How to Sell Anything to Anybody

In Jill Konrath’s opinion, the salesperson is the primary differentiator in purchases today. As products and services become increasingly commoditized, buyers are aware they can get a similar offering from another company.

But what they can’t get from just any vendor is the same sales experience, which is created by the sales rep.

This means salespeople have almost complete control of their own destinies. Instead of blaming poor numbers on a crummy product line, a bad month, being forced to work completely remotely, or less-than-stellar leads, failing reps might consider analyzing their processes and brainstorming ways to make them more buyer-centric and buyer-friendly.

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 two main categories: 

  • How to Sell Anything
  • How to Do It Online

1. Make it about them.

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 before reaching out.

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 eight places to research prospects before you attempt to engage them in conversation:

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Twitter (prospect’s individual account and company’s account)
  3. Company’s press releases page
  4. Competitors’ press releases pages
  5. Blogs
  6. Company financial statements
  7. Facebook
  8. Google (prospect and company)

And if you’re using HubSpot’s free Inbox Profiles tool, you can pipe all of this known information about a prospect directly into your Inbox.

3. Build rapport first.

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: 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.

After all, we’re just human beings. Talk to your prospect like a human before speaking to them like a salesperson.

4. Define your buyer.

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. Instead, you’ll have more time to devote to buyers with a good chance of becoming customers.

5. Contribute first, sell second.

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 their needs. Perhaps you can draw on your expertise to speak about industry-wide trends the buyer might not be privy to.

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 can help you spend more time selling and less time drafting repetitive emails.

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.'”

6. Ask questions, and listen.

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?
  • Zero to death, where is solving this problem?
  • How is the issue impacting your organization/customers staff?
  • 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. People like talking about themselves and their situations, so your genuine interest and curiosity will help them warm up to you.

After posing a question, fall silent and 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.

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. Be mindful of psychological quirks.

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:

  • Anchoring effect: The information we receive first acts as an anchor against which we evaluate all further data.
  • Decoy effect: A third option can sometimes help people choose between two possibilities.
  • Rhyme-as-reason effect: Rhyming statements seem truer than non-rhyming ones.
  • Loss aversion: We react more strongly to the possibility of losing something we currently have than the possibility of gaining something we don’t.
  • Peak-end rule: People remember the end and a high point within a presentation more vividly than any other section.
  • Curse of knowledge: When someone who knows a lot about a given subject is unable to relate to someone who is not as familiar.
  • Confirmation bias: We are more likely to accept information that aligns with our beliefs than contradictory evidence — no matter how compelling.

8. Approach them on their level.

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:

  1. Assertive: Interested in results and the bottom line.
  2. Amiable: Interested in creative ideas and big-picture visions.
  3. Expressive: Interested in people and how ideas affect others.
  4. Analytics: Interested in facts, figures, and data.

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. Hit an emotional high point.

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 six emotions impact decision making:

  1. Greed
  2. Fear
  3. Altruism
  4. Envy
  5. Pride
  6. Shame

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. Remember, you’re selling to a person.

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.

It’s important to be professional in sales, but it’s also important to be personable. Buyers have lives outside of work, and things they’re passionate about that have nothing to do with their jobs. Build real rapport with your prospects by letting the conversation drift to the personal every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — all business all the time.

1. Provide lots of detail.

When you’re selling online, it’s essential to provide in-depth information about the product you’re selling, whether that’s in the copywriting on a sales page or during your email outreach. What are the dimensions of the product? Does it come in different colors and sizes? Include specific details so prospects know exactly what they’re buying from you.

2. Communicate the product’s value.

Online consumers have unlimited information at their fingertips, so they can easily do comparison shopping with your competitors. That means you’ll need to be as communicative as you can when it comes to establishing your product or service as the right choice.

What value does your product provide to the consumer? And what differentiates it from competitors? Make sure the product you’re offering and its price point are just right for the market your selling to. When prospects understand the value of your product, they’ll know they’re receiving a positive return for their hard-earned money.

3. Build an email list.

How will you communicate future offers and new product releases to prospective or current customers? This is where an email list can come in handy.

Include an email subscription button or use a free form builder to create a way for visitors to directly sign up for your mailing list. As people convert on your offers and share your emails with friends, family, and colleagues, your email list will grow. And the number of sales will likely follow suit.

4. Personalize as many digital touch points as you can.

Don’t forget: even though you’re selling online, you’re selling to a person. Make sure your website, landing pages, forms, emails, and call-to-action buttons are tailored to the audience you’re trying to reach. Maintaining a human aspect to your communications increases the likelihood of prospects engaging with you and your product.

Once a website visitor “opts in” to one of your landing pages, you can even use the data you gather about them for even more personalization — such as including their name in the subject line of an email (even if you’re relying on automation to send them).

5. Create a sense of urgency.

Once you’ve communicated the value of your product, how do you encourage the prospect to buy? Without a sales call or conversation with the prospect, it can be challenging to communicate why they should buy now. If they don’t convert the first time, it may be difficult to get them to later. Think of the adage: Out of sight, out of mind.

To combat this, try offering a limited time offer or discount. For example:

6. Consider where each lead is at in their buyer’s journey. 

Not every website visitor has purchase intent (yet). Some will come to your site to browse (like a “window shopper”), and some are simply looking for information.

The last thing you want to do is force a sales conversation on someone who isn’t ready. Particularly for products and services with a long sales cycle, it’s much better to “nurture” them along their path to purchase while staying top of mind. 

With that said, approach each lead in a way that’s appropriate for their individual buying journey. And you can get some good indicators from their website behavior. 

For instance, if they download an informational ebook, they may still be in the “information gathering” stage and not ready to speak to providers. However, someone who visits a pricing page and then fills out a contact form should be contacted by a sales person as soon as possible.

7. Use lead scoring to focus on high-value online leads.

The above tip seems like a lot of work if you have a high volume of leads coming in from your website. The good news is that there’s a way to implement this at scale with predictive lead scoring. 

Lead scoring is the practice of assigning lead values that will indicate the likelihood of the lead becoming a true sales opportunity and closing. If you’ve ever described leads as cold, warm, or hot, you’ve done lead scoring on a rudimentary level. However, the difference between that and predictive lead scoring is the use of automation to do this across your whole database of contacts and using thousands of data points. 

Ultimately, you end up serving the best leads to your sales team without guesswork or too much time-consuming administrative tasks.

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… 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.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April, 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.