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Whether you sell online or face to face, to a large audience or just one person, all sales come down to a single basic process. You have to persuade someone that their life will somehow be better with the product or service you offer.
It makes sense, then, that no matter what you sell or who you sell it to, the same core principles of how to sell will apply. It can be hard to find these principles of how to sell in an easily digestible format, but here they are, explained in just enough detail for you to easily apply them to your business.
1. Identify your target market
Selling is all about knowing what motivates people. If you want to know how to sell to any audience, don’t try to sell to every audience. Pinpoint who your market is and what they want.
Start with your product or service
Before you even connect with potential customers, list the features and benefits of what you’re trying to sell. Drill down to exactly how each feature makes someone’s life easier, and then identify who would have that need.
For example, if you sell children’s bicycle helmets, your product offers peace of mind to parents. Those parents are your target market. They’re probably in their 30s or 40s and want helmets that have great safety ratings and are cool enough that their children will wear them.
Create a buyer persona
The more specific you can get about your target customer, the better. Once you have a basic idea of who will buy your product, describe them in as much detail as possible.
Think in terms of demographics—measurable, factual descriptors that sort people into groups.
Also, identify what marketers call the "psychogenic" features of your audience. These are mental and emotional characteristics such as values, lifestyle choices, personal interests, and attitudes. For each characteristic you identify, consider what selling points of your product or service match it.
Assemble all this information into a buyer persona. Buyer personas are essentially character sketches of your target customer, and they work. For one company, creating buyer personas resulted in a 55% increase in traffic and 97% more potential customers coming from online sources. In fact, personas make business websites 2 to 5 times more effective overall.
Keep your buyer persona in mind when talking to your audience. They’ll be more likely to respond because the message will speak directly to them.
Consider your existing buyers
If you’re already in business, ask yourself what your current customers have in common. What products are most popular? When do they buy? If your business has an online presence, you can dig into analytics for answers to these questions.
2. Do your research
People only buy something if they believe they want or need it. The key to how to sell to any audience is learning what your audience values and then adjusting your sales pitch to match.
Selling to consumers
Consumer research is easier now than it’s ever been. Wherever your business has a presence online, you can find information about who’s interested in you.
Take social media, for example. When you do any marketing or audience outreach through platforms like Facebook and Instagram, those platforms collect information about your visitors.
It’s relatively easy to get your hands on that information. Facebook has a robust analytics app that will tell you all about who visits you, including demographic information such as age and location. You can also learn about how people interact with your posts, whether they click through, and what they do before they buy.
The problem is that you’ll have a lot of information, possibly in many different places, and it’s hard to do anything useful with that kind of scattered data.
You’ll get the insights you need a lot faster if you gather data through an all-in-one platform. With these insights, you can make more informed decisions about how to promote your product or service, and ultimately, how to sell it. If your audiences respond to promotions and discounts, focus on running more sales. If they appreciate a particular feature, promote that feature.
Selling to business decision-makers
You can also research your business customers online, but you’ll look for them in different places.
Business-to-business (B2B) selling is all about understanding someone’s professional motivations and needs, so you’ll want to focus on 2 things:
- The company’s financial and operational goals
- The decision-maker’s professional objectives
You can scrutinize these factors on an individual basis or generally. For example, before you make a sales call to a B2B buyer, you’ll want to research the company’s short- and long-term goals. You’ll also want to know how your prospect contributes to those goals and, most importantly, how your product or service can help.
If you’re promoting to a group, identify the trends in the industry or challenges to a particular business role. If you just entered the market and you don’t have a lot of data yet, begin by establishing an online presence that allows you to start gathering information as soon as possible. Creat a website and start interacting on social media.
In the meantime, go online and do some digging. Look for:
- Trade publications where people in your industry discuss marketing
- Other companies that sell to your target market and how they do it
- Reviews of your competitors’ products and services
- Google results for “demographics of X buyers” (“demographics of b2b software buyers,” for example)
These searches will provide you with enough information to get started with some targeted selling.
3. Connect with the buyer personally
In the end, every sale is about one human being meeting a need for another. Knowing how to sell means learning how to understand what that need is, what else in the person’s life is connected to it, and how you as a seller can connect the dots.
Creating the relationship
Take time to step back from selling and connect on a personal level, especially at first. If you open the conversation with a prospective buyer by talking about the product or service and how great it is, or even by mentioning the pain point you hope to address, they will feel pressured.
No one wants to be “sold to,” but everyone wants to connect. Begin by bringing up something you’ve learned about the person and get them talking about it. This is easier one-on-one, because you can ask questions like “How have you enjoyed the city since moving here?” or “What’s there to do outdoors in your area?”
The person’s answers will tell you a lot regarding what they care about and their thought processes, so listen carefully. Then, as you move into a topic related to what you’re selling, you know what angle to take and what selling points to emphasize.
You can use the same tactic in a mass communication format. Just start your message with the personal, focusing on what you know about your target audience, and then transition into the substance of the sale.
