“Authentic marketing is not the art of selling what you make but knowing what to make.” -Philip Kotler
Why it Matters: The traditional model of building a business is like that of being a farmer. You start with a few customers initially, these people are your seed crop that you nurture. Taking care of your initial clients builds your reputation in your industry and referrals for new business gradually kicks in. This business model can still work, but if you want explosive growth you need to do something more deliberate. This is where marketing finds its place.
The basic definition of marketing is the action of selling or promoting products or services. Standard objections to what is being offered include:
Problem #1: It costs too much. Loss aversion makes spending money feel like a loss, by purchasing, the prospect is giving something up, and that naturally makes people hesitate. Some individuals feel a sense of loss after a purchase, commonly known as buyer’s remorse. Asking someone to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of machinery to produce a product that may not sell naturally makes people hesitant. Loss aversion leads to people imagining the worst-case scenario, they could lose the entire investment as well as the time and effort spent trying to bring fruition to the venture. Why risk it?
Solution: Focus on framing the value of what you’re selling into perspective. If you’re selling machinery that costs ten thousand dollars but can double their output and potentially double the prospects sales, make that your point of emphasis. What we think about expands, bringing to attention all the good your product or service can do for the buyer naturally leaves them less mental capacity to wander and speculate on the absolute worst-case scenario.
Problem #2: It doesn’t work. If the prospect thinks that there’s a chance the offer doesn’t provide the promised benefits, they won’t purchase. People want to get their money’s worth, if they think they’ll get the short end of the stick, people won’t buy. This is similar to loss aversion in that people tend to visualize the worst thing that can happen by purchasing something.
Solution: Inspire confidence in prospects by showing how your product or service worked for others like themselves, utilize social proof. Show case studies and testimonials of other people having bought and successfully used what it is that you’re selling. The more relatable the testimonials are to the prospect, the higher the odds are of winning the sale. That’s why referrals are such a powerful sales tool, customers tend to refer people who have similar situations and needs, and the referral itself helps break down these objections. Put another way, see your first few customers not as cash coming in, but as the first few seeds in which a viable pool of customers is sewn. Serve them not for an immediate profit, but to really wow them so that they do business with you over and over again and bring their friends along as well.
Problem #3: I can wait. The prospect may believe they don’t have a problem worth addressing right now or that the problem is too much of a hassle (or too difficult) to bother with at the present moment. Even if it’s very clear to you that they do. The pain of having to put up with the problem right now is not as great as the pain of getting off their butts and acting with decisiveness right now.
Solution: Show them how much you know about the business, then point out flaws in their current business model or method of operation. Find their pain points and press down hard until they realize they need you. If your product or service involves solving one or more of their pain points, make the pain point a point of emphasis, be graphic in your description of the problem. If you’re a dentist and they have a toothache, bring graphic pictures of the detrimental side effects of gingivitis or a similar oral ailment. Connect how all the poor habits they are practicing right now can lead to the same situation as the pictures you’re showing them. This involves having a rock-solid understanding of the industry or profession you’re in and the hopes, dreams, needs and desires of your ideal customer. Nail down your value proposition for one person, then find others like them.
The more a business makes a customer happy, the more likely it is that those customers will purchase from the company again. Happy customers are also more likely to tell others about what you do, improving your reputation and bringing in even more potential customers.1 In other words, both repeat business and referrals are key ingredients to a solid business model.
Why do companies use sales funnels, red discount signs, limited time offers, and social proof to trick you into buying their products?
Because they work! But sadly, these kinds of psychological manipulations are just as short-lived as the joy these businesses get from making yet another sale. They don’t create trust but evoke skepticism and they sure don’t create trusting or loyal customers. You might fool someone once by using schemes involving invoking feelings of scarcity and fear, but the next time around they won’t be so easily fooled. And you think getting sales from these manipulative tactics will create fans that will advertise for you? I’m sure you and I have both seen the “too good to be true” offer of something being offered for “free,” followed by a brick of fine print. Does such an offer inspire confidence? They may fool someone once into buying something they previously had no intention of purchasing, but if someone feels cheated, do you really think they will become repeat customers?
