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How to Overrun Your Competition by Educating Your Customers
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Or: Others Just Sell. You Should Sell By Educating Your Customers
Competition is the scariest word in the business dictionary.
God forbid it were the only one. There’s one more terrifying notion that keeps us up at night. It’s the fact that the ways of this world are rapidly changing.
But instead of trembling at the thought, it’s better to realize that both of these facts are actually healthy for your business. If it doesn’t drown, it will rise stronger than ever.
Following trends and constant education have been fueling business efforts from the beginning of time.
Today it’s a bit more complicated than that. Not only do you need to educate yourself. You need to educate your clients and customers as well. That’s what the most successful businesses do. That’s the exact reason why they became successful in the first place.
An experience everyone has had
A couple of days ago I went to buy a vacuum cleaner. It was one of those days when you need to just buy a goddamn cleaner as soon as possible because you need one. And you don’t want to waste all day cruising the city in the hope of finding the perfect apparatus.
Does it have a bag? Is it easy to empty? Why are other options better or worse than this red one? Can it suck up water from a piece of furniture or a carpet? I tend to spill my drinks… Why is this one more powerful but still cheap comparing to the next one? Are there going to be any new models coming out soon?
Half of this information I could gather by reading the inscriptions on the packaging. The other half was left unavailable to me.
Typically, I prefer salespeople who don’t jump all over me. But I really wouldn’t have minded getting some information here. Also, if I weren’t an easygoing customer, the shop wouldn’t have made a $100 deal that day. If I wasn’t in a hurry and was prepared to wait for delivery, I would have bought the thing online.
And how easy it would have been for them to educate me, sell me the cleaner (which I wanted to buy anyway, so they wouldn’t have to move a finger) AND delight me! A quick presentation of all the functionalities, with a demonstration (spilling a cup of coffee on a cheap carpet and sucking it up for the purpose of demonstration wouldn’t cost too much, I reckon), comparing a few different models on the spot… I would have gotten the feeling that I spent my money well. I would have gotten the impression that I was dealing with professionals who knew their business and their merchandise’s worth well. I would have recommended them to all the people I know.
Which I didn’t. And won’t ever do.
This company probably won’t last long.
But let’s translate this experience into a business that manages the majority of their user engagement online (which is more relevant to today and tomorrow).
I found them by doing a local search, looking for the nearest store that sells vacuum cleaners.
What if I found a nicely visualized blog post on their website about the functioning mechanisms of different types of cleaners? Or a funny video about unexpected ways in which I can use this mundane contraption?
The conclusion is evident. If you are a socks manufacturer, you have to give me the reason to buy your socks. You don’t have to be all scholarly about it. Write me a blog post about the history of socks – maybe I’d be interested in learning when and why people started wearing them. Or make a video advertisement about socks which are so good that my dog doesn’t want to steal them but gently puts them in a drawer instead.
Even if I don’t need socks today, I will need them tomorrow, and I’ll sure as hell remember to buy them from you.
Give away free knowledge
It’s true, knowledge demands an investment of time and money. But once you’ve acquired it, don’t be afraid to give it away – for free.
Sure, many people will just come and devour some of your resources without buying anything from you. If your knowledge base is broad and easily accessible, they are likely to come back for more, inviting some of their friends as well. Who doesn’t like a free feast?
You won’t lose, though. Some people will get hooked on the knowledge and pay for premium access. Others will do it in two or three years. Just listen to that murmur across all of your digital outlets and nurture their needs by feeding them a cookie here, a delicious cake there. Incite their hunger, but never keep them hungry for long.
They will pay you, one way or another. They will pay you with their email address required to attend your webinar or download your free ebook. This email address will become a valuable channel for you to send more knowledge their way – this time in person. Email marketing is one of the most valuable ways for the relationship between a company and a person to flourish.
You’ve got it by now. Education is just another euphemism for marketing. Let’s be real: it’s still selling, although it sounds more elegant.
Nobody likes being marketed or sold to, so marketing by education is a glorious kind of selling by not selling. It’s better than any other form of digital marketing. Even more – it permeates all of them and brings out the best from them.
Education is at the core of what Seth Godin called permission marketing – which derives its tremendous power from customer’s permission. If I don’t know I am being marketed to, you can take advantage of it. If I willingly grant you a permission to market to me, you should be proud of it – and try not to betray my trust.
Your customers are smart
You don’t need uninformed customers who buy randomly. True enough, you won’t repudiate them, but you don’t need them to be your customer base.
Furthermore, you don’t need customers who will believe lies about how good your product is. Lying isn’t bad in children stories only. It’s detrimental in real life, too.
This is because lying to customers means belittling their intelligence. Today they are more informed than ever before. Their purchasing choices are wider than ever. It’s never been easier to turn away from a brand because of a single mistake or a little white lie.
Do yourself a favor and don’t make a product based on lies. Don’t lie in order to sell it. Don’t say it’s good if it isn’t.
Instead, create a product you believe in. If you do, the story of it is going to be believable, too.
But if customers can find all the possible resources online, what is left for you to educate them about?
Educating someone doesn’t mean you are the god of information and knowledge. Chances are Wikipedia knows better than you, and you certainly won’t ever be able to beat Google when it comes to accessibility of information.
But there’s something that can differentiate you in your customer’s eyes. The information that comes from you is genuine, based on your particular experience and expertise, grounded in your specific set of skills and value. It’s not some random encyclopedic knowledge, broad and uniform. It’s knowledge with an identity, expandable, applicable, relevant.
After all, you won’t provide just another ocean of links. It’s going to be carefully chosen knowledge that comes as a result of an interaction and interest, curated in the right moment, put in context for them. After all, who knows more about your industry than you?
According to a 2015 customer engagement report by Rosetta, engaged customers prove to be the best kind of customers. Their value to the brand is three times bigger than the value of unengaged ones.
An engaged customer is the one who has developed a personal relationship with the brand.
Education is a beast with many faces. Show them all
Again, let’s not talk in scholarly terms.
Customers’ reviews are the kind of education which serves other potential customers to inform and improve their decision-making process.
Testimonials and case studies are another way to inform your prospects. Just make sure they are real. “You guys rock” written by someone called John Doe from an anonymous company won’t trick anyone.
A blog is another form of education. Just like we are doing right now, you can write articles on a regular basis about certain topics that are relevant to your audience. Blogs don’t have to be written. They can be spoken or made into a video.
Tutorials, webinars, whitepapers related to your company or industry, carefully targeted email campaigns, conferences, there are tons of things you can do to single yourself out from your competition.
As I mentioned earlier, even a short and funny half-minute video can make a difference. While it doesn’t educate in the traditional sense, it still gives a fresh stamp to your brand.
According to a recently published Walker report about the future of customer experience, in the next couple of years, companies will have to switch from selling solutions to selling insights. This doesn’t just pertain to B2B businesses, but also B2C – that is, businesses that are selling to clients, rather than other businesses.
So, if you want to win the race with your competitors, put education in the center of your business and your brand’s culture. It’s remarkable how great a potential lies in your work – in everybody’s work. All you need to do is transform it into words, dress it into knowledge and communicate it proactively and in diverse ways to all the prospects. Then listen to their response and act accordingly.
It’s a dynamic game, but the rewards are awesome.
So, don’t oversell. Don’t hard sell. Let your customers consume some value first.
Feed them knowledge.
They’ll pay you manyfold.