This might seem like a paradox, but the secret of selling anything to anybody is not attempting to sell just anything to just anybody.
Whether you work in retail, auto sales, or B2B business you‘ll have far more success if you’re familiar with the characteristics of your target buyers and thoroughly qualify each prospect against that matrix. This is called an ideal buyer profile, and it's like having a secret weapon.
By finding the specific type of “anybody” who is just right for your product or service, you‘ll avoid wasting time on poor-fit leads. And regardless of what industry you’re in or what type of organizations you sell into, a few sales axioms hold. These rules can help you sell more to just about anybody, and in this article, we break them down into five main categories:
- How to Sell Anything
- How to Sell Online
- How to Sell a Product
- How to Sell a Service
- Techniques for Selling
How to Sell Anything
- Focus on your buyer.
- Do your research ahead of time.
- Get to know them first.
- Be helpful.
- Ask thoughtful questions.
- Listen to what they say.
- Use psychology.
- Meet them where they’re at.
- Speak to their emotions.
- Be human.
1. Focus on your buyer.
Do you have a friend or family member who monopolizes every conversation? They probably aren't your favorite person to talk to. Add a bragging tone and they become especially intolerable.
Just like you don‘t like listening to a self-absorbed acquaintance blabber, buyers don’t like listening to salespeople talk at length about their companies or offerings. What you perceive as informative and interesting, prospects perceive as obnoxious and irrelevant.
The cardinal rule of sales is to always make it about your buyer. Every email you write, voicemail you leave, demo you give, and meeting you attend should place the focus squarely on the buyer. Constantly ask yourself, “What's the relevance to this particular prospect?” and customize each interaction accordingly.
How will you know what's relevant? See below.
2. Do your research ahead of time.
If you expect buyers to give you their time and learn about your product, you need to spend time learning about them first. In the age of social media, there's no excuse to call or email a buyer with no knowledge of what they do and what they care about.
Pre-call research doesn't have to take a long time. Depending on your particular sales cycle, as little as five or 10 minutes per prospect might suffice.
Here are some places to research prospects before you attempt to engage them in conversation:
Social Media Profiles
Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok, you can learn a lot by someone just by scrolling through their social media profiles.
LinkedIn is an especially great place to research sales prospects. Review their profile to gather information about their background, skills, and experience. Additionally, join relevant industry groups to gain further insights.
Be sure to check if you have any mutual connections with the prospect through any of these networks, and reach out to them for insights or potential introductions.
Don’t forget to review their company pages as well. There you can learn more about their industry, products/services, recent news, and their target audience.
Reviewing press releases from your prospect’s company provides up-to-date information about the company’s announcements, product launches, partnerships, expansions, and other recent developments. This helps you better understand their business activities and priorities.
They can also reveal how the company is positioning itself in the market. By understanding their public statements and messaging, you can gain insights into their brand image, market positioning, and strategic direction.
If your prospect’s company doesn’t have a ton of press releases available, be sure to look at their competitors’ press release pages. Even if there are some differences between your prospect and their competitors, you can still discover industry trends, market challenges, or regulatory changes that they might be dealing with.
Read industry-specific blogs to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and trends your prospect may be dealing with.
Be sure to check if your prospect’s company published a blog and see if your prospect has written any posts for it. Reading what they’ve written gives you insight into their unique perspectives. Plus, it can be a great conversation starter.
For instance, when reaching out to them, you can reference a relevant blog post they have written to show that you have taken the time to do your research and are genuinely interested in establishing a relationship with them.
Company Financial Statements
If you’re able to access them, your buyer’s company financial statements can reveal information regarding their financial stability and cash flow. This understanding helps you assess the prospect's buying potential and their ability to invest in your product or service.
Financial statements also provide insights into the priorities of a company. For example, if you see significant investments in research and development, it indicates a focus on innovation and improvement. Understanding these priorities assists you in aligning your product or service value proposition with their strategic objectives.