Focus instead on creating a loyal fan base, true fans. They’ll always prefer the product of their favorite creator or company over cheaper or even better solutions, because they believe in you and your why. It’s not just about closing a sale, it’s about building a brand and being remembered. The people who value your brand will spread the word for you and market for free. So don’t waste time with sleazy sales tactics, spread your why and let true connections follow.2
Building a solid base of raving fans is the first step in establishing yourself, gaining a larger share of the exposure in your market is another key ingredient. This involves getting people buzzing about your offer.
There are six principles for making a message contagious:
Social currency (people looking cool for sharing)
Within social currency, there are three methods of using it: Finding something unique, use of game mechanics and making people feel like insiders. There is a natural urge to want to take credit for something that no one else knows about which naturally leads to the share of things we think we discovered first. Game mechanics are levels and badges that make us want more. It works as we all love achievement, but also because we want to do better than others and rub it in their face. Making people feel like insiders work because If something is supposed to be secret or limited access
people love to share it. It makes them look cool for sharing something reserved. They were one of the first in the know, and now they’re sharing it with you. Being the first to share something valuable to their social circle gives people value in their group. They provided value to everyone else.
As an example, Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” series provides entertainment value and showcases their blenders’ impressive abilities. One such instance is one of their YouTube videos showing how their blenders can blend golf balls. Many people may not care for something as mundane as a blender but blending together golf balls is not something you see every day. Just like how people like to share videos of cute animals and babies on social media, the same can be said with unique and thinking outside the box videos as well. People tend to like attaching the value other’s provide to themselves by spreading the word about. And Blentec’s publicity stunt is one such method of getting people to increase their social currency by sharing the company’s low key ad.
Another such example would be that of Apple’s headphones. Several years ago, white headphones symbolized people that were “in the know” and part of the club. The instantly recognizable headphones were a status symbol that elevated the social standing of the wearer while at the same time elevated the visibility of the Apple brand. An added benefit Apple put on its side is that most of their early users are part of the under 30 demographic. A higher percentage than the total population of these individuals want to “fit in” with their peers as is common during adolescent and young adult years. As peer pressure is high and needing to look cool is seen as a necessity, it turns into a cascading effect. The earliest of adopters take the initial plunge of buying the newest Apple gadget, more and more of their peers see this and buy the products themselves, then even those hesitant in buying more stuff jump onto the bandwagon as to fit in with everyone else.
Triggers: (reminding people about our product)
Interesting products receive more immediate word of mouth than dull ones, but interesting does not necessarily sustain word of mouth over time. Triggers do. When we see the same triggers over and over, the product comes back to our mind over and over. Take for instance Mars seeing a big uptick in sales when NASA launched an expedition to, guess where? Mars. KitKat was seeing a constant slump in sales that seemed difficult to stop. It was reversed when an advertising campaign linked KitKat to coffee, so that people would use the coffee trigger to eat a KitKat bar.
Coke can be used as another example; the standard American diet is beef and potatoes which can be seen in the number of hamburgers and French fries consumed by Americans. What Coke did was attach itself as part of the fast food diet people have grown accustomed to. You can’t have a burger and fries without Coke now can’t you? The takeaway is to link your product to others so as to keep people thinking about what it is you are selling.
Emotions (when we care we share)
Emotions that make us share are arousing emotions like anger, awe, anxiety or excitement. Sadness and contentment decrease arousal, slow us down and make us relax, leading us to share less. When we are in aroused states we tend to share more than we’d normally want. Let’s say for example that you are sitting in a plane and over the speaker an announcement is made, “This is the pilot…prepare for a crash landing.” As flight attendants try to keep passengers calm, you say to the stranger sitting next to you, “I can’t stop thinking about my kid. He just spent the entirety of the past summer working at McDonalds to save up enough money to buy me this leather briefcase from a company called Baurdi. It’s the best briefcase I have ever owned. Now I can’t believe I won’t ever see him again.
