How to Sell Without Being “Sales-y”
After years of talking to business owners, I’ve discovered two characteristics that most of them have in common. First, they want more freedom in their lives.
And second, the main thing holding them back is an aversion to selling. They either have a fear of selling or they consider it unpleasant — perhaps even unethical.
As the pushy car salesman and Avon lady stereotypes have often proved accurate, I’m not surprised. Selling seems difficult at best, predatory at worst. Many entrepreneurs just want to put their great ideas into action.
“Do I have to sell to people?” they ask. “I’m not good at it — maybe I’m not cut out for this.”
To answer the question in a nutshell…yes, you must sell. But honestly, everything is selling. And to be good at it, you need only be human. So, good news, if you’re reading this, you qualify!
What do I mean by “everything is selling?” Contrary to the stereotypes, the art of selling is simply empathizing with someone’s problem … then offering a solution.
As an entrepreneur, you’ve got something to offer. Your task is to link it up with the people who need it most.
And when that happens, “selling” is as natural as a conversation.
Let Them Drive Off the Lot
I recently heard a story that confirmed the pushy-car-salesman stereotype. A fellow went to a dealership, cash in hand and ready to buy a car. He wanted a compact sedan with good gas mileage — something decent for his commute and to beat the $2/litre gas prices.
The salesman continually pushed him to buy a huge pickup truck that probably got 15 l/ 100km. Every time the customer asked to see a compact sedan, he was shown another oversized vehicle.
The salesman pulled every card: “This truck is perfect for a big man like yourself.” “All your neighbours will be jealous of you.” “You’ll get all the ladies with this truck.”
The buyer responded each time by insisting that he needed a smaller, efficient vehicle, but the salesman refused to budge. He finally got frustrated and left…and he walked next door to the competing dealership and drove his new Honda Civic off the lot.
That’s the kind of “salesperson” who gives selling a bad name. And sadly, their tactics do work. Plenty of customers have gotten buyers’ remorse after being pushed to buy something they didn’t really need or want.
Most entrepreneurs feel uncomfortable with selling because they don’t want to trick people. But here’s the truth: selling is more effective when your “persuasion” is really “affirmation.”
That car salesman wasn’t affirming the customer’s needs. He was trying to fulfill his desire to make the commission off a big truck sale. But when the competing dealership showed the buyer a compact sedan, the car basically sold itself.
So, if you’re worried about pitching clients or selling to customers for your business:
People need to see their ‘better future’ when they make a purchase, when you can provide that for them, you’ll enjoy the Profit.
Find Your Ideal Customers
Selling is more difficult when you have to truly convince people to buy from you. But if you’re experiencing a lot of resistance, that’s a sign that you’re not targeting the right prospect.
Now, there’s always going to be a little persuasion. Today’s consumers are skeptical and most industries are saturated.
That’s why it’s crucial to position yourself close to your ideal customers. The more aligned your offer is with your needs, the easier it is to get their attention … and eventually, their trust.
Business owners feel huge pressure to earn revenue, so they consider selling their top priority. That can scare off entrepreneurs who are nervous about selling.
So, they either abandon their idea or throw money at their fear. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs spend thousands on ads trying to reach as many customers as possible.
However, 10 loyal customers are better than 100 one-time customers. And those are not the type of customers you get from relentless selling.
I’ve often talked about the 5Ps of entrepreneurial freedom, one of them being People. The right people make or break your business — and those include your customers.
It’s rarely worth the cost of advertising or acquisition to convince a disinterested customer to make a small purchase.
Let’s take your local Avon lady, who pushes her products everywhere from church to your doorstep. She may make sales only because people want to buy something to get rid of her. If customers feel pressured into buying something, they’ll make a minimal purchase — then never buy from you again.
So, if you’re nervous about selling as an entrepreneur, remember that you don’t need to persuade unwilling customers. Put yourself near your ideal clients, and the rest can happen naturally.
Plus, your best-suited customers are more likely to become loyal to your business.
Start A Conversation, Not a Sales Pitch
Meaningful selling is effective selling. Consider it a relationship: you wouldn’t go door-to-door trying to find a new friend or partner, right?
Instead, you meet people in shared spaces. You start a conversation. And hopefully, you find that you can benefit each other.
When you take that approach, selling your business doesn’t feel as difficult. I’ve talked to many entrepreneurs who found it natural — even fun! It’s a great feeling to connect with a potential customer or client and hear them say “yes” to your offer.
The main mistake I’ve seen, especially among direct sales reps, is that they start a conversation, then immediately launch into a pitch. The art of selling is truly the practice of empathy. Feigned interest is easy to spot.
As an entrepreneur, you likely have an amazing product or service that you KNOW will solve your customers’ problems. But how can you offer a solution if you don’t understand their problem?
That’s why good selling is ultimately about human connection. I own several shoe stores, and when customers come in, I’m eager to hear what they’re seeking.
Do they want more comfortable work shoes? Sandals they can wear all around Disney World without pain? The perfect heels to go with their prom dress?
There are stories behind every human interaction. When you’re selling, you’re not pushing someone to get something they don’t need. You’re listening to their interests and needs.
And once you’ve engaged with them enough for them to earn your trust, you’re ready to pitch. But often, it’s just a short step, and the product sells itself.
Just remember, you still need to position your offering in the right place. Don’t waste time or energy chatting with people who aren’t the right fit for your business. Once you find your ideal customers and start a conversation, it’s simply a matter of being human with them.
Selling has gotten a bad reputation due to some bad actors. As an entrepreneur, you absolutely must learn the art of selling. The good news is, it’s not as difficult or unethical as you imagine — and you can absolutely do it. Many people find it to be a natural extension of their great ideas.
By cultivating that human connection and leading with empathy, you can get your solution in front of the people who truly desire it. And from there, your offer sells itself.
In my experience with my shoe stores, few things make me happier than seeing a customer walk out in new shoes, knowing that we’ve connected them with something that suits their needs. We’ve delivered our experience in nine letters when the guest says, “OHH, AHH, AHA”.
OOH – those look great!
AHH – those feel fantastic
AHA – I’ve finally found the perfect pair
What are the phrases, experiences, or senses you are helping your client achieve so that they will buy their ‘better life’ from you?
This interview was loosely based on Season 3, Episode 20 of the Simplifying Entrepreneurship Podcast where I interviewed sales expert Andy Paul.