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Don’t Sell A Product, Sell An Idea

Products are the end-point of a process usually involving much creativity and hard work, and they are usually valued on the basis of their relative merits. The discussion around them is thus a rational one, with features and benefits as the chief topics. This conventional approach is certainly functional, but it is slowly and surely losing ground. The competition in every sector is so fierce, and the products to similar, that a feature comparison is no longer a feasible sales strategy. So what should you do to succeed in this environment?

Rather than stick to the dry desert tumbleweeds of the feature sale, you must learn to engage the prospect’s emotion and imagination. By selling a product only as a product, you’re limiting the field and scope of discussion to only that particular part of a potentially larger whole. Instead, shift your focus and start to think bigger. Start to think in terms of vision, of ideas for the future. Get them excited, and sell to that excitement.


In order to begin this process, you will have to research slightly differently than you’re used to. Go ahead and do your regular research, of course, but also gain a good understanding of:

  • The company’s corporate documents, including their goals, value, corporate strategy, and corporate vision. This should all be laid out in their shareholder report, but if you have no luck there, you may have to dig a little.
  • The personal goals of the relevant parties. Specifically, of the decision makers and any other people who can help you succeed.

As you’ve noticed by now, this will not be an immediate process (though it doesn’t take long). You’ll need to get a good idea of the priorities of all the stakeholders in order to proceed, and that may take a little time. You should be finding out their personal aspirations and priorities in any case, and this is just an extension of that.

Elements of an effective vision.

Once you have collected this information, you’ll have the cornerstone of the vision you’re building. The next steps is to align the elements you have, and build a framework for your sale.

  1. Values: It’s highly likely your company values overlap with theirs to a certain degree (they all really seem to).
  2. Corporate Strategy: In order to make the sale you’re attempting to make, you need to emplace it within the framework of their corporate strategy. Make sure you’ve understood it well, and can explain how your product would suit there.
  3. Corporate Vision: Once again, make sure you understand where they want to take their company, and make sure you can emplace your product here. This is the part that’ll begin their emotional engagement, so spend a bit of time on this. Your product must become (to them) an inseperable part of this vision.
  4. Personal Aspirations: This is the final piece, and will bring the most emotional engagement. You’re not selling a company a product, you’re selling an individual success. If the implementation or introduction of your product fulfils the vision you paint, they will stand to gain, since they made the decision to buy it.

The vision.

Using the above pieces, you can now begin to construct an effective vision. Your product will probably already cover the needs and vision they have, and that’s perfectly fine. The key to success here is to think outside the box.

You must take their vision and expand on it. Stick to the functionality of your product, of course, but show them not only what it can do now, but what it will do for them in the future. Excite their imagination by showing them how they will not only meet their requirements, but also go far beyond.

Once again, limit yourself to the current functionality even if you know something more is coming. The reasoning here is that when you over-deliver, your client will be even happier. A happy client will maintain the relationship, and will let both of your companies grow.

The key is to show them what value your product will bring them without necessarily covering the features. And before you have any doubts whether it’s work for you, let me assure you it works for all types of products.

For example, if you’re selling a specialized magazine to caf├ęs, your sale shouldn’t revolve around the magazine itself. It should revolve around the kind of clientele this magazine attracts, and what kind of revenue can be expected from them. This is the more immediate part of the sale. The vision would center around the cachet associated with that clientele, along with the potential for growth.

By building on the cachet and the growth, you’re engaging the prospect at an emotional level (assuming this is a priority for them). By doing so, they will be more invested in the vision, and if you’ve done a good job of it, will consider your magazine a vital part in their future success.

Final thoughts.

The example I mentioned above could really be anything. Selling a car based on horsepower is less effective than selling it based on your need and providing a vision for you to contemplate. Selling a large IT system often involves helping the decision-makers contemplate the feather in their cap once they realize the vision you’ve laid out for them.

The key is to steer clear of the feature comparison aspect of the sale, and focus on what the prospects are telling you. They will be only to happy to speak about what keeps them up at night; you need to find out what’ll help them sleep with a smile on their face. And then you need to take it a step further.

A final point: this is where your industry knowledge will help you. Don’t be afraid to include your own ideas, even if they have little to do with the current project. If they can be tied into a long-term vision with no significant immediate additional expenditure, they’ll be helpful for the sale.

As ever, I wish you all the best!

Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!

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