This scenario is of course hypothetical, but it serves to point out that we are more inclined to share intimate facts about ourselves during times when we are highly emotional. Feelings breed feelings. Sharing based on feelings, even dull products such as a briefcase, is a lot more likely than in normal situations. Attach your product and brand to a situation that is highly emotional. Proctor and Gamble’s Dawn Dish Soap was used to clean birds that were affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010 for example. As many people have a soft spot for wildlife, the attaching of Dawn Dish Soap to helping wildlife was a highly effective way to attach positive emotions to the product. People associated helping wildlife by purchasing Dawn dish soap. The commercial portraying the use of Dawn in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was shared and talked about by animal lovers and environmentally conscious groups alike.
Public (can people see we are using the product?)
The old saying goes that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The more people that become aware of the product means a higher likelihood that more people will use it. Take for instance the Discovery Channel, in order to gain more viewership, they brought on Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps to race against a great white shark. Many people might not have given the discovery channel a second look, but an attention-grabbing event such as pitting a world class human swimmer against a great white shark in a swimming contest definitely put the Discovery Channel on many people’s radar for a potential source of entertainment.
Practical Value (is it useful?)
People like to pass along practical, useful information. This is news others can use. One of the biggest drivers of whether people share promotional offers is whether the offer seems like a good deal. People are inclined to share with others a discount they find useful. Sites like RetailMeNot are one such instance of discount sharing. Those that share coupons that become widely used gain badges, recognition and prizes on the site. Prestige and social standing are huge driving factors among human behavior, use that to your advantage.
Stories (what narrative can we latch our ideas onto?).
Stories can act as vessels, carriers that help transmit information to others. Virality is most valuable when the brand or product benefit is integral to the story. When it’s woven so deeply into the narrative that people can’t tell the story without mentioning it.3 Say for example that you are with friends eating dinner at a restaurant during the night of Halloween. Everyone is having a good time when suddenly a bunch of teenagers barge in clowns, ghosts and ghouls with bottles of Heinz ketchup. They then proceeded to methodically spraying everyone in the room with ketchup yelling “Heinzy Halloween!” the entire time. In such instance it would be difficult to write off the encounter without mentioning Heinz Ketchup as this is what the teens were yelling the entire time. Such an instance may be unlikely to occur in real life, but it can become a viral video if portrayed as a commercial.
We Sell All the Time
The reason it’s really hard to think of new companies with dedicated sales teams is that the line between sales and other departments is blurring, and it’s blurring fast.
This is especially true for startups as they usually can’t afford to hire people just to sell products, especially in the beginning. Everyone has to sell on top of their regular responsibilities. What’s more, even regular jobs require you to spend time selling.
Much of your time at work is spent in non-sales selling, which simply means moving others and/or convincing them to do something. For example, this could mean persuading them to help you with a project, convincing them to support your idea, or influencing them to get on board with a strategy. In such instance cash does not change hands, but the time and effort expended by others to move your idea did. And when you think about it, that time they spent helping you could have been used for monetary gain. If you take convincing others in that respect, you have indeed sold something.
The fields of medicine and education illustrate this point of the need to convince others, these two fields compose the largest two job sectors in the US economy. And they rely heavily on persuasion: doctors must get people to change their health-damaging habits and teachers must get students to spend time hitting the books. This concept of selling involves the personal sphere as well, convincing our families on our course of action and convincing our children on living the good and honest life. When you put selling in the perspective of convincing others to do what you think is right, we have all sold something in some way, shape or form at some moment in our lives.
The reason we think of salespeople as sleazy and sales always has a negative connotation to it is that we’re still used to the old days, where sales consisted mostly of people abusing the information gap between buyer and seller.
