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Marketing / Sales strategies

Selling strategies: When caginess costs you business

Your industry knowledge is valuable and you have every right to protect it. But could withholding information from your customers as a selling strategy actually be costing you business?

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Once upon a time I worked in the insurance industry. As a marketing manager, I worked closely with the people who were out and about selling policies. It was an interesting experience, especially as these were the so-called ‘good old days’ when rather aggressive selling strategies were the norm.

One of the maxims the agents held dear to their hearts was: ‘Sell the sizzle not the sausage’.

In effect what that meant was that they would withhold information and be economical with the facts until such time as they could get a face-to-face appointment with a prospective buyer. Even then, they would only disclose information that they absolutely had to.

I was reminded of this dubious practice recently when I was planning an overseas holiday. I searched the internet, and was quite impressed by a travel agency website I came across.

The website looked a million bucks. The web copy was quite engaging and the photos were top class. On first impression I gave the website high marks.

"Why should I pay for information when I can get it free elsewhere?"

But there was one drawback; it missed some key information, the type of information that’s vital if you want to win a cautious prospect like me over.

To find out more, I wrote via the email address promoted on the site, but got no response. I then called, and this time got through to the business owner.

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She seemed keen to provide general information about her business and said that her unique point of difference was that she didn’t earn commission on hotel bookings, and so was able to book hotels at a competitive price.

She did however charge a flat itinerary fee, which was fairly hefty. And here’s the rub: before she’d sit down with you to discuss your travel plans, you had to pay a deposit on the itinerary fee. That deposit was then discounted from the fee if you decided to proceed with reservations.

From this point on, the business owner became less than effusive with her information. I got the gist. She wanted me to pay the deposit before sharing further information with me.

In other words, her information was not free. You had to show her the money before she went further. She was willing to give you the sizzle, but not the sausage.

Not surprisingly I did not proceed. I wanted to, I really did, because she seemed knowledgeable and her website was compelling. But why should I pay for information when I can get it free elsewhere? A Lonely Planet Guide only costs about $30, after all – even less if I borrow it from the library.

In the internet age you need to share information – and lots of it – in order to build relationships. If your prospects can’t get answers from you, they’ll get them from someone else.

How close to your chest do you keep information, and at what point in the sales process do you share it with your clients? What impact do you think your selling strategies have on your business?

Gary Chow

is a plain English copywriter who helps businesses develop website content, marketing collateral and corporate publications. He specialises in writing investment prospectuses for the financial services & superannuation industries.

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