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You know when you come up with a great concept then realise someone already wrote the book, yep, that’s ‘Unselling’. Disclaimer: my method of unselling isn’t based on the book of the same title – but yeah, if you’re not the only one thinking of an idea, I’m pretty sure that means it’s a thing…a good thing. I should probably buy the book one day and have a read to see what ideas I can add. Every day is indeed a school day. Stay curious.

Let me introduce myself

I’m Cat, partner in crime to gutsy business owners, helping you to ‘sick day’ proof your business with a flow of lovely customers. One time Principal Intelligence Analyst and profiler, working in the covert world, turned profiler of small businesses and their owners, so they fall back in love with what they do. Build a business that fits you like the perfect pair of jeans.

Story time: Step out of the frantic funnel thingy

When you lose a loved one your house becomes immediately filled with freshly cut flowers and cards, so much so, you eventually run out of said vases, and surface space, to display gorgeous words of sympathy. Unless you also have cats, then you’re constantly picking cards up off the floor in a never ending cycle of cat playtime. I have cats.

But then something different arrived…

A blue box, delivered with care, its contents packaged with instructions to refrigerate as soon as we could, but not to worry, as the contents would stay fresh for quite a few hours in the icy packs packed neatly inside.

A box from MindfulChef ® , thoughtfully (and environmentally) packaged up, sent as a gift from a great friend.

I mean, who doesn’t need a food package in tough times when headspace is limited for basic things including what to eat, right? Genius!

But here’s the thing, there was an ingredient missing. No biggie, we knew what wee thing we had to buy and we got it from the local shop.

There was no way I’d let my friend know as 1. It was a gift and 2. What good would it do?

No, absolutely no need to tell her but when I started to feel like myself again I dropped a wee message to MindfulChef ® just to let them know so they could check their packing processes.

What happened next, is the epitome of unselling.

A personal email popped up in my in-box apologising for my poor customer experience and a conversation started about how to make it right. ‘If you give me your friend’s account details I’ll make sure they are compensated’.

That raised a dilemma. I explained that I still didn’t want my friend to know and that it was absolutely OK.

MindfulChef ® didn’t give in. They suggested that they send my friend a 25% discount voucher in their email without explaining why but as a good will gesture for being a customer.

Embarrassment avoided. MindfulChef ® went above and beyond, taking random feedback from a stranger off the internet, who isn’t even a customer I may add, and made it right.

And you bet I’m now a customer, sending food packages to others as a gift for tough times and tweeting about it. Their customer service was excellent, discrete and had humans dealing with humans.

That’s where the concept of unselling begins. Not in the frantic play for a numbers game into a business funnel thingy but as human beings who you can show humanity AND be of service too.

My unselling approach to business has been directly born out of my irreverent feelings for what I see, and have experienced first hand, across the interwebs, and making a conscious decision to step back from blindly adopting common practices and seeing humans instead of numbers. 

I’d invite you to consciously carve out energy and time to apply your own particular set of values to how you can make a difference to, and for, your people.

So what is unselling?

Well, it’s an ever developing approach that considers that the customer is, in fact, first and foremost an actual human being and not simply a number on our email list or exists solely within our social media vanity metrics.

I absolutely agree that tracking leads and sales and conversions (and the list goes on), is a smart business thing to do. Knowing where to concentrate more of our efforts is savvy business thinking. 

BUT all too often we can get sucked into business being ‘a numbers game’ versus,….if I get focused on genuinely being of service and helping others, what amazing experience could I create for my people so they’ll come back for more and, if we’re lucky, tell their friends about us?

We inadvertently focus on the state of mind that we think potential buyers are in or avatars we’ve created from a best guess, rather than simply asking our existing customers what they liked, loved, disliked or want us to do better.

Ask yourself, what can I make exceptional in my business and for my customers?

HOW do we unsell?

There are various strands to my unselling approach, here are just a few to give you a taster:

1. Buying choices are made long before you make the offer

Who are you as a person on your social channels or at networking events? What are your views, your opinions, what do you stand for?

People are making buying decisions long before they see your offers. They’ve already decided if they like you and your brand, or not, by what they see and hear others say.

When you’re not there to listen or respond, you still want great things to be said about you and your brand to aid buying decisions.

2. Great customer service

This doesn’t need to be anything fancier than making sure you listen, set expectations clearly and respond as quickly as you can to problems. A disgruntled customer CAN become a raving fan if listened to and treated like a human being.

It can also look like being attentive to those who are paying for your higher ticket services. As soon as someone signs up with you, what’s the communication like? Is there a small suitable gift you can send them? I send my 1:1 customers some of my on-brand stationery and a copy of my YOUprint ®  profiling deck

What can you do for, or send to, your people as a genuine thanks for signing up with you?

3. Know who you LOVE to work with

I’ve been told regularly, ‘Cat, it’s really difficult to actually work with you 1:1, you should make it easier for people to go to your website and book’. Firstly, let me point out that the word should is no friend of mine.

My 1:1 calendar fills up well in advance and I rarely, if ever, promote my 90 day sprint package or share testimonials and you can’t just book a place or apply to work with me on my website. 

This is part of my conscious unselling method. My approach attracts my perfect customer as it forces someone to take action and actually get in touch via email and repels everyone else. 