Conduct a Google search on the prospect's name, their company, and any related news or updates. This can help you stay up-to-date and identify any recent developments that may impact their needs or challenges.
When doing your research, try to find information about their needs, pain points, goals, and preferences. That way you can tailor your messaging around issues that are important to them.
Pro tip: If you’re using HubSpot’s Customer Profiles Software, you can siphon all of this known information about a prospect directly into your inbox.
3. Get to know them first.
Building rapport with your prospects is crucial for several reasons:
- It establishes a foundation of trust and likability.
- It facilitates effective communication.
- It helps you gain insight into their needs, motivations, and decision-making process.
- It can differentiate you from competitors.
- It contributes to an overall positive customer experience.
If a customer entered a retail store, you wouldn‘t immediately say, “Hello, would you like to buy this blouse?” You’d likely start by asking, “How are you today?” and then, “What brings you in today?” You might sprinkle in comments like, “I love that top you‘re wearing.” or qualifying questions like, “So, you’re looking for a cocktail dress. May I ask what the occasion is?”
Similarly, when you‘re conducting B2B outreach to a prospect you haven’t spoken with before, it's important to lean heavily on the research element we touched on in step two.
If you notice your prospect lives in Phoenix, do a quick Google search of new restaurants in the area, and open by asking if they‘ve been and what their favorite dish is. Are they from Colorado? Open by asking how the snow is this season and if they’re a skier.
The bottom line: Genuinely get to know your prospect before you launch into what you have to offer, why they should care, and why you're better than your competitors.
4. Be helpful.
If you‘re defining your target buyer correctly, you’ll spend the majority of your day talking to business leaders who have problems your product or service can solve. But just because you know this doesn't mean they do.
Don't jump in with your pitch right off the bat. You run the risk of angering the prospect or scaring them away. Instead, offer your help in the way you think would be most valuable. Not sure where you can be of service? Ask.
Maybe you can send along a breakdown of the latest features of a buyer's target car or send them a piece of content that speaks to their needs. Perhaps you can draw on your expertise to speak about industry-wide trends the buyer might not be privy to.
Position yourself as an advisor who wants to help, rather than a salesperson thirsty to sell. With this approach, you'll find a more receptive audience when you finally get around to connecting their problem with your offering. In short: Always Be Helping.
As social selling expert Jill Rowley puts it, “Think ‘jab, jab, jab, right hook’ as ‘give, give, give, ask.’”
Pro tip: Save templates of common questions you receive from buyers, so you can quickly follow up with a relevant message. A free tool like HubSpot’s Email Templates Builder can help you spend more time selling and less time drafting repetitive emails.
5. Ask thoughtful questions.
No matter how thoroughly you‘ve researched your prospect, there will be gaps in your knowledge, and you won’t be able to help the buyer solve their issue if you don‘t fully understand it. For this reason, it’s critical to ask thoughtful questions during your conversations — and a lot of them.
Here are some examples sales trainers Rick Roberge and Sean McPheat advocate:
- “How did this happen?”
- “What are the most important features for you?”
- “Has it always been this way?”
- “How should this product make you feel?”
- "How is the issue impacting your organization?
- “What do your customers think? ”
- “What are you currently doing to address the problem?”
- “In a perfect world, what would you like to see happen with this?”
- “Can you give me an example?”
Be curious. It‘s good to have a list of questions prepared as a jumping off point, but you don’t have to stick to them if the conversation takes an unexpected turn.
It makes a much better impression when you ask questions based off of the conversation you’re having instead of asking the surface level, pre-planned questions. People like talking about themselves and their situations, so your genuine interest and curiosity will help them warm up to you.
6. Listen to what they say.
After posing a question, simply listen. Really hear what the buyer is saying, and don‘t just wait for your turn to speak. Then, after they’ve finished their thought, communicate their message back to them, ask them to verify if you understood them correctly, and pose a question providing further clarification.
