Want to sell more? Stop talking about what you're selling.

Yes, you read that right: It's always a huge mistake to talk to prospective customers about what you're selling. Instead, talk about what the customer is buying.

Bear in mind: These are two very different things.

Here's a prime example. I recently received this email from a longtime Sales Source reader:

Geoffrey, I am new in the Short Term Insurance industry, and am looking for that catchy one liner (some call it the "elevator pitch"), to capture the attention of my prospects. I find that when I say I am selling insurance, they often "switch off."

The reader is making the classic mistake of focusing on what's he's selling. This is a particularly bad mistake in the insurance industry, because it has a history of a hard sell, which has turned insurance sales into a cultural cliché.

A more effective conversation with a prospect focuses on what the customer is buying. In the case of insurance, the conversation might go something like this:

Prospect: So, then, what do you do for a living?
You: "I'm in the risk-management business."
Prospect: "How so?"
You: "I help companies and individuals defend themselves against financial disasters."
Prospect: "You mean insurance?"
You: "That's part of it. What I actually do is create a customized solution for each situation."

Note: What you're selling is insurance, but what the customer is buying is the peace of mind that comes from being protected against risk.

This distinction is actually valuable in every sales situation.

Take automobiles, for instance. You may be selling cars, but the customer is buying some combination of transportation and image enhancement.

The same thing is true in business-to-business sales. You may be selling the components that go into a customer's final product, but the customer is buying a way to avoid worrying about that part of its supply chain.

Why is this important? Because it determines the entire tone and direction of every interaction that you have with a customer.

If you focus on what you're selling, you inevitably end up in a discussion of features, functions, and price.

By contrast, if you focus on what the customer is buying, you end up discussing the customer's needs, what the customer cares about, and the value you can provide by fulfilling those needs.

And that's a more effective way to sell.

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