Increasing numbers of councils are turning to commerce to close the financial gap opened up by austerity.
Commercial thinking can be an anathema to staff steeped in a tradition and culture that shuns point-of-sale public service.
But needs must.
This is not just about learning to sell, although that will help. It’s about putting a real value – and valuing – what councils do.
One of the problems that public services wrestle with is “perceived value”. This means two things. First, why would anyone want to pay for something they either get for free or that they think they’ve already bought? Second, because most people relate price to quality, unless you charge a lot, then whatever you sell will be perceived as poor. But if you charge too much you’ll face public condemnation. Catch 22.
With UK public services amongst the best in the world, no-one should have any qualms about putting a price on things that funding will no longer sustain. High quality services will sell provided that they are pitched correctly.
So here are some pointers to help staff and managers acquire commercial nous.
What’s your offer?
Be very clear about what you are selling and the fact that it meets a need. Look at your services from the point of view of your customers and show that you understand their world. If you struggle to get inside their minds, go and spend time with them so that you can understand what keeps them awake at night. Something will.
What are the benefits to your potential customers?
Package your services in terms of benefits, not features. Each of your services will have many features but only a few of them will offer obvious benefits. The better you understand your customers, the more easily you’ll be able to “package” services in this way.
How’s it better, cheaper, faster or nicer than your competitors?
No matter what you’re selling – unless you are first into the market – you’ll have competitors. Understand them and look at how you can differentiate yourself on the basis of the things that matter to your customers. They may value speed of delivery so be faster. Keep in mind that likability is often under-estimated.
Why wouldn’t they want to buy?
Many people will turn you down, find out why. They will have objections. Identify each and find a way of overcoming those. Sales people routinely do this – they work out why we might object to something so that their pitch can take account of our reasons to say “no”. That way, if their pitch is effective we’ll just say “yes”.
What will you do today?
Get beyond the theory. Don’t set up a working group to “examine commercial possibilities”, get out and sell your services. Then use what you learn, every day, to improve your offer and your sales pitch. Some will buy so what would make them buy or pay more? Some won’t so what would convince them that they should be buying from you.
Frankly, the first time you sell anything it’s hard. It’s easy to take it personally. When we put our heart and soul into something, when we’re proud of it, when we think it’s the best and then when we put it on the market and nobody buys it, then it hurts. But if we have courage, we go out tomorrow and start all over again.
It’s about believing in your product. Colonel Sanders (the man who set up Kentucky Fried Chicken) visited over 1,000 restaurants with his special recipe before one said yes to his offer. And he was in his sixties when he did that.