Whether you are in a media interview, investor pitch, sales meeting or speaking in front of a crowd, you need to know how to handle questions and get your point across calmly and effectively.
But how do you get back on topic when a question leads you down a different path? Or when an interviewer has different intentions to you? One way is by using a bridging phrase – but beware not all bridging phrases promise an easy way to cross back over to your key messages.
So what is a bridging phrase?
A bridging phrase helps you transition from one topic to another seamlessly (if done correctly), making them valuable for any business owner, spokesperson, salesperson or professional to have up their sleeve to use when the moment requires.
The first part of the sentence needs to acknowledge what has been said or asked while still allowing the opportunity to change the subject or add information. The second part of the bridging phrase provides the chance to change the message while sounding as though you are about to deliver valuable information. In other words, you want a sentence that will help you bring the conversation back to what matters to your target audience. Here are some examples:
While it has been that way…
People have said that but…
Yes, I agree though would add…
I’m not sure that is the case, let me tell you why…
We/I take a different approach…
While that has been public opinion…
That reminds me of…
While we are on the subject…
I wouldn’t say that, but what I would say is…
Let me put that in context…
To put this in perspective…
That is a common misconception…
What is more concerning is…
What I believe is…
It has been my experience that…
I have found that…
What many people don’t know is…
What you may not be aware of is…
What people need to know is…
What our customers have found…
What this new research suggests…
The heart of the matter is…
While it sounds simple, mastering the art of bridging can take a lot of practice. As you converse today, look at how you naturally change the subject. Chances are you may say one of the following:
“Keep in mind that…”
Granted not all will be appropriate in a professional setting but it is essential to be in touch with your authentic voice. When you are, you can start experimenting with bridging phrases that sound like your natural voice or at least feel more natural to you.
Beware of bridging to avoid questions
If you want an example of someone using bridging phrases to avoid a line of questioning, listen to a journalist interviewing a politician. You will no doubt hear a few of their favourite bridging phrases like:
“What the most important point/issue here is…”
“What we need to remember is…”
“What we need to consider is…”
“Before I answer that I need to explain…”
When someone uses a bridging phrase to avoid a topic, it usually comes with no (or minimal) acknowledgement of the question asked. It is also undeniable that they are trying to spin things in a different direction – and generally for self-serving purposes not for the value of the target audience. While this approach can help to get some points across there is a high chance the journalist or interviewer will hit the issue harder in the next question they ask.
While your customers may not press you like a journalist if you bridge to avoid their questions you can lose trust and credibility in their eyes.
Try reframing the question
If you come across loaded questions or more confronting objections try reframing the question in your mind to still acknowledge and answer it, but give an answer that is more aligned with your messaging and interests.
For example, if a customer was to question “How can you justify the price of your product when [your competitor] only charges $X?” You could reframe the question to “What value can you provide that is over and above what [your competitor] offers?” You will still answer their question but from a more powerful and positive position.
The bottom line is you need to be prepared
To be able to bridge topics effectively you need to be prepared. Know what you want to get across, plan for questions and objections, have some bridging phrases ready and practice reframing questions and answering them from a more positive perspective.
We all know that marketing and promotion is an essential part of business – but what if it takes you well beyond your comfort zone and seems to conflict with the essence of who you are?
This is for the shy, humble and introverted entrepreneurs among us, the ones who would rather stay in their office than get out and network, and the ones who feel inauthentic and at times even arrogant when singing their praises.
Here are four ways you can help build credibility and customer base without feeling like you are bashing, bragging or boring people with your sales message.
1. If you don’t want to talk, listen
Don’t want to be the centre of attention? Then make your market the centre of attention. Get good at asking questions and be even better at listening. Find the hidden opportunities, the secret frustrations, and the bigger problems that your customers aren’t aware of. Listen to what others in your industry are saying and how customers are responding.
Listening will give you something far more powerful than your own words – it will give you your customers’ words and they will convert sales much faster.