If you bought a used car in 1999 and didn’t know a lot about cars, your dealer could tell you all kinds of good things about it but leave out plenty of the bad stuff. The used car salesman in this instance is taking advantage of the difference between the information you (the buyer) knows and what he (the seller) knows. This is also known as information asymmetry, where one side of a transaction knows far more than another side. The mistrust comes from the difference between the information the buyer knows and the information the seller knows. And in the case of the used car purchase, you’d end up overpaying. Simply because he knew more than you, he’d be the “winner” of this transaction. The possibility of someone taking advantage of us because they know more leads to fear, uncertainty and suspicion.
Luckily, that has changed, thanks to the internet. At the click of a button you can find all dealers in your surrounding area, including reviews from people who have bought cars there, compare models online, get all the technical specs, average market prices, and find out if any dealers were involved in a scandal. The information gap between buyer and seller has shrunk dramatically.
To sell is no longer to guard information and hand it out little pieces, it’s service, helping people to navigate and interpret the wealth of information, explain it to them, and assisting them in making the best decision at that moment in time. Think of yourself as being the link between the buyer and the product or service. This could mean sharing your own personal experience about the use of the product which is in essence an in-person testimonial. Talk about how the product or service has helped you in your own life. Ask yourself, if the person you’re selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve? When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began? Your reward comes from adding value in other people’s lives, not from trying to take from them.
If for example you connect a young family with their dream house, your compensation is in the form of the service you rendered to them. This included setting up the escrow, listing the property so that they would discover it, connecting buyer and seller and coordinating paperwork with the title company. All of this and more was for meeting the end goal of the seller wanting to sell the house, and the buyer wanting to purchase a new home. The successful seller must feel some commitment that his or her product offers the world as much altruistic benefit as it yields the seller in money. Those that don’t might think that they’ve successfully pulled a fast one at the point of sale, but sooner or later buyers in their market will catch on that they are not a trustworthy business worthy of doing business with, it is at this point that they will no longer have a viable business market. What this means is that instead of trying to be the “winner” of a transaction, focus on doing more for the other person than he expects, or you initially intended, taking the extra steps that transform a mundane interaction into a memorable experience.
Let’s go back to the example of the car salesman, if you are in the business of selling cars, there is no use in trying to deceive potential buyers by focusing on only what is good and ignoring everything else. Practically anyone on the buyer’s market can become a smart, informed buyer who has done their research and knows what’s what. They already know the technical details, so repeating it would be of no value to them. Instead, you could focus on talking about your personal experience with it. If you are a car salesperson you may not own every model of car you sell, but you’ve probably test drived each model at least a few times to give yourself some familiarity on the feel and handling of the car. Driving the car is something prospects can’t do over their computer, so the acceleration, turning and overall feel of driving the vehicle is something you can share that they do not yet know. You could also discuss other people who have previously purchased the same model and their thoughts about the car. What sort of background did they have? Were they young, old, single, married? Have they contacted you after buying the vehicle? What are their thoughts? In other words, give people what they can only find out by trying themselves. Instead of selling to them, serve them.
See yourself less as a salesperson, but more as a servant-leader. The most effective leaders weren’t heroic, take-charge commanders but instead were quieter, humbler types whose animating purpose was to serve those nominally beneath them. Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. It begins with the idea that those who move others aren’t manipulators but servants. Perhaps the best salesperson in the world is Jesus Christ. Think about it, according to a 2011 Pew Research Study, there are 2.19 billion Christian in the world. Jesus is not known as an over-domineering tyrant that rules all who follow him with an iron fist. Quite the contrary, one of the most well-known portrayals of him was Jesus washing the feet of one of his disciples (John 13:1–17) which occurred in the upper room, during the Last Supper and for Jesus, it was the display of his humility and servanthood. And perhaps the most well-known symbolism of Jesus Christ is him being nailed to a cross. For Christians, it represented Jesus as loving his people so much that he was willing to give his life in an agonizing way for their salvation.