Congratulations — you just became an active listener!
Not only does careful listening help you get a grip on the problem, but it also makes the prospect feel good. And if you truly tune in, they'll be more likely to return the favor when you have something to say.
Creating an open dialogue with new buyers can foster loyalty and pave the way for future opportunities.
Pro tip: Be sure to track this information in your (free!) CRM, so that your whole team has access to the info and you don’t have to ask repeat questions to your buyer.
7. Use psychology.
Our brains are wired to respond to certain situations in specific ways. Being aware of these psychological tricks can help you harness them to your benefit.
Here are just a few of the quirks relevant to salespeople:
The information we receive first acts as an anchor against which we evaluate all further data.
For example, you could use this approach by presenting a higher-priced option first, and then offering a more affordable alternative. The high-priced option serves as a reference point that makes the lower-priced option seem more attractive by comparison.
A third option can sometimes help people choose between two possibilities. With this approach, the decoy is strategically designed to make one of the other options more appealing. This is usually done by making the decoy similar to the desired option, but slightly inferior in terms of features, benefits, or price.
The decoy effect can also be used in tandem with the anchoring effect. For instance, you can use the decoy to anchor the price of the desired option. If the decoy has a higher price than the desired option, it can make the desired option seem more affordable and cost-effective.
Rhyming statements seem truer than non-rhyming ones. This especially works when crafting catch slogans or taglines. For instance, think of Bounty’s “the quilted quicker picker upper.”
A memorable rhyme can make your message stick in your prospect's mind and increase the likelihood of recall and recognition. Just be sure to incorporate rhymes naturally and sparingly, or else you’ll start to sound gimmicky and unprofessional.
We react more strongly to the possibility of losing something we currently have than the possibility of gaining something we don't.
For example, you could highlight what prospects stand to lose if they don't take action. Emphasize the potential negative consequences of not adopting your product or missing out on your service. This appeals to their innate aversion to loss and can motivate them to make a decision sooner.
People remember the end and a high point within a presentation more vividly than any other section. You can create memorable peak moments by offering exceptional customer service, providing personalized recommendations, or delivering a memorable demonstration.
You can also leave an impression by recapping your value proposition, emphasizing key benefits, or offering an exclusive deal or bonus to create a memorable end to your presentation.
The curse of knowledge is when someone who knows a lot about a given subject is unable to relate to someone who is not as familiar. In the context of sales, it means that you might struggle to explain your product or service in a way that a prospect can understand if you are too familiar with it.
Being aware of the curse of knowledge is the first step to overcoming it. When speaking to sales prospects, you’ll need to put yourself in their shoes and explain things simply. Use real-life examples and ask them open-ended questions to gauge their level of understanding and address any gaps.
We are more likely to accept information that aligns with our beliefs than contradictory evidence — no matter how compelling. While you might not be able to win everyone over, you can address confirmation bias by utilizing social proof, highlighting positive reviews, providing data-driven evidence, and aligning with your prospect’s values and goals.
These are just a few examples of how you can apply psychology in your sales conversations. Remember to approach them ethically, with the genuine intention of understanding and serving the prospect's needs while building trust and rapport.
8. Meet them where they’re at.
It‘s great when a salesperson brings their unique personality to their selling process. But bear in mind you should also pay attention to your prospect’s personality and tailor your approach accordingly. Our personal attributes have an impact on how we like to be sold to and what information we prioritize.
Here's a brief breakdown of the four main personality types, and their preferences:
Drivers are interested in results and the bottom line. They are often action-oriented and do not want to engage in small talk.
When communicating with drivers, it’s best to be direct with them and get to the point. Focus your messaging on their goals and the action items to get them there. Drivers are results-oriented and want to know how things will be accomplished. They appreciate when others can provide clear plans or solutions.
Amiable types are interested in creative ideas and big-picture visions. They tend to be warm, friendly, and approachable. They prioritize harmonious relationships and value empathy and understanding.