2. If you don’t want to be the face, be the voice
Don’t want your name up in lights? Then find ways to create impact from the shadows. There are so many marketing activities and tools that can help introverts play the role of an extrovert.
If you don’t want to speak on stage or camera, write blogs, articles, books and opinion pieces, do podcasts and be active on social media. Be the consistent, powerful voice that drives your company.
3. If you don’t want to sell, solve
Don’t like selling? Then start solving. Selling implies work; you are trying to convince someone to buy something they don’t need or want. Solving implies value; you are providing the solution to fill an existing need or want. Tell stories of how you have helped customers in similar positions, offer guidance based on your experience, and information based on your expertise.
Solving will relieve your performance anxiety and help you to feel more comfortable in talking about your products, services and experience. It will also ensure that potential customers always feel like they have received value when talking to you.
4. If you don’t want to shout your praises, find someone who will
Don’t feel comfortable with promoting yourself? Find others who are. One of the best marketing strategies for shy or introverted business owners is to form strategic alliances with business owners who are the complete opposite of them. Find the extrovert, the networker, the sales extraordinaire and help them to fall in love with your products or services.
Turn them into raving fans, offer commissions for sales, let them white label your products or services and look for ways to package your offering together.
So don’t think you can’t compete with your boisterous, extroverted, self-promoting competitors. You can very quickly turn your challenge into your edge with a little leverage and creative thinking.
Every day we are exposed to thousands of brands and marketing messages. Texts, emails, social media, television, radio, billboards, cars and buses all tell us what we need to be, do, have and buy. As a result, our customers have never been more savvy, or more immune to marketing messages as they are today.
For those of us who play in overcrowded market places or are busy creating new ones, the need to be different and memorable in our marketing has never been more important. Here are three copywriting tricks to help.
Never underestimate the power of a good metaphor. Metaphors compare two items that are seemingly unrelated, yet are similar in a way. Think Coco Pops’ ‘Just like a chocolate milkshake only crunchy’, or Butter Menthol’s ‘Like a comforting hug from Mum’.
Metaphors give you the opportunity to simplify complicated concepts or introduce new ideas and products in a simple, relatable way, allowing your potential customers and investors to understand the value in what you do.
Metaphors can also help you evoke emotion, quite quickly in fact. Get the right comparison and you can often transport your customers back to a time or situation that creates the right emotional response for them to see the need to buy your product or service.
I know rhyming has a bad rap in some circles (forgive the pun), but there is still benefit in using it. Not only does it make messages easier to remember, but research has also suggested that rhyming phrases are perceived to be more accurate and truthful.
I’m certainly not saying you need to go and make lyrical magic with every piece of marketing material you put out, but don’t be afraid to get a little creative. Give rhyming a go on one of your calls to actions and test your results.
3. Play the role
As you develop your brand personality, it is important to identify the role you want to play with your customers. Your role or relationship to them can dramatically change the tone of voice and content you use in everything from a social media update to an ad campaign.
Do you want to be the older authoritative figure they listen to and admire? The quirky aunt they love? The best friend they can’t live without? The older brother or sister who is looking out for them?
Find the role your customer needs that best matches your mission and why. Not only will it make you more relatable and your tone and purpose clearer, but it can also help you build rapid rapport and loyalty simply by reminding them of someone who is important to them.
With customers bombarded with so many brands and advertisements each day, it is your job to make your marketing messages more persuasive and relevant to break through the noise.
But where do you start? Here are six tips to help you make your marketing messages more persuasive.
1. Know what your customers are buying
When your customers choose to buy from you, they are buying more than a product or service. They are buying the solution to their problem, the answer to their question, the feeling they’ve been missing or the convenience they’ve been wanting.
When you uncover what your customers really want, you capture not only the attention of your customer but their heart as well.
2. Speak with authority
Every purchase requires your customer to trust you. The higher the purchase price, the more trust your customer needs to have in you.