Always say “Yes, and…” instead of “No” or “Yes, but…”. The reason is that if customers during a sales pitch feel affronted or like you’re talking down to them, they are highly unlikely to buy from you. To win an argument is to lose a sale. Every time you let on you are disagreeing with them, it’s indicating to them that you’re claiming you’re smarter. If you take a confrontational tone, people will automatically default to the “me against him/her” in any sort of interaction. The most effective negotiators make it feel like they are on the side of the other person. Only when people don’t feel threatened do they drop their defenses and listen to your reason. So instead of using words like “no” or “but”, agree with their ideas and add to them and then improve and improvise how you can further move the conversation along. People want to feel like they are a part of the decision making, it makes them feel important, needed and respected. Instead of flat out saying no, redirect their thoughts so that your perspective and theirs is reconciled. This way you’ll always be able to integrate opposing viewpoints, keep your talk constructive and have a great conversational atmosphere.4 It’s not just closing the sale, that’s short term thinking that leads to a life of living hand to mouth, it’s about cultivating relationships. Closing the sale is eating your seed crop, building relationships is investing those seeds to reap a bountiful harvest. New customers come from the actions of the past customers. They inform others, end up showing the product to others or end up purchasing the product again.5
After building a solid pool of customers who love what you offer, focus on building a base of champions, that is, put your customers into different groups, or rather stages of the customer’s journey. There are suspects, who are a good fit, but don’t know you yet and prospects who you’ve been in touch with and that want to know more about you. Clients are first-time buyers and repeat clients keep coming back. Lastly, there are champions. These are not only repeat customers, but they love you and your products so much, that they keep telling all of their friends about you. That’s why your best new customers are your old customers. It’s a lot easier to sell new products to old customers than it is to try and sell new products to new customers. Take Apple for example, once they got people hooked on the original iPhone, they released new versions of the iPhone that were not necessarily revolutionary, but were steady, incremental improvements catered towards raving fans. And so Apple has continued selling newer phones as well as expanding into selling smart watches and laptops to their old customers to this day. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that their business hasn’t been too shabby.
Your fan base is a key fundamental factor that makes or breaks a business. People make up businesses, not the cash that they provide. Remember that it is a lot easier marketing to old customers who already know and trust you than it is to acquire new leads. Once you have a few clients, focus on giving them the best possible experience and service, so that they’ll eventually become champions and do your marketing for you. Once you have your champions, learn more about them. What sort of demographic do they fall under, are they young, old, male, female, well off, struggling? What are common hobbies, habits and interests within this group? What are their wants and fears? How can what you do better serve and provide for what they need? Know your champions, then you can focus your efforts on finding more of them.
The web is arguably the best source in finding people that are like minded to your champions. If you’re not online, you don’t exist. More and more human interaction is taking place online. Think of companies like Uber or Airbnb, these types of companies wouldn’t exist without the web and the web isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So might as well use it to your advantage. With the large influx of content and media, people are increasingly becoming desensitized to marketing strategies coupled with the fact that engagement rates across practically all social media platforms including email is dropping. The sure-fire way to lose out though is to not have an online presence at all. Marketers have to become smarter and smarter in this cat-and-mouse-game, but the only way to win is to start playing. No one who you perceived as an expert now started out as an expert, everyone has to start somewhere, and the sooner you start, the faster you’ll be able to become one of those experts. Trying to become successful online is a crazy mess as it is, so don’t seal your own fate by thinking you don’t need it. So pick a channel, whether that’s a website, Instagram account, Facebook page, or podcast, but pick one, and start creating.6
Takeaway: When promoting a product or service, common objections include the cost and need of the product. Your job then is to convince the prospect that they are receiving more necessary value through the purchase than they would if they did not. Once you overcome these initial objections, provide more value than you take in monetary rewards. The initial sale is just to get people through the door, the long-term objective is to create a loyal fan base that will keep coming back. Once you have a base of customers, convince them to share your offer to their network by giving them a boost in social standing for sharing it.
- “The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education” Josh Kaufman
- “Start with Why” Simon Sinek
- “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” Jonah Berger
- “To Sell is Human” Daniel H. Pink
- “The Lean Startup” Eric Ries
- “Duct Tape Marketing” John Jantsch