Shaping Prospect Behavior and The Art of the Reward

In this Moment of Clarity I compare the parallels of training service dogs and marketing. In both disciplines, consistency and the use of incentives or “rewards” drives results.

I’m a simple man. Sometimes seeing the world in a simplified way is a very clarifying experience. When it comes to marketing and sales, ultimately you want a human being to make a decision and take a specific action. This action might vary ranging from clicking an ad, signing up, contact your company or even buying your product or service. The point is, to create a sustainable pipeline of opportunity you must define this action, consistently communicate to the right people and reward these people for taking the action.

Many sales processes take multiple steps where shaping prospect behavior is valuable. For example, in B2B service companies or other large ticket sales, an opportunity might start as a potential customer getting a referral to your business. Most people head straight to your company’s web site to decide if you will be on their short list of companies to contact. This is one small decision in a series of decisions leading up to cutting a check. You can guide people through these decisions with clear messaging, consistent positive contact and rewarding their behavior each step of the way.

I’ve raised and trained working German Shepherd Dogs for over 20 years. My father has more than 50 years of training obedience, search and rescue and protection dogs. These animals are incredibly capable in the right hands which explains why they are legendary for their service to mankind as herding dogs, leaders of the blind, helpers of the infirm, search, rescue, military, patrol and guarding. If there is a job that needs done, a German Shepherd Dog can do it.

If you own a smart dog, you know they can whirlwinds of destruction without consistent training. In this context, “consistent” means daily, structured sessions using specific commands, spoken the same way each time. It also means, during the training session, that goal is that the dog must obey commands 100% of the time to qualify for serious service work. And when they follow our command, they get rewarded immediately with a treat or toy. Training isn’t a project (a dog is never “trained”). We train for the duration of the dog’s life.

While I’m not suggesting that you attempt a command and control direction with your customers or put a leash on them, I am suggesting you consistently:

  • stay in contact with your audience as often as their preferences allow
  • be specific in terms of defining and showing the prospect the action you want them to take
  • deliver honest value at every contact before, during and after the sale
  • focus your message on how you solve the customer’s problems
  • reward the customer when they take the action you desire

Stay in Contact
Define who is Most Likely to Buy, get them in a database and reach out to them with relevant, helpful offers. Note: a sales pitch is neither relevant nor helpful. Offer content that helps them solve their problems (short articles, video, images, etc.) based on your area of expertise. Make sure you’ve defined what action you’d like them to take with each contact. If you receive coverage in the press (national or trade) this is another kind of credibility building content. Remember, people appreciate relevant content. They hate SPAM. Know the difference.

Be specific
The web has brought tremendous changes to the delicate dance of the salesman and the prospect. It offers endless possibilities. And that is the problem. With endless possibilities a click away, you need to be specific about what action you want them to take. And on the web, this decision happens statistically in less then 3 minutes. I suspect it happens even earlier depending on if the person determines if the information is valuable to him or her. If you want that person to contact you or buy something, you need to be explicit about it.

Deliver honest value at every contact before, during and after the sale
Know what your customers value and deliver it at every chance. Universally, I’ve found that people buy because they are trying to solve problems. They are constantly looking for ways to overcome challenges. The good news is that you are a treasure trove of answers to their questions in your specific niche.

  • There is a goldmine in your head
    Most of my clients are veritable volcanoes of knowledge in their specific niches. From electronics and software to financial systems and beyond, these guys know their stuff. This knowledge is valuable to their clients who seek out information that helps them work smarter, faster and better. When we talk about “delivering value at every contact”, usually the simplest way is to use abundant knowledge as currency in a value exchange. In other words, if you click here and give me your email, I’ll send you a free <something>.For many years businesses offered “White Papers” or other instructive materials as a way to reward buying actions. Publishing short guides for your customers is still an effective way to reward people as well as a vast array of downloadable incentives including apps, PDFs, ebooks, iBooks, coupons, discounts, etc.The key is to create a system to pull this knowledge from the heads of busy opinion leaders, develop and distribute useful and relevant content to the people most likely to buy your product or service.
  • Why not just have a drawing for an iPad?
    Many of my clients have used televisions, cruises, iPads and more as incentives to attract people at trade shows. I discourage the use of these kinds of rewards. Granted, a lot of people show up when it’s time to call out the winner. But few of these people are there because they are engaged with your value proposition – they just want an iPad.But if they want to download a Special Report all about optimizing their procure to pay systems – I guarantee you, they have some kind of problem in their procure to pay systems. Offering such a scintillating topic might attract fewer people however, they are highly engaged.

Focus your message on how you solve the customer’s problems
What is your message? Do you have a specific answer to the question “What problems do you solve?” If you have a specific answer, you need to be vigilant to keep your message focused on solving your customer’s problems. You can do this in many ways that don’t sound like a broken record – but you must be consistent in your message. This is where doing some customer research can be valuable.

Reward the customer when they take the action you desire
I’ve had many clients tell me they have attempted direct response marketing with little success. Other clients have had huge success with direct marketing. The difference often has to do with the strength of the reward or incentive. In many cases, companies sent communications that had vague messages and no offer of reward or incentive. Not surprisingly, they had low response rates.

Please comment below. What topics would you like to see me cover?

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