My people are action taking rebels so they’ll naturally go against the grain, to choose their own adventure and seek me out.

Crafting your website and messaging in such a way that leaves space for the known behaviours of your perfect customers, can generate the exact response or action you want them to take. Ergo, sell to your people, don’t sell to everyone.

When you get to know your people really well over time, beyond demographics and get into their psyche, their Modus Operandi, you attract your people and repel everyone else by tapping into their specific buyer behaviour.

4. Pay-as-you-go

The most common way of making your higher cost services and programmes accessible to more of your people, is to offer a payment plan. 

There are pros and cons to payment plans such as; defaulting payments, additional costs for processing multiple payments, incentivising people to pay in full with a discount or bonus (but then others without a wad of upfront cash miss out) and how you position a plan so as not to breach financial laws in whichever country you operate in.

Unselling/ pay-as-you-go takes a slightly different approach and goes some way to level the playing field. Essentially it allows the customer to get out of the contract each month whilst you as the business get paid in advance (more details about the process is further down, so keep reading).

By putting the potential customers at the centre of the transaction and asking, ‘what do they need to feel safe in parting with their very hard earned cash?’ feels more spacious and being of service.

Psychological Safety

Psychological safety refers to our perception of how others will respond to our thoughts and actions. It’s important because if we don’t feel safe our brain’s learning centre effectively shuts down and we hinder our ability to take risks and grow. 

Ultimately this translates as, does your potential customer have all the information they need to make a good decision for them, at that moment, how can we provide that information AND make space for that thinking without fake scarcity, shame or added pressure?

Your customer will buy emotionally, not logically, and there will be lots of competing thoughts swirling around their head such as;

  • Can I ask a question or does that make me look stupid? 
  • Do I trust you? 
  • Do I trust myself to make a good buying decision right now? 
  • What if I can’t afford this next month if the car or the boiler breaks? 
  • Will I get the results I’m after? 
  • I’ve been stung before, will it happen again?

Understanding their Modus Operandi and psychological safety factors, can be far more powerful than a customer avatar.

My answer to creating psychological safety was to address the risks straight on and simply offer an escape route (pay-as-you-go), should they need to use it. 

Shifting the power dynamic so that both my potential customer and I owned a bit of the risk was a game-changer. As of August 2021, having used this method for four plus years, I have not yet had any customer request to get out of their contract.

So what does ‘pay-as-you-go’ look like in practice?

Well, it means that a contract still exists for the 90 days commitment that we work together BUT should their circumstances change such as a life event outside of their control or they decide they’re not getting the results they expected of themself, or it’s just not a great fit, they can get out of our contract before starting the next month.

The process:

  1. Contract in place and agreed by both parties (Ts+Cs/Terms of Service super clear upfront)
  2. Kick off and delivery timeline set
  3. The customer pays in advance i.e. if starting in September they pay in August, for October they pay by end of September etc
  4. The customer can cancel anytime up to 7 days by email i.e. Starting on 1st September, they can cancel that month by 25th August (important: you are responsible for issuing invoices in plenty of time)

This does a few really good things:

  1. The customer is in control of their decisions before each month starts, which provides them with the necessary psychological safety should something crop up that means they cannot continue
  2. It provides a bit of reflective space at the end of each month to really think about their results, what they want to achieve, what action they’ll take and therefore if they wish to continue
  3. I find that I am even more intentional and conscious about supporting my people as far as possible and providing a great service so they have no need to get out of their contract and we genuinely share any risk
  4. It provides a form of monthly recurring revenue for your business, which I take via direct bank payment 
  5. Ensures you’re not working with the wrong fit person for any length of time
  6. Personal accountability on my part as when I’m paid in advance I make sure I deliver
  7. Creates a natural desire to share with others and make referrals enthusiastically, you end up with fans

Of course there’s always a risk that someone cancels and the income you were expecting ups and disappears but rather than the defaulting and ghosting of an expired credit card, there’s natural space made for a conversation when the invoice is issued. 

Alternatively I’d hate to think I’d hold someone hostage to a contract, especially in a time of need…that can feel claustrophobic, and damage reputation in the longer term. Working together could become fairly uncomfortable and the chances of them being a return customer is slim to, well, none.

Power Shift – Don’t take hostages

Pay as you go gives the buyer back their power. 

They know they can get out of the contract so it’s a no-brainer. I’ve yet to have anyone get out of the contract as a result. I’m not taking hostages in my business. I want to empower fellow humans to make great decisions for their business and watch them thrive.

Several 1:1 pay-as-you-go clients have returned time and time again as a direct result of being able to pay this way. 

There’s always a pay-off as far as additional admin time to produce and send out invoices however this can be automated with some non fancy accounting software programmes to reduce that admin time.

How could you apply the unselling and pay-as-you-go method in your business, higher priced programmes, memberships and masterminds? I’d love to know.

Be someone’s shot of whisky, not everyone’s cup of tea. YOUprints ®  not blueprints. 

What’s your YOUprint ® entrepreneur type? Take the quiz here.

Cat Paterson, Business Mentor

Partner in crime to gutsy online business owners helping you to sick day proof your business. YOUprints® not blueprints.

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