When communicating with amiable people, listen attentively and speak calmly and kindly. These individuals value cooperation and strive to find common ground in their interactions. Due to their desire for harmony, people with amiable personalities tend to avoid conflict. It’s best not to use confrontational language with them.
People with expressive personalities are interested in people and how ideas affect others. They are typically outgoing, enthusiastic, and sociable in their communication.
Expressive people tend to openly share their emotions and personal experiences. They may relate to others by revealing their own feelings and sharing anecdotes from their own lives.
People with analytical personalities are interested in facts, figures, and data. They tend to be logical, detail-oriented, and systematic in their communication.
Analytical people value concrete information and prefer evidence-based discussions. They tend to be a little skeptical, often anticipating potential challenges and trying to address them proactively. They are also inclined to ask many questions or for clarification to ensure they have a complete picture and can make informed decisions.
Once you know which category your prospect fits into, play to their preferences and customize your messaging and presentation to nail what's most important to them.
9. Speak to their emotions.
There‘s no such thing as a purely rational decision. Like it or not, our emotions color how we process information and make decisions. With this in mind, salespeople who appeal solely to their buyers’ logic are doing themselves a disservice.
Every sales message, presentation, and meeting should speak to the prospect's emotions as well as their rational mind. According to sales expert Geoffrey James, the following emotions impact decision-making:
Some of these are unpleasant feelings you don‘t want buyers associating with you or your company. So, make sure to use a light touch when making emotional appeals. In addition, don’t try to bring forth all of these feelings — choose one or two that will resonate and subtly mix them in. (Read: Try not to put your buyer in a glass case of emotion.)
10. Be human.
When you‘re sending countless outreach emails each and every day, it’s easy to forget that leads are people. But they are, and they want to be treated as such.
Use yourself as a litmus test — would you like getting this email? Would you appreciate this voicemail? If not, there‘s a good chance your buyer won’t either.
Another key thing is transparency. Be honest and real when talking to your buyer about your product or service. Don’t make exaggerations or promises you can’t deliver on.
By taking a more genuine approach, you can create a more meaningful experience for your buyer, increasing your chances of success.
How to Sell Anything Online
- Research different industries.
- Choose your product or service.
- Identify the target customer.
- Set a price.
- Choose a selling platform.
- Generate leads.
- Make your pitch.
- Close the deal.
- Deliver the product.
- Ask for referrals.
1. Research different industries.
Finding the right thing to sell may seem simple, but there are several pitfalls you can experience if you don't do your due diligence. Every new business venture, especially those that are sales-led, should be researched heavily before you get started.
First, think about the industry you want to enter into. You can do extensive research on your own to understand the market for that industry, the key players you'll be competing against, and the potential your business will have over time. Use credible sources like Pew Research and the Small Business Administration to get started.
2. Choose your product or service.
Next, you‘ll choose whether you’ll be selling a product or service. When having conversations with prospects, either of these options will have different objections and customer needs that you‘ll need to address. Products can typically be sold without face-to-face interaction while services normally require a conversation with a representative or the service provider who’ll be doing the work.
For products, you'll need to consider shipping costs, ecommerce websites, and supply chain.
For services, you'll focus on scheduling, project management, and quality control.
3. Identify the target customer.
You've chosen your industry and selected your sales offering. Who are you going to sell it to?
Identifying your target customer is a welcome challenge to most sales reps because it allows them to find pain points quickly and prepare a pitch that meets their needs. The great thing about selling online is that you can iterate your pitch several times as you refine who your target customer is. If you notice that one prospect went with a competitor while the other chose your product, you can narrow down why that happened. You'll reap the benefits of identifying a target customer ten times over vs literally selling anything to anybody.
4. Set a price.
Everything is negotiable to a salesperson, but that doesn‘t mean you should forgo standard pricing. The price of what you’re selling should be based on the cost of the product, overhead, and profit margin. This protects your business, but it also protects the customer from being overcharged. With a set price, you can negotiate the product or service up or down depending on the customers' needs and select a price point to match.
