How NOT To Sell: A STORY

“Do you read?”

This question came to Nic and I out of the blue when a woman we had met at a weekend retreat came and sat with us as we had our lunch of fruits and mee jawa. We were sweaty and hot, having just ambled back from the nearby Kampar river. The group that we were in was a spiritual group and this woman – let’s call her PG – was part of this group. She had not spoken to us at all and on the final day, she smiled and sat down near us.

It was an innocent question.

And yes, Nic and I love to read.

I said yes and she started to tell me about a book she had with her. She whipped it out of her black bag. She showed the cover to me and Nic and said, “I’ll sign this book for you.”

I was puzzled.

As I was using my hands to eat some pomelo, I didn’t want to touch her book and she also said that I shouldn’t touch her book. Next, she flipped the book open to a specific chapter, holding out the book to me, egging me to read the first paragraph. I read it quickly and still didn’t know what she was trying to get at.

“What do you think?” She asked with flourish. Her eyes gleamed with pride.

“Errr… interesting. Do you have Chinese blood in your family?” I asked, still unsure what this woman was getting at. At this point, I am doubtful the conversation would last.

“Oh, no no. I wrote this book of short stories based on my research about the Han people and the Chinese dynasties. It contains stories about love, tragedy, black magic and more.”

She was hopeful that I would say yes, I’d love to get a copy of her book. I smiled apologetically and said that I don’t like reading horror or black magic stories. In fact I don’t even watch horror movies.

The moment I said that she closed her eyes and quickly put her book back into her bag.

“So where do you sell your book?”

She glared at me disdainfully as if I had suggested she peddle her books at the bazaar. Triumphantly, she announced she wasn’t selling the books anywhere; it was “exclusively to be bought through her”. She added that she was going to get her book made into a digital version but not before saying that she preferred to have physical books as people like to read physical versions. “It’s a good gift for people and you could give my book at weddings.”

I thought she was quite comical and even defensive but she struck me as a person who could try to learn some marketing. I knew she was trying hard to sell her books, by offering to sign the books but she was failing and she didn’t even know why.

Never, ever try to sell if you don’t know if the other party has a need.
Most people are excited about their products and they assume that others would be too. I call this the “Cute Baby Syndrome”. Many first-time parents often gush about their babies and will show off their babies to anyone who would stop and praise their baby’s looks.

But have you ever realised that parents never stop to think that others may not think the same? Your baby is cute to you but it could be considered ugly to others. How could you say that?

Think of it – has ANY parent ever called their baby ugly? No.

Because their babies are cute. They may call other babies ugly but not their own! In marketing, this holds true too. You believe your products are the best, the most effective etc. and that’s OK but that’s to you, from your point of view. Unless your customers are also gushing about how amazing your product is, you probably have the “Cute Baby Syndrome”.

PG was proud of her book – a book she had written – and she has every right to be proud. Yet she came up to us and asked if we read. Yes, we did and she didn’t ask a follow-up question: What genre do you like? If we had said business books, she would know that a book of short stories wouldn’t fit our needs. But she didn’t care. She cared more about selling her book than our needs as readers.

Get to know the people you hope to turn into customers.
If PG had spoken to us the day before or at least made small talk (never underestimate small talk), we would be more open to her when she came up to us with her book. Maybe I would’ve bought her book if she were friendlier.

This is what we call nurturing your potential customers. Be friends first and never start with an agenda. People aren’t stupid and they will immediately sense something is up if you’re a cold fish all the time and suddenly act all wonderful and approachable. Nurturing potential customers take time and even so, not everyone ends up being your customer and THAT’s OK. Not everyone needs your product. Yes, re-read this line. Not everyone needs your product.

If you enter into every relationship with an intention to sell, you will soon lose your friends. Have the sensibility to know that your product may not be suitable for everyone.

Another acquaintance I know would go into any meeting and declare openly that any health problem you had could be solved with her product. She wouldn’t stop talking about her product and she was really the kind of woman you want to roll your eyes at. She was THAT persistent that her product could solve any health issue you had at that moment. I am sure you have met or know people like this. They’d just shove their product at you regardless of your needs. And these folks wonder why the room empties when they enter it!

I know our websites are not suitable for everyone who doesn’t believe in using websites to do their marketing. We will leave these folks alone. We can help them if they wanted us to help them but until and unless they recognise and admit that they have a problem (not being able to sell online or gain credibility and trust), no product of ours will help them.

As sales or marketing people, we always believe our products can be helpful but only to the right customers. And we have to sort and filter the right ones from the ones who don’t care, don’t have the budget or don’t know they have a problem. Our role is not to pinpoint their problems; our role is to help them when they admit they have a problem. Until then, there is no sale.

Focus on the benefits of your products.
In PG’s case, she proudly proclaimed that she wrote her book. The act of writing a book isn’t going to persuade people to buy your book. That’s a feature, not a benefit.

This reminded me of a friend whose sister recorded a CD of songs. Being family, she brought the CDs to her office and many of her colleagues bought the CDs. Her colleagues didn’t buy the CD to appreciate the singer (her sister); they bought it because they wanted to support their colleague! Did they listen to the CD and come back to this friend with feedback and encouragement? No.

As Malaysians, we have a tough time saying no to friends and we’d rather buy something they’re selling rather than decline. And what do we do with the thing we bought? We’d donate it to the next jumble sale or give it away to others.

Nic and I wrote a book too but we don’t think that’s a major reason for you to buy the book. Buy our book if you want to learn how you can be a better marketer online by using your website as the starting point of your online marketing journey.

I wouldn’t persuade you to buy our book if you didn’t give a toss about marketing your products online. I’d rather you bought our book to help yourself improve rather than please me or Nic.

In PG’s case, she didn’t convince me of the benefits of getting her book. In fact, she frightened me by saying it contained stories of black magic! Yikes. I am not her target reader at all.

So if you have a product, focus on why people should buy your products and stop talking about its features. Features are facts and facts don’t really convince anyone unless they serve up a strong benefit.

If you like our take on marketing or want to learn marketing that isn’t hype or fluff, get our update. We send them out once or twice a month and share only on what’s pertinent and useful. Plus I will be teaching a webinar on developing your marketing foundation on 12 September. Check it out if you want to learn how to make your marketing better.

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