To build trust, you need to speak with authority. Present yourself as the expert, share your knowledge, draw on your experiences, and tell stories about the value you have provided. Own your skills and expertise. Be confident in your abilities and bold in your belief that you can deliver. Confidence makes you more persuasive.
3. Leverage social proof
People follow people. People also want to be part of something – a movement, cause, group or community. Social proof helps you to build this.
When you share the experiences others have had with your products and services, you ease the concerns and minimise the risks for your customers. But more importantly, you create commonality among your customers, and that can be built into a sense of community.
4. Treat customers as ‘the one’
Do the unexpected. Go above and beyond. Be committed to doing the most you can do in your business. The more you can make your customers feel like they are the only one you are concerned about and the only one you are speaking to, the more powerful your message becomes.
5. Keep it simple
Our customers crave convenience, yet many of us have a tendency to overcomplicate our sales process. We give too many choices and price points, include too many steps and clicks and request too many details.
Keep it simple. Don’t ask for every contact detail up front, make your website easy to navigate, ensure the next step is clear, and your calls to action are compelling and easy to follow.
6. Create urgency
We are a competitive bunch. If we think we are going to miss out on something, we act faster. So once you have established your value, create urgency through special edition products or services, time limited opportunities or bonuses open to limited people.
How can you be more persuasive in your marketing?
Whether you are designing a product, developing a marketing strategy or writing a blog post having a thorough understanding of your target marketing is vital.
But how do you get clear on who it is you are talking to and targeting? Here are four questions you MUST ask to get to know your customers – and why you need to ask them.
1. Who are my customers?
What types of people are your customers? Are they a business or consumer? Male or female? Older or younger?
Do they have money, or are they buying on credit? Are they impulsive or considered? Are they well educated or uneducated? Are they fun or reserved? Daring or cautious? Kids or no kids? Happy or unhappy? Are they making ends meet or living the high life? Are they worried about what others think of them?
What is important to them? What do they value most? Who do they trust? What media do they consume? What social media do they use?
By asking who your customers are, you will discover how to speak to them and where to find them.
2. What do my customers really want?
What does your customer want from you, do you know?
While your customers may justify their purchases logically based on the features or inclusions you provide, they don’t tend to buy because of them. Your customers buy based on what your product or service will do for them, save them, make them feel, or make others think or feel about them.
So again, I ask you, what do your customers really want from you?
Is it to save time or money? Is it to have a certain status or level of respect? Is it to be first and lead the way? Is it to make them feel more worthy, attractive or confident? Is it to alleviate guilt, stress or grief? Is it to live longer? Is it to be more successful, prosperous or influential? Is it to be a trendsetter or forward thinker?
By identifying what your customers really want, you will uncover how to market to them and what you need to say.
3. How motivated are my customers?
How great are your customers’ needs, wants, frustrations or challenges? How motivated are your customers to buy from you? Do they need and want your product or service or just like the idea of it? Is your product or service an essential or luxury to them? Do your customers know and acknowledge they need your product or service?
By asking how motivated your customers are you can determine if your product, service or market is viable. You will also be able to identify the level of education you will need to provide and what you will need to do to motivate them.
4. What is holding my customers back from buying?
What are the reasons your customers won’t buy from you? What are some of the reservations they have?
Is it price or timing? Is it a lack of awareness or understanding? Is it a lack credibility or runs on the board? Is it that you are too new or too established? Is there too much risk involved? Do they need it but don’t want it? Is there not enough proof of your claims? Is there someone influencing their decision?
By finding out what is holding your customers back you can identify ways to build trust, and calm concerns, fears and objections through your marketing. You will also be able to uncover what influencers you need to market to and win over to get the sale.
Do you know your target market as well as you should?
Networking can be an interesting experience. While you meet a lot of different personalities and businesses, two types of people tend to stand out in the crowd, those who are interested in building relationships and those focused on the sale.
While we need sales to survive in business, there is a real danger in making sales your only focus. Could your motives be costing you customers?