5. Choose a selling platform.
A website isn‘t always required to sell a product or service — shocking, right? There are several B2C companies that operate exclusively through platforms like Amazon, Shopify, or Etsy. For B2B companies, a website would be the better fit, though. Regardless of the route you choose, you want to make sure you’re providing the prospect with a way to research you, the company, and the product before they begin the sales process. A good rule of thumb is, the longer the sales process, the more likely it is you'll want to use a content management system (CMS) like HubSpot CMS.
6. Generate leads.
“Build it and they will come,” says the old adage. But this isn't true anymore. Researching the industry, choosing a target customer, setting prices, and building a website are only the beginning of selling anything online. You now need to thread the needle between all four of these steps and that starts with generating leads.
If you have access to a marketing team, this is a great place for them to step in and help out. But if you‘re a one-person show, chances are you’re prospecting your own leads in between closing deals. Efficiency is key here, so consider low-cost, high-volume activities like email marketing, localized digital advertising, and LinkedIn prospecting.
7. Make your pitch.
Imagine you‘re sitting in front of your first prospect. They’ve voluntarily submitted a contact form on your website and showed up to the meeting. Are you prepared to sell?
It might be tempting to sell on the fly, but resist the temptation. Having a well-crafted, thoughtful pitch prepared can make all the difference. Even if the customer is already sold on the product, it's now your job to sell them on you and the company. The way you show up during the meeting will leave a lasting impression on them as a customer—impacting everything from repeat purchases to referrals down the line.
Keep your pitch short and to the point, leaving plenty of time for establishing common ground and answering questions.
8. Close the deal.
You‘ve made it through the pitch! Closing the deal is the next step and it can come as a surprise to some sales reps (especially those new to the field) that asking for a prospect’s business is a required part of the sales process.
This could be as simple as walking the customer over to the cash register to complete the sale or as nuanced as asking for several signatures on a lengthy contract. Regardless, it's imperative that you close the deal formally.
9. Deliver the product.
The delivery method you choose will depend on your product or service, but the point is to be quick. If you're selling in a brick-and-mortar establishment, the transaction will be instantaneous while those in ecommerce sales may have a bit of a delay getting the customer what they paid for. Services can sometimes take even longer due to schedule alignment.
If your product requires complex installation, you may want to offer assistance with that. If your service calendar is booked for a month, offer the customer an opportunity to book more than one session at a time so that they are closer together moving forward.
Any effort you can make to speed up the delivery of your product or service will be appreciated by your brand new customer. After all, you're still making a lasting impression on them and any people they refer to you in the future.
10. Ask for referrals.
We‘ve mentioned referral quite a bit thus far because the last step in the process of selling anything online is to set yourself up to start over on step one. Asking for referrals is the ultimate compliment a customer can give you. It means they loved their buying experience and their purchase so much, they’d want other people to experience it for themselves.
This isn‘t a compliment to take lightly. If you receive a referral, follow up immediately (yes, even the same day) to introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to tell the referral how you know them. This not only lends you credibility, it opens the conversation between your customer and the referral so they can help sell the product for you.
The testimony of an existing customer will be much more powerful than any pitch you could make. People believe their friends, let this work in your favor.
While the sales tips above can be applied to anything, you’ll want to tailor your approach depending on whether you’re selling a product or a service.
How to Sell a Product
- Focus on your customer’s needs.
- Highlight appealing or exclusive product features.
- Use demonstrations to your advantage.
Products often offer concrete solutions to a customer’s problem. Although they have the benefit of a tangible item to showcase, selling a product shouldn’t be mistaken as easy. Customers still need to be convinced as to why they should purchase your product over someone else's.
1. Focus on your customer’s needs.
As stated previously, you’ll want to focus on what the customer’s pain points are and from there you can address how your product can solve their issue. The customer’s needs should always be your North star.
