally, I regularly share how much I love their stores with others. By going the extra mile with stellar client service and by aligning their message with my personal values, New Seasons eliminated Whole Foods as a logical shopping option for me, unless I happen to be in a city that doesn’t have a New Seasons grocery store.
Leap Ahead of your Competition
Now it’s your turn to discover your Ideal Client’s buying criteria… and then use it in your marketing! By identifying and utilizing your Ideal Client’s buying criteria and/or effectively influencing the criteria on which she makes her purchasing decisions, you greatly increase the likelihood that a prospect will become a buyer of your products and services. Strategically educating your consumer is part of effectively setting buying criteria. Because educational content is a non-threatening call to action and eliminates the consumer’s fear of being sold to and many associated fears, your audience will be more open to your ethical influencing and persuasion versus traditional advertising media.
Buying criteria will evolve because no market is static. To stay on top of changes you can employ strategies such as setting up Google alerts for competitors, performing periodic competitor research, secretly shopping competitors’ offerings, and keeping tabs on new trends in your niche. Be sure to update your buying criteria as your market changes.
The more accurate you can be in identifying her buying criteria, the more effective your marketing and sales communications will be… and the more money you will make selling your programs, products and services. When you invest the time to learn and correctly set buying criteria – a powerful, influential strategy most companies and marketers aren’t using effectively – your efforts here will be rewarded!
Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments!
Are you integrating buying criteria into your marketing? If so, how has that changed the results you’re getting?
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