If you take a look at the products and services that are being sold these days, you’ll see:
- Things we don’t need (or that are not good for us)
- Things that don’t actually work – the legendary “snake oil”
- Things that are over-priced or lack value
- Programs and “business opportunities” where most people fail
Here’s what they have in common:
If people had complete and honest information and sufficient time to think…they would choose not to buy.
So the manipulative tactics come out: hyped up claims, “grinding” in the pain, ratcheting up fear, false scarcity and urgency, fast action bonuses.
All designed to bypass your logical thought process and get you to say “yes” to something that you would say “no” to if you had honest information and time to reflect.
In other words, they’re trying to sell things that people don’t want.
Do you provide real value? Do you make a difference? You don’t have to “sell”
I work with ethical people who make a difference through the services they offer. They are in helping professions such as coaching, counselling, consulting, training, health and wellness services. Or they provide a valuable business service through freelancing.
In many cases, their services are beyond valuable – they’re life changing.
If their potential clients had all the information and sufficient time to think – they would choose to buy. Enthusiastically.
Many of my clients have been exposed to pushy, manipulative marketing – or have been trained to market this way. (Ask me about the sales training I took in the 1980s!)
Because of this, they often don’t want to market themselves at all.
Which is reasonable choice if all you know about marketing is the dark side. In fact…marketing in the “slimy” way can cast a negative light on what you do. Instead of seeing the true value of your services, people see the manipulative tactics and lump you in with the charlatans.
They ask me:
“Is it possible to market and sell in an ethical way?”
And I say YES.
Stop selling. Stop trying to get people to do something they don’t want to do.
Find people who need what you offer and make it easy for them to buy
I learned the core of this approach from Barbara Sher, a popular self-help author who wrote “Wishcraft” and “I could do anything if I only knew what it was” and “Refuse to Choose.”
I don’t think she would describe herself as a sales trainer or in the sales business.
She is, however, a strong supporter of people who venture into the helper business as writers and coaches and she recognizes the necessity of sales and marketing.
In 2009, I attended her Write Speak retreat where she shared a story that permanently shifted my perspective on sales and marketing. (I recapped the experience here: Barbara Sher is just like a real person, only shorter.)
She explained it like this:
Imagine you are on a busy street in a big city. And mixed in among all the people are some people who are starving. Literally starving to death. They have money, but no food.
You have a bunch of sandwiches.
Would it be manipulative or slimy or unethical to announce that you have some sandwiches for sale?
Or would it be unethical to NOT announce that you have sandwiches for sale – and let the people starve to death.
If you are offering a legitimate service that people need, somewhere out there are people starving for what you do.
And you have a duty to let them know about it.
(Psst: More advice from Barbara Sher here: 7 nuggets of wisdom from Barbara Sher)
Is that tactic ethical? Give it the sandwich test
I use this story as a “test” to separate the psychologically manipulative sales tactics from honest and ethical marketing practices.
These techniques pass the test:
- Letting people know I have sandwiches for sale
- Reminding them that I have sandwiches for sale (they may not have been hungry the first time, perhaps they are hungry now)
- Accepting money in exchange for sandwiches
- Asking if people are hungry – and explaining that sandwiches are a tasty way to overcome that hunger
- Describing what’s in the sandwiches – and emphasizing the quality and deliciousness of the ingredients
- Honestly letting people know that I have only X sandwiches (when it’s true that I only have X sandwiches)
- Honestly letting people know that I won’t be bringing sandwiches around next week
- Giving people a sample of a sandwich before they buy it
These techniques fail the test
- Trying to convince people to buy sandwiches when they are not hungry
- Trying to convince people to buy a type of sandwich they don’t like or don’t want
- Making over-the-top hyped up claims about what sandwiches can do
- Lying about the number of sandwiches I have (saying I only have 3 for sale when I actually have a truck full of them)
- Making people feel bad about being hungry and warning them that they are doomed if they don’t buy my sandwiches
(Try this! You’ll quickly see how over-the-top ridiculous some things sound. )
If you offer a valuable service, you don’t need to manipulate people in order to succeed
But that doesn’t mean you can skip marketing entirely.
- You need to figure out “who is starving for your sandwiches” – and where to find them – and how to reach them.
- You have to show up and let people know what you do and how it can help them.
- You need to have a clear and confident answer for when someone asks you what you do. (Get a free course on that here: Create a Compelling Introduction.)
- You need to provide compelling, informative and educational content to explain your services.
- You need to find ways to build “know like and trust” with your potential clients.
- You need to get comfortable asking people if they want to buy.
And to be truly effective, all of these need to be wrapped into a system that “attracts strangers who need your services” and turns them into “happy paying clients.”
I made a (ridiculously affordable) course to help you do this: Your Next Clients.
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