2. Highlight appealing or exclusive product features.
Products typically give customers something tangible (unless its software) they can see and touch. They also give the opportunity for customers to compare them with other similar products. Hone in on what features differentiate your product from the pack. Do any of these features improve the product’s performance? If so, highlight that and drive the point home to your prospects. Make the case for why your product’s features are an improvement over the competition and can provide better results for your customers.
3. Use demonstrations to your advantage.
One of the perks of selling a product is it’s easier to show prospective customers how it works. Doing a demonstration or having the customer try it out themselves is a great way to illustrate the product's value. Customers won’t have to guess how they would use the product or what it actually does. They can see it in action.
Use your demonstration to point out the product’s value in real time, and explain the benefits to your prospective customers. Most people buying a new car want to test drive it first before making a decision. People buying software want to view the interface and interact with it prior to committing to buy. Demonstrations are where you can really let the product shine.
How to Sell a Service
- Focus on building relationships instead of selling.
- Leverage customer testimonials to build trust.
- Emphasize your service’s benefits.
While selling a product can feel more transactional, often with a one-time purchase, selling a service requires more nuance. Without a tangible product, you’ll need to sell prospective customers on the vision that your service will improve their life or business.
1. Focus on building relationships instead of selling.
This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s important to develop a rapport with your potential customers. Chances are, people aren’t going to buy as soon as you first meet them, or when they first visit your website. So, you shouldn’t approach it as giving one pitch and you’re done. Instead, think about how you can build a long-term connection with the customer that results in them purchasing your service.
You’ll need to ask questions to find more information about their needs and wants. From there you can start to connect the dots about which attributes of your service might be the most beneficial for their specific problems. Customers should think you have their best interests in mind before buying.
2. Leverage customer testimonials to build trust.
When customers buy a service, they’re doing it based on the potential success they may have using it. There isn’t a tangible product for them to look to for reference. So, if you have existing customers that are happy with your service, have them offer a testimonial. Testimonials can help you gain the trust of your potential customers, especially if it's a well-known brand speaking to the benefits of using your service.
With testimonials, potential buyers can see themselves in your existing happy customers. They can look to see if their organization has a similar business model and better understand how your service could work for them. Testimonials help build trust with customers by establishing your business as an authority or expert in the field, and will help persuade them to choose you over other service providers.
3. Emphasize your service’s benefits.
You can talk about how great your service is, but if you don’t drive home why customers should buy it, you’re wasting your time. Once you’ve built a relationship with potential customers and figured out their pain points, communicate how using your service will resolve their issues and remove obstacles. Are there processes your service can simplify? Will using your service save them money or time? If so, be vocal about it, and give a detailed explanation about how.
Successfully selling a service will largely depend on how well you can communicate its value to potential customers. You’ll need to help them visualize how your service will improve their lives or business.
Can anyone learn to sell?
You bet. It just requires the right mindset, plus the willingness to practice and work on your approach until you get it right.
Author and “world’s greatest salesman” Joe Girard emphasizes in his book How to Sell Anything to Anybody, that the people who excel in sales don’t approach it as a one-and-done transactional arrangement. Instead, he says those who “understand how selling can be a continuing process that never ends, then you’re going to make it to the big time.”
Once you see selling as a process rather than a transaction, you’ll set yourself up for success.
The Best Techniques for Selling
- Provide lots of detail.
- Communicate the product's value.
- Build an email list.
- Personalize digital touchpoints.
- Create a sense of urgency
- Consider where each lead is in the buyer's journey.
- Use lead scoring to focus on high-value online leads.
How do I become good at selling?
The ability to sell anything comes down to knowing your buyer and the critical sales methodologies to reach them. The ability to sell anything online can be boiled down to that as well — all while using different channels and technologies to do so. You can be super effective at each by crafting a sales strategy that informs the tactics your team invests in.
This post was originally published in April, 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.