Building virtual connections
Social media is a great tool for building genuine connections online. Unlike many traditional selling tools, social media is a real two-way conversation. You can share a link to your latest blog post and introduce it with a headline like “Need a better return on your marketing investment? Check out these tips on how to sell to online audiences” or “It can be tough to find things to do with kids when the weather gets cold. Learn how to have some creative fun in the comfort of your home.”
Messages like these tell your prospective buyers that you care about their lives and you can help them solve a particular problem.
4. Ask lots of questions
Once you’ve opened the conversation with your buyer, the next step of how to sell to them involves finding out more about what they need.
Any time you find yourself talking to a prospect, or to any member of your target audience, learn as much as you can about the problem you intend to solve.
Ask lots of open ended questions. Questions that necessitate a longer answer than a simple yes or no. These offer you valuable information and help you build a relationship with your prospect at the same time.
For the best results, draw up questions ahead of time. Look for ones that will:
- Explore the prospect’s needs
- Identify potential objections
- Build understanding and relationship
- Highlight opportunities for new sales
The best questions initiate a dialogue between you and your potential customer, instead of just generating thoughts on their end. They inspire the kinds of answers that you can follow up with “why” and “tell me more” questions.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
- How is the issue impacting your team/customers/bottom line?
- What have you tried to do to fix the problem?
- What’s been your biggest obstacle?
- What would the perfect solution look like to you?
You can follow up on the answers to any of these questions and ask for more details to help you learn how to sell to them. The more you learn, the more you can target your sales pitch to their needs.
Polling the group
Don’t have the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with buyers? No problem. You can still ask questions like these and gain insights on how to sell by running focus groups or sending out customer polls and surveys.
Most people prefer to complete surveys online and submit them via a company’s website. Surveys of 5 minutes or less get more participation. Around 34% of surveyed consumers said they complete feedback surveys primarily because there’s a reward involved. Gift cards are the most popular, followed by cash and product discounts.
Keep your survey questions straightforward and clear. You can include open-ended response options if you want detailed individual data, but keep in mind how much time it will take you to sort through the responses. If you want to sell to a large audience, collected and aggregated data might be more useful than individual responses.
5. Keep the focus on the customer
If you can communicate that you deeply understand your customer and how to sell to them, you’ll immediately stand out from the competition.
Remember, every audience will have the same question about your product or service: “What’ in it for me?” The key to making the sale is answering that question with everything you say, do, or offer. Frame all your sales messages around what the prospect’s experience with your product or service will be.
Advise before you sell
Focusing on the customer’s needs is how you build value before you arrive at the actual sales conversation. As soon as you know something about what the customer needs, think about how you can meet that need.
As social marketing expert Jill Rowley famously said, “Think ‘jab, jab, jab, right hook’ as ‘give, give, give, ask.’” If you meet a need before you get to the sell, the buyer will come to know you as someone who’s on their side. This is the concept behind content marketing, so it’s not surprising that content can be the best way to offer value. Any buyer in any industry can read an article or blog post and benefit from it.
You can also suggest helpful websites or tools that your buyer might appreciate. You’ll get bonus credibility points if those tools will make the buyer more receptive to your product or service in the long run. For example, if you sell car insurance, you might decide to share some websites that will help buyers research available used cars.
What to say and how to say it
Once you've learned how to sell to them and your prospect is ready to buy, it’s tempting to describe all the features and benefits of your product or service. Yet even at this stage buyers only care about how it will improve their lives or solve their problems.
Keep the focus on them by using “you” language, rather than “we” or “it.” Instead of “This product is 10 times faster than competing technologies,” Try “You’ll be able to process 10 times more customer data with the staff you already have.” Or, dig down to the core benefit and most meaningful outcome: “You’ll reach 10 times as many people, and that means 10 times the potential for revenue.”
6. Find their core motivation
Every buyer has their own reasons for saying yes to purchasing, and this can easily vary among buyers of the same product. Learning how to sell to each buyer involves understanding their motivations. A teenager buys a pair of jeans, but what they’re really paying for is the social payoff of wearing the latest trend. Another customer, 10 years older, buys the same jeans for the energy boost of feeling young.
It works in B2B buying too. One business owner might buy a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, but their real goal is revenue growth. Another one hopes to save time and control staffing costs in their service department.
So, what motivates your buyer? A 2017 Forbes article suggested that all purchases come down to 7 basic wants:
- Safety and security
- Social approval
- Better relationships
- Health and wellness
- Growth and learning
- Purpose and meaning
Some of these motivators are natural matches for certain businesses. For example, a home alarm company would market to the safety and security motivator, while an online training provider might consider how to sell by harnessing the desire for growth and learning.
Don’t be afraid to look beyond the obvious to find out how to sell with your buyer's core motivation in mind. That home alarm company might appeal to some customers because they want to go on far-off adventures without leaving their houses unattended. The online training provider could develop a very effective marketing campaign for people who are looking for their life’s purpose in a new career.
Look to your audience research, questions, and surveys to find out what motivates your audiences. You’ll know how to sell more when you know what you’re really selling.