The sales-focused, money driven person
We all know this character, and there’s a high chance we’ve all been this character at some point in our careers. They are the ones who nearly give you a paper cut as they shove their business card under your nose or the businesses that make you feel like a dollar sign rather than a living, breathing, paying customer.
While you may still buy from these characters, chances are you are buying because it is easier, cheaper, or there is no other viable option at the moment, not because you are loyal to them.
The same applies to your customers. When you focus on ‘getting the sale’ your customers’ money has a habit of becoming more important than the problems they need solving, and let’s face it anyone willing to pay becomes your customer not just those you know you can help. While this might help you with short-term cash flow, it can harm you long-term and leave you vulnerable to disruption.
If your customers are only with you because you are the cheapest or the most viable at the moment you need to prepare for a mass exit when something better comes along – and it will.
The service-focused, value-driven person
Smart business owners know that the best way of generating more sales is to stop selling and start serving.
I’ll never forget the day I decided to stop having sales meetings and start having problem-solving sessions. I was no longer at a meeting to ‘get the sale’ I was there to ‘give value’ through an idea, suggestion, shortcut, solution, contact or similar, and ensure my potential customer walked away with something far more tangible than my business card.
Making this shift not only felt more authentic, but it also made building relationships easier, meetings more productive, and it generated a lot more sales and referrals.
Why? Because people want to be helped not sold to.
So the next time you are networking or at a sales meeting, remember that customers want to be more than a sale to you. And if you don’t want to act as a lead source for your competitors, make sure you never make them feel that way.
Few things can kill your business faster than becoming irrelevant to your customers. The hard fact of business is that change is inevitable, while you can be on trend and meeting needs and wants one day, there is no guarantee that it will be the same the next.
With greater competition, new technology and changing customer demands how do you ensure you stay relevant in the mind of your customers?
1. Stay connected
When we start out in business, we are more open to input. In fact, we actively seek it to make sure we are on track and that our customers are happy. We value customer feedback, listen to concerns and promptly make changes to rectify problems. While some businesses continue this process, many others don’t.
It’s almost like there is a certain point in business where we know better. We have the experience and industry knowledge now, we know what is happening and what our customers want – so we no longer ask them.
We detach and become so focused on growth and development that we lose that customer connection we so desperately need to stay relevant and meet growing needs. Our time becomes precious. We limit the calls and meetings we have and opt for an email – bulk email – to stay in touch and “save time”.
We start to tell more than we ask, push more than we pull. But to weather the storm of changing needs and wants we need to connect with our customers. We need to understand their purchase decisions, why they make them and how we can make the experience better, and this comes from talking to them, not just looking at the numbers.
2. Understand how your customers use your products and services
When we developed our products and services we knew the problem they solved and how we thought they should be used. But that is only one perspective. Your customers may have a completely different idea or purpose for your products or services.
They may even use them to solve problems you hadn’t thought of, or didn’t know they solved. By understanding how your customers use and want to use your products and services you can start to identify limitations and opportunities to make them even more relevant going forward.
3. Know why your customers do business with you
Do you know why your customers chose to do business with you over your competitors? What was special or different about you? What did you provide that no one else did or did as well? What got them over the line?
Once you know the bigger reason of why they chose and valued your business you can ensure this is prioritised, communicated and maintained even when you need to change, adapt and expand to suit needs and wants.
4. Sell the experience, not the product or service
The moment you start selling a product or service by its features and benefits you compete with everyone in your industry. But when you sell the experience, tell the story, share the vision or back the cause your customers are buying something else entirely. Your customers no longer compare you in the same way – you are in a different league.
This shift creates loyalty not just at a product or service level; it creates loyalty at a company-wide level so when your customers do change, or when you introduce new products and services and try to upsell, cross-sell or resell customers, holding onto them and converting them is far easier.
How do you stay relevant in the mind of your customers?
