Overcoming the Concern Barrier

by Brett Gibson

 “This is the most useful class at Harvard Business School.”

As I sat back during David Skok’s remarks during #hbsltv, I turned to my neighbor and said, “this is the most useful class at Harvard Business School.”  Skok laid out a helpful description of the customer acquisition process and outlined each step of the sales funnel.  He shared tips on measuring and testing marketing strategies and driving the effectiveness of sales.  He gave us practical advice and recommendations for useful websites (Hubspot, Sysomos and Posterous) and shared best practices for bridging the relationship between marketing and sales teams.  What stood out most to me was his conviction that to win a customer, you need to know what the customer wants, and more importantly, break through their “concern barrier.”

“You want your customers to do something they didn’t think they wanted to do.”

As humans, we resist “being sold”.  We like to feel in charge, act on our own impulses and avoid falling into the trap of a good marketing or coupon scheme.  In truth, the internet exposes our vulnerabilities.  The internet puts a menu of options in front of us at all times that is custom tailored for us.  However, as soon as we see the product that we’ve always wanted that’s a click-of-the-mouse away, our mental governor says, “hey wait, you don’t have enough time to buy this,” or “hey, I don’t like spam emails so I won’t buy online.”  We avoid buying because the process is too clumsy or it feels too similar to a cold call during primetime television at home.  We don’t like giving away control, whether in the form of our email address or our urge to not buy.

“Think about how your customers get approval internally.”

Skok calls this the “concern barrier” and advises entrepreneurs to bridge it by understanding how customers like to buy.  Entrepreneurs must think about how customers get approval internally and analyze their concerns and motivations.   It’s an exercise in psychology, empathy and emotional intelligence for the entrepreneur.  The entrepreneur must think like an internet consumer and get inside the head of customers.  People don’t like wasting time (Skok urges allowing one-click purchasing or home delivery services), people also don’t like giving away their personal information (show positive customer testimonials, give free trials or offer lowest price guarantees).  All of these techniques build trust with the site and allow users to give themselves approval to buy and build a relationship with your site


All students at HBS should take this class.  After listening to David, I have an understanding of how companies should sell products and services online and overcome the concern barrier.  In a world where the internet and social network are the global marketplace, this information is gold.  During my career, David’s advice will be top of mind.


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