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Being salesy is like using a leaky bucket to fetch water from a stream. You put in more effort for less results.
I was at a friend’s house and he got a call on his home phone. He asked me to grab it for him.
I picked up the phone, heard the click that transferred me to an operator, and could make out the noise of a busy office. The person on the other end spoke in heavily accented English and proceeded to tell me about a great opportunity.
I would make tons of extra money every month, travel the world, and improve my health all in one fell swoop. He described it as a dream come true. That doesn’t matter to me.
I slowly lowered the phone to the receiver and went back to what I was doing. My friend asked me who it was.
I said one word – “telemarketer.”
His reply was equally short – “oh.”
We went about our day without missing a beat.
That was the perfect example of being salesy. This guy is too:
You may not be like either one of the people I mentioned but chances are you put messages out into the world. You post social media updates, send emails to your list, and create content for your business.
If you don’t make a conscious effort, you’ll come off as salesy through at least one of those mediums. That’s a bad thing. We’re going to look at how to identify when you’re being salesy and how to prevent that while selling like a human.
How to know you’re being too salesy
First things first, most people know what being salesy is when they see it. It doesn’t have a clear definition but is more of a feeling of being icky and inauthentic.
That doesn’t serve us so I’m going to define it:
Salesy is a term used to describe a salesperson who sells their product to someone in the wrong stage of awareness in an aggressive or superficial manner. It makes the prospect feel uncomfortable and unresponsive.
Notice the definition has two parts. The first part talks about the stage of awareness of the prospect. You can use the exact same sales pitch for two different people. One person may love it while the other person hates it.
The second part is about how your prospect feels. You can’t say whether the message is salesy. In fact, you’re a bad judge. Just 17% of salespeople think they’re salesy or pushy while 50% of prospects think they are. It’s only your prospect that can tell you. Due to social norms, most people won’t tell you. It’s up to you to find out by using the tools at your disposal.
People are emotionally invested in the decisions they make. If they’re not feeling it then they won’t make a decision in your favor.
Even though you don’t define whether or not you’re coming off as salesy, you can still put your messages through a simple litmus test. If it has any of the following qualities then you may need to rethink it.
– Your message focuses on you
You’re in business to solve the problems of or bring solutions to other people. Sure, you may be scratching your own itch. If you want to sell like a human then that itch needs to address a larger market than you.
Look at your message which can be a sales email, phone script, or simple lead magnet. Who is it talking about? Is it talking about how great you are or what the person on the other end stands to gain?
The more you use your companies name, the lower your close rate becomes.
– You’re using a plug and play template for every interaction
I have no problem with templates. They’re a great starting point. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel right?
When you start an interaction, it can go in a thousand different directions. A template is the start of the interaction but it won’t get you through it.
If you try to apply a template to every unique situation it comes off as stale and uninspired. Eventually, that will apply to your brand.
Instead, get the information you need to personalize the interaction and offers to the person on the receiving end. Better yet, make it an interactive experience for your prospect.
– The benefits you outline have nothing to do with their situation
This follows on the heels of using plug and play templates. You can’t effectively offer someone a product or service unless you know the benefits that matter to them.
It’s the old features vs benefits debate.
The easiest way to be salesy is to talk about benefits that your prospect could care less about.
The pitch had nothing to do with my situation, came off as salesy, and got deleted.
At the very least, your message should be clear of the three qualities I just outlined. Now, let’s focus on being the opposite of salesy – selling like a human.
Focus on serving others
There’s a quote attributed to Zig Ziglar:
You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.
It’s an apt description of how to go about selling. When you only keep yourself in mind, you come off as salesy. Your messages come from a place of selfishness and people pick up on that.
Let’s say you’re an expert on dating and have helped a lot of your friends find love. When you come to them and ask for a testimonial or to share their story what do you think they would do? Of course they would say yes.
You’ve helped them and the principle of reciprocity says you have money in your moral piggybank.
Apart from that, if your goal is to serve the people who call themselves your customers, you go above and beyond what’s expected for any price point.
KyLeads is a piece of software that helps you capture more leads, send better messages, and improve, the customer experience. In other words, it prevents you from being salesy. We could have decided to only use ads to drive traffic to high converting landing pages. People would’ve signed up and been happy with what they got.
Instead, we’re building a blog that’s actually useful for our audience. We write on topics directly related to our business like this one on quiz questions. We also write on topics that are useful for our audience as a whole like this one on the startup narrative.
Why do you think that is? Why do we create resources, blog posts, and tools to help our audience for free? It’s because we’re coming from a place of service as opposed to a place of selfishness.
Charity water is the best example of coming from a place of service. Their mission is to bring safe water to millions of people around the world. It may seem strange if you’re in an industrialized nation. You can drink water directly from the tap.
In many parts of the world, clean water is a serious challenge. To date, they’ve raised 250 million dollars and 100% of public donations go to the people who need it.
Zappos wrote the book on service. They’re an Ecommerce brand that was bought for over a billion dollars by Amazon. They offer free returns and shipping, have had customer service calls for over eight hours, and seem to genuinely love what they do.
Listen to the people you’re selling to
Your people are always telling you what they want and what matters to them. They leave comments on your blog, share your social media updates, and reach out to you.
If you’re proactive, you can go a step further and set up phone calls or initiate surveys to find out more about your audience.
