In every line of communications work, there are obstacles to getting your point across. For instance, in sales, customers have objections and the competition makes damaging claims about your product/service. In training, participants may be skeptical about abandoning their old processes to learn new methods. In marketing, the audience has preconceived notions that may or may not be true.
Historically, a common technique of the communicator was to deflect and/or ignore these obstacles and move ahead with the pre-established sales/training/marketing strategy with no regard for the reluctance of the audience. The idea was that if you ignore the obstacles and never bring them up, the audience will forget about them or find them less important than the benefits you’re preaching.
But let’s not kid ourselves. People aren’t blind or ignorant. If you disregard their concerns, they don’t just go away. In fact, if you ignore their fears, you risk losing credibility and/or putting your audience more “on guard” because they know you are only telling your side of the story. They feel like they’re being sold. And they’re right.
An alternate, and I believe a more effective, approach is for us communicators to have more faith in our audience. We should speak to them like the educated consumers they are. We have to remember that any change is uncomfortable—even if the change will ultimately provide an advantage. A new product, a new way of working, a new relationship may all end up great, but they are all still new.
With this in mind, we must shine a spotlight on obstacles rather than ignore them. If we bring the perceived “negatives” up ourselves, we can show why what we’re preaching is better. In so doing, we can attain buy-in from the audience and provide them with a comfort level we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
My strategy to overcome (not side-step) obstacles involves four steps:
- Get it out there. Raise the objection yourself. Show them you know what they’re thinking and you’re not oblivious to the obstacle.
- Show ‘em you care. This is basically empathy. You want to tell the audience that their concerns are legitimate.
- Offer an alternative. This is where you give the customers an “out” to their current perceptions and advocate for your agenda.
- Drive it home. Don’t just tell them, show them how much they stand to gain by getting on board with what you’re pitching. This can mean quantitative, empirical data, or simply case studies and stories of how other similar entities have benefited by switching over to your line of thought.
For instance, a salesperson might say to a prospect:
- You might be thinking that purchasing my software is a great expense in a “watch every penny” economy. (Now it’s out there.)
- You’re right. This software ain’t cheap. And there’s a lot of other ways you could be spending your money. You could hire a new clerical employee, buy a new printer, or take the vacation of a lifetime.” (Now they know you’ve actually internalized their fears and you’re not just giving them a line.)
- But if think long-term, this software is going to help you improve your bottom line exponentially. With this software, you’re going to be able to automate many of the tasks that had to be performed manually, save time because you have a single location to access mission-critical data, and save money because you’re keeping these functions in-house instead of outsourcing them to a third party. (Now they have their alternative.)
- One of our customers, Company X, saw a return on its investment in six months. For Company Y, it only took four months. In fact, 94% of our clients experienced an ROI in less than a year. It worked for them, and it can work for you. (You’ve now supported your claim fact.)
As part of a training course, a facilitator might say to learners:
- Raise your hand if you think that you’re here unnecessarily—if you think the current process is just fine.
- You’re absolutely right. The current process is great, and it has been for years. It probably would be for years to come.
- But like everything else today, if you’re not changing and moving forward, you’re going backward. And we believe we’ve found a way to move forward that’s going to pay us great dividends in return. We’re still using the same philosophy that governed the method you’re used to, but we’ve tweaked it to make it faster, better, and less expensive.
- In fact, one of our satellite operations just made the change, and I’ve brought in a video of some of their employees that will tell you in their own words how great the new process is. Yes, it’s change. And yes, we’re all going to have some learning pains. But at the end of the day, you’ll ask to make a video about how much you love it.
Here’s a more contemporary example of how Domino’s Pizza employed a very similar method for their national campaign:
- Their marketing program boldly stated that people found their pizzas virtually inedible (including a television ad that ran during the Superbowl.) They admitted that people thought their crust tasted like cardboard and their sauce was reminiscent of ketchup.
- They confessed that based on criticism from focus groups and social media sites, they recognized that a change was in order.
- They redirected the audience to chefs that explained about new herbs in the crust and sauce that would enhance the taste.
- And they ended with testimonials of customers saying how great the new pizza is. And the result? Domino’s Pizza more than doubled its fourth-quarter profit. (Profits climbed to $23.6 million, or 41 cents per share for the quarter as opposed to $11 million, or 19 cents per share, a year earlier.)
With results like that, I’d gladly suffer a bit of discomfort caused by the addition of something new. Wouldn’t you?
Josh Fernandez is President of Fresh Communications, a Rochester-based firm dedicated to reaching clients’ clearly established objectives through motivational, actionable marketing campaigns and interactive, thought-provoking training and learning programs.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit fresh-communications.com for more insight on how to unite marketing and training in your organization, division, and/or LOB.
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