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Your Job Is to Place Stepping Stones in Your Customer’s Path

Help guide them on their way


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Jim Farina

3 years ago | 5 min read

In the movie Moneyball, Peter Brand gives Billy Beane a plan. This plan amounts to a series of steps that will turn his baseball team around and make Billy the hero of the story.

The plan seems counterintuitive. It means Billy must ignore the advice of his long-established coaching staff. He must use an algorithm to select fresh talent for his team.

He has to start trusting the numbers. Billy has to run his team like a hedge fund manager. It’s risky but there’s hope for success. The plan becomes the bridge our hero must cross to win the day.

Sometimes the plan is so unconventional in method the hero can’t see how the process will achieve what they desire. In the movie The Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso throws a tantrum at one point. He can’t understand how waxing cars, sanding decks, and painting fences will help him win the karate tournament.

In a moment of virtual smack-down, Mr. Miyagi shows that he is the guide. Daniel must trust him. He has to stop questioning his methods. He does end up trusting. Daniel wins the tournament and vanquishes the villain in the end.

As a Trusted Guide, You Must Provide the Plan

The hero identifies something they want. It’s now your role as the guide to come up with a plan to overcome any challenges they might encounter in realizing that goal.

This is done by expressing both empathy and authority. According to Donald Miller, author of the book Building a Story Brand, if you’ve successfully positioned yourself as the trusted guide, your customer is already in a good relationship with you. Now it’s simply a matter of settling their fear.

You are assuring them that your product will solve their problem.

Whenever your customer places an order, there’s always that moment of doubt. It’s not easy for us to part with our hard-earned money. It requires commitment. The customer is saying, “I believe that your product can help me and I’m willing to put some skin in the game.”

How many times have you come close to buying something, yet can’t make the final leap? What happened? Was there some confusion? Were there unanswered questions or an unclear message?

Placing Stones to Create a Plan

When customers are deciding to buy, imagine them at the edge of a rushing river. They want what’s on the other side. The sound of a thundering waterfall is just downstream. What will their life look like if they fall into the river and are swept over the falls?

When your customers hover their cursor over the Order Now button, this is what they’re feeling. As a guide, you can help to ease their anxiety.

If you place large stones in the river before them, soon they’ll cross over and their problem will be resolved. In the story brand framework, these stones act as the plan.

An Effective Plan Does One of Two Things

A good plan clarifies how a customer does business with us. It removes the risk a customer feels when they consider investing in our product or service.

After a potential customer hears our pitch, visits our website, or reads our email blast, they are wondering the same thing: What do I do next?

Remember, while your customer is deciding, they are hearing that thundering waterfall downstream. If you don’t show them a quick way across, they will be confused, and they’ll be lost. Placing stepping stones in the river greatly increases their chance of success.

This plan can be accomplished in a few ways.

The process plan

This plan shows customers the steps they need to take to buy our product. It can also show the steps needed to use our product once they do buy it. The process plan can also be a combination of the two. If the product you’re selling is costly, the steps might look something like this:

  1. Schedule an appointment with one of our experts.
  2. Allow us to customize a plan specific to your needs.
  3. Let’s work within your budget and execute the plan together.

The process plan alleviates confusion during the journey. It guides the customer to the next steps.

Then there’s the post-purchase plan. This plan is best used for customers who have problems envisioning how to use the product after it’s purchased.

The post-purchase plan accomplishes the same thing as the pre-purchase plan, in the sense that it alleviates confusion. When creating your plan, it’s recommended to reduce it to three or four steps. Any more than four steps adds to the confusion rather than reducing it.

The agreement plan

The process plan alleviates confusion. The agreement plan alleviates fear. This is done with a list of agreements made between you and your customer. It’s designed to help your customer overcome any fears of doing business with you.

Author Donald Miller uses the company CarMax as a great example. CarMax addresses the customer’s fear of dealing with a used-car salesman. Their agreement plan states:

  1. With CarMax, you’ll never haggle over price.
  2. CarMax refuses to sell a car that doesn’t meet standards.
  3. Every vehicle CarMax sells goes through a renewal process to earn a quality certification seal.

CarMax sells more cars than its next three competitors combined. Automotive News named CarMax “The undisputed used-car champion.” Their agreement plan doesn’t speak to the customer’s external problem of needing a car. The plan speaks to their customer’s internal problems, that is, the fear of having to deal with a used-car sales associate.

Unlike the process plan, an agreement plan works in the background. You don’t need to display the plan on your website’s homepage.

It’s a great way to deepen the relationship with your customer. As they get to know you, they’ll sense a deeper level to your service. And once they get a better understanding of your agreement promise, they will realize why it is they want to work with you.

Name Your Plan

Once you’ve developed your plans, you should name them. This increases the perceived value of your product or service. Terms like “Easy installation plan” or “World’s best fitness plan” work well. An agreement plan might be called “Customer satisfaction agreement” or “Our quality promise plan.” Use your imagination. Make the name clear, concise, and meaningful.

Action Time

Once you’ve done your job as a guide and placed your stones before your customer to bring your hero across, your relationship with them solidifies. And when it comes time for you to give that call to action, your hero will not hesitate. They will take that leap and everybody will win.

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