Through all these interactions, they’re giving you valuable feedback about what they like and what they don’t like. It’s up to you to listen.
Not just any type of listening, reflective listing. That’s when you echo their sentiments back at them.
What does that have to do with being salesy?
At first, when you have no historical data, it has nothing to do with it. Once you have information to go on through various interactions and opportunities to “listen in,” it has everything to do with it.
Remember from our definition that salesy describes selling to someone in the wrong stage of awareness. By listening to what your people are telling you, a picture of what stage of awareness they’re in as well as benefits that matter to them forms. Your messages should adapt to that information.
If they don’t adapt then you’ll be selling your products in an irrelevant way to a disinterested group. That’s never fun.
Build a relationship first
You can sell almost anything to a friend. If for no other reason than they want to support you, they’ll buy it. Of course, this doesn’t count for high ticket items.
Let’s say you’re competing with another person or group for business. On the surface, you guys are comparable. Your features, price point, and marketing channels are more or less the same.
The only difference is you have a relationship with the buyer but your competition doesn’t.
When it comes down to it, who do you think they’re going to buy from?
If you said you because of the relationship then you’re correct.
Here’s a truth people sweep under the rug. You buy from people you like and respect. With no relationship, even one built over the internet or via email, it becomes much harder to sell anything.
Bryan from Videofruit doesn’t sell products immediately. In fact, you can’t buy his main product until you’ve gotten to know him a bit. It’s only open to the general public twice a year.
During the periods in between, he builds a relationship with you – his subscriber.
No one is going to come up to you in real life and start pitching new shoes without warming you up. The funny thing is people do it online all the time. No wonder people say they’re salesy.
The simple fix is to build a relationship first. I know, that’s easier said than done – especially online. For this, email tracking software is a must-have.
All you have to do is be authentic. Share your journey, your knowledge, and philosophy. Get them on your email list and send them messages in line with what they’ve indicated they’re interested in. That’s the key. Send them the information they care about.
Educate instead of pressuring
This is the backbone of a sound blogging strategy. It works well for many people. Content marketing, though the costs of acquisition through this channel are growing, is still cheaper than paid advertising.
For those who say blogging or content marketing hasn’t worked out, look at two things.
- Who’s their target audience and what are they creating content about?
- How long have they been doing it?
The first one will identify if there’s a disconnect between what’s being created and the people you’re creating it for.
If you’re targeting CEO’s of large companies then they don’t really need actionable advice because they’re not doing it. They want to hire you. Instead, they’ll want to see case studies, white papers they can share around, insights that reveal the big picture, and information on your process.
The second one asks how long they’ve been at it. You don’t build a content marketing engine in a month. It takes much longer than that. People find you on social media, through search engines, and other channels.
They consume your content and come back for more.
The Whole Foods Blog – Whole Story was created to help their customers find ways to enjoy their high-quality foods. They share tips, recipes, and insights about making the most of your meals.
The Mint Blog is more than a place for them to post company updates. It’s a way for them to develop and educate a community. You can find career, finance, and personal development advice being featured there.
In the end, your audience buys from you because you’re top of mind. The world is a better place for everyone.
So, target your content to a specific group of people and stick with it long enough for it to yield results.
Tell stories that matter
Facts tell, stories sell.
Stories are the glue that holds society together. It’s the first way we devised to make sense of the world. When lightning struck the earth and we had no explanation, we told the story of Zeus.
When kids are afraid of the dark, they invent the story of monsters under the bed or in the closet.
Uri Hansen from Princeton found that when we tell stories that resonate, the brains of listeners synchronize.
Imagine being able to synchronize with your audience and customers. Wouldn’t that be game changing? Turns out it is.
Nike is one of the most valuable companies in the world. They sell shoes it took them five dollars to make. Why do you think they’re able to charge a premium for them? It’s because they tell compelling stories.
When you buy Nike, you’re buying a movement. You’re buying a philosophy that tells you to take action. You’re buying a piece of apparel that’s propelled athletes to the world cup, the NBA finals, and to gold medals.
It’s not a company or a piece of clothing – it’s a way of life. They never explicitly tell you this of course. What they do is tell you the story.
Nike has the resources to do something like that. Let’s use an example that hits closer to home.
Beardbrand, as the name suggests, is a brand for beards. They empower bearded men in an urban setting to embrace personal hygiene, style, and personal growth. They did this through a consistent narrative.
They scaled to $120,000 a month in their first year.
Storytelling works. Invest time and energy in getting it right.
Salesy is something no one wants to be. It’s that feeling you never plan to have associated with your brand. If we’re not careful, we’ll come off as salesy through simple neglect.
There are a number of ways to audit your messages to remove the most obvious signs of being salesy:
- Does the message focus mostly on you?
- Are you using templates for every type of interaction?
- Are your benefits irrelevant to them>
If you answered yes to any of the above options then it’s time to reevaluate what you’re saying and how you’re saying it.
After the simple audit, there are a few proactive ways to prevent you from coming off as salesy.
- Focus on serving others
- Listen and implement feedback you get from your customers
- Build long-term relationships over the short term sale
- Educate your audience about your offers and how they really help them
- Tell stories
In the end, it’s up to you to be aware of how your brand is perceived in the world.
Let me know about any other methods you’re using to stop the dreaded salesy term from being applied to you and don’t forget to share.