7. Know your consumer psychology
Core motivators will be at the heart of your buyers’ decision-making, but there are other psychological factors that tip them toward yes. Understanding these factors can be crucial in learning how to sell.
Loss aversion bias
People fear loss twice as much as they desire gain. A business owner might buy a product that will increase their revenue, but they’re even more likely to spend money if the product will prevent them from losing customers. Identify the ways that your product or service can help your customer protect what they have so that you know how to sell to them.
Human psychology hates contradiction. To avoid it, our minds will seek out and assign greater value to information that aligns with what we already believe. This is called confirmation bias, and employing it can help you land more sales.
Find what people expect from a product or service like yours, then emphasize how you meet and exceed that expectation. For example, if you sell workout clothes, then play up people’s desire to live a healthier lifestyle.
Did you know that the brain releases the feel-good hormone dopamine whenever we encounter something new? Researchers have found that when exposed to novelty, the pleasure centers of the brain light up. You can kindle those pleasure centers in your prospects’ brains and get them excited about your product or service simply by highlighting what’s new about it.
People like having purchase options, but too many can lead to what psychologists call choice overload or overchoice. Someone experiencing choice overload can’t decide which product or service would be best.
To fight choice overload and encourage people to buy, present them with a strategically limited range of offerings. If you have multiple price points or packages, suggest 2 that are the most appropriate for your target audience.
8. Make them feel something
Of all the psychological motivators out there, pure emotion tops the list. People tend to believe that they buy based on logic, especially when it comes to business decisions, but research has shown that emotion has just as much say in the matter.
Neuroscientists suggest that people buy based on feeling and justify with logic. They’ll choose a car and then list the attributes that make it the best choice—price, reliability, and so on. Yet in the showroom, instinct plays just as big a role as the pro and con sheet, even if the shopper doesn’t realize it.
Of course, there are exceptions. For example, few people choose between differently priced brands of milk based on their gut (pun intended). However, aside from those simple choices, your customers’ emotions typically influence whether they buy.
Selling the feeling
Harvard Business Review contributor Michael D. Harris suggests, “If you want to influence how a customer feels about your product, provide an experience that creates the desired emotion.”
A simple way to do this is with a customer story—but not just any story will do. To have an emotional impact, a story needs to be vivid and rich in personal detail. Was the customer frustrated before your product or service came along? Were they missing out on something? Most importantly, what changed for them when they discovered your company? Are they proud of great business results? Excited because their friends compliment their new jeans all the time?
The goal is to help your prospective buyer imagine themselves in that customer’s shoes. If they want to experience that good feeling, they’ll be more likely to seek out your product or service.
Connection is key
In the end, making the sale is about connecting with the buyer. You need to know who they are, what they care about, and what about your product or service would be just right for them.
Appeal not only to their rational mind, but to their emotions as well. Bookmark the psychological drivers you learned about here and incorporate them into your selling. As you go, take notes on what your audiences respond to and what they don’t. You’ll refine your process and, in time, you’ll learn exactly how to sell to your audience—whoever they may be.
How to sell anything: FAQs
The act of making a sale online or in-person is one of convincing someone that they should buy your product and that it improves their life in some way. It's a simple premise, but it has its challenges, especially if you're not comfortable and experienced in the area of sales.
There's a saying that a good salesperson can sell ice cubes to Alaskans in the middle of winter and know how to sell anything. That's because the underlying principle of making a sale consists of explaining or showing the use or purpose of an item to the buyer in a way they understand and fits their needs. Here's a look at how to get started selling your products.
How do I sell products online?
Selling products online isn't much different than selling in a store apart from the physical location aspect, unless you're selling an intangible good like a service or downloadable files. You can sell an intangible good in a physical store, but it's more effective to sell online and enable your customer to download a file immediately after purchase or set a date for a service to be delivered.
The best ways to sell online include building a website or using an online marketplace, engaging in physical and online marketing, and promoting your items whenever and wherever you can. Using multiple areas of marketing, such as email campaigns, social media and passing out business cards, helps increase the number of visitors to your online store and improve sales numbers.
What are some techniques for selling?
In order to learn how to sell anything, you need to understand and practice selling techniques. They include:
- Completely understand the product you're selling.
- Know your market and who will buy your product.
- Position the product as a solution to a problem or make something easier.
- Make your customer comfortable with you as a seller.
- Show first, then sell.
- Don't talk down to your audience.
- Listen to questions and give informed answers.
What should I consider when selling to my audience?
Figuring out how to sell to your audience requires understanding your audience. For example, you're selling the product because you have used it yourself, you like what it has to offer, the solution it provides, its usefulness, and its overall value. Take a look at yourself as a demographic and consider yourself as a basis for your buyer persona. This item appeals to you, and it will most likely appeal to people who are similar to you in terms of age, income, and lifestyle.
When you start to create your website, you can add in different web forms that help you collect data. For example, you can use a free online survey maker to help you determine your target market and collect a wider range of demographic information. The results can give you data that helps you identify a market you may not have previously considered.