Selling to Goldfish

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Selling to Goldfish
Selling to Goldfish

Apparently there were some statistics reported by the Associated Press in late 2012 that claimed the average attention span of adults had plummeted from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds by 2012. More worrying was the claim that this compared negatively with the whopping 9-second attention span of a goldfish.

Whether this means that we've reached a tipping point and are crossing over from evolution to deevolution is an argument for another day. Regardless of the accuracy of these statistics it's fair to say that we do live in a world where information overload and attention spans are increasing and decreasing in direct proportion to each other.

The challenge for sellers and marketers is, first, how to cut through the noise with messages of value and, second, how to make those messages so concise that a target buyer can quickly consume them. I include sellers as well as marketers in this because today's sellers need to develop some of the communication skills long associated exclusively with marketing; for example, the ability to capture someone's attention with an eye-catching headline, and the ability to distill messages down to their most impactful and valuable core.  Sellers can no longer rely solely on verbal dexterity, because in today's buyer-empowered world they may be communicating with potential buyers by email, through LinkedIn groups, and a variety of other non-traditional venues where the dulcet tones of their actual voices may never be heard.

Thankfully, there are some simple rules that both sellers and marketers can follow when considering how best to communicate with potential buyers. The first rule is that good content is concise (remember, we're dealing with humans and not goldfish who have that extra second to read paragraph two of our rambling treatise).

The second rule is that it should be case-study-based because this is the fastest way to gain the reader's attention. Nobody has time to take something theoretical and see if they can link it to the reality of their world. Make the links for them by demonstrating impact through example.

The third rule is that it should be contextually personalized as much as possible, meaning that sellers and marketers need to segment and dissect their target audience to the greatest degree possible to ensure that the content is as relevant to the individual as possible.

In addition to these rules, there's a short checklist you can use to gauge whether your messages are hitting the mark. To effectively use the checklist you have to put yourself in the shoes of the message receiver and begin by asking: Does this message resonate with me? Will the headline and body of my email or my post or whatever medium I'm using, make me sit up and pay attention? Then ask: Now that it has my attention will it motivate me to take action, to hit reply for example, or post a clarifying question? Finally, ask yourself: While I may be somewhat interested, what, if anything, differentiates what's being said from other, similar messages? What will ensure that the initial interest is not just fleeting?

So, next time you're about to communicate with your target buyer whether as a marketer or as a salesperson, run through the Resonate, Motivate, Differentiate checklist and see how your communication stacks up.

Yes, effectively communicating in today's business environment is getting more and more challenging. And you thought selling to goldfish was hard?

  John Golden is president and CEO of sales performance improvement organization Huthwaite where he is responsible for the company's global financial and operational performance and long-term strategy for success.
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