It doesn’t matter if you are pitching an idea, promoting a product or delivering a service, to make a sale your customer needs to believe in you. But with only minutes to win them over, where do you start?
1. Communicate your why
If you are like many of us in business, there are hundreds if not thousands of people who do what you do. But not all of them do it for the same reasons you do.
To inspire, attract and recruit the customers you want, you need a cause or passion that is much bigger than the products or services you provide. Give your customers something to aspire to and believe in. As leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
2. Show your passion
Have you had the privilege of being around someone who is truly passionate about what they do? It is infectious. You can’t help but get excited and passionate right along with them.
When you get passionate about your business, you engage and excite your customers in the same way. By showing you believe in your products and services, you give your potential customers permission to believe in them too.
3. Speak ‘to’ them not ‘at’ them
Ultimately your customer wants to be heard and understood; that is why it is so important to talk to them and not at them. Your potential customers are people with real issues, frustrations, and needs, and they have come to you to get help.
For this reason, switch your focus from selling to solving. Instead of talking about generic features and benefits, ask questions. Get to know them, their business and the reason they need your product or service.
Their answers will give you the clues you need to develop a personalised pitch, which in turn will give them the belief you are the right person or company for the job.
4. Tell stories
To increase your customers’ belief in you, you need to establish your credibility. While you can talk about your background, qualifications and experience directly, telling stories is far more effective.
To show you understand a potential customer’s needs, share stories of how others with similar goals or frustrations used your product or service and the results or outcomes they achieved.
If you find yourself pitching a new concept or idea without any existing customer stories, then try using metaphors to increase their interest and understanding.
5. Be relatable
Be mindful of body language, the tone of voice and the words your customers use as this will indicate how they like to communicate and do business. If they have a relaxed approach, be relaxed. If they want to get straight to the point, then get down to business. Meet them at their level.
But don’t stop there. To be more relatable, you also need to find points in common. Do you share interests, passions or opinions? Have you experienced or solved similar frustrations? Do you have shared contacts? Are you in a similar phase of life or business? We all want to do business with ‘like-minded’ people.
Your customers are one of your most valuable assets in business. They not only provide the necessary income through sales to help your business survive, but they also provide valuable insight into your products and services, and the best way to market them.
If you want to find out how to be more strategic in your marketing, spend your budget more wisely and attract more of the customers you want to work with, the answer lies in your existing customers. Here are four marketing lessons your customers can teach you.
1. They can tell you what customers to target
One of the best lessons your customers can teach you is who you do and don’t want to work with. Make a list of your most challenging customers. What made them challenging? Why did you not like working with them? Do they have any characteristics in common that may help you qualify potential customers better?
Now make a list of your top customers. What did you love most about working with them? What made them a great customer? Do you see any commonalities or patterns that will help you find and identify your top customers easily?
2. They can tell you where to find more customers
Once you have identified your top customers, look at where you found them or how they found you. Are there any commonalities or patterns here?
Did a particular advertisement, message, referral source, marketing activity, incentive, product or service, attract your top customers to you? Is there a particular social media platform, publication, website or influencer they were influenced by?
If you can, also compare how your most challenging customers found you. This will allow you to qualify your sales and marketing efforts and ensure you attract more of your top customers into your business.
3. They can tell you what customers will love most about you
Often in our marketing we will pick out the features, benefits and solutions that we think will appeal most to our customers.
While we can often be right, a customer can give you a more practical example or application that you or a potential customer may not have thought of. They can also find additional benefits or prioritise benefits differently to how you would have imagined.
4. They can get new customers to trust you
Your current customers play a major part in your marketing and sales process; they minimise the risk of your new customers purchase decision. While you can address the frustrations of potential customers, offer solutions and provide an incentive, your existing customers provide the ‘proof’ that what you say or do works.
Without their stories, testimonials, case studies or referrals your sales are hinged on how much trust and rapport you or your sales people can build, or how competitive your pricing is.
What marketing lessons have your customers taught you?