How to Sell Without Selling

When most people purchase an expensive or unfamiliar product or service, they want to educate themselves and talk to a few vendors before buying. We’ve all been on a pushy first date. In sales, as in love, timing is everything.

If you’re willing to take the time to share your passion and knowledge with a prospective customer, not only are they more likely to buy from you when they’re ready, but chances are, they’ll come back for more. In a sense, you’re selling by not selling.

A new methodology has sprung up around the concept of “inbound marketing.” The customer is attracted to you because you’re providing them with relevant, helpful, easy-to-understand information that helps them decide whether and what to buy. This “customer-centric” approach can give you a competitive advantage, whether you’re selling in person or online.

Guest columnist Lock Whitney is an inbound marketer and a Common App essay specialist.

Selling by Educating

By Lock Whitney

So it’s January in Boston. The roads are icy and my 2005 Subaru doesn’t feel safe. Are snow tires the answer? How much is this going to cost? I go to Google and search for “snow tires Boston.”

The first thing that pops up looks like this:
Woah! Excuse me? I’m just looking. That’s like leaning in for a kiss before dinner has even arrived! Nobody likes being rushed into a relationship. Let’s take this slower.

Okay, I’m still sliding around in my Subaru. What should I do about it?

Let’s look at what comes up when I Google “best winter tires boston.” Near the top of the page, I see a link to “Winter Tires in Boston, MA.” I click on the Firestone Auto Care website and find a “Priced Right Guarantee,” promising the cheapest winter tires in Boston.

Firestone is offering price breaks and coupons.  That’s nice, but they didn’t answer my question: do I need snow tires and which ones should I get?

Hey, can anyone teach me what I need to know about snow tires?

I go back to the search results. Further down on the page, I see, “Does My Subaru Need Snow Tires?” Perfect! I click on the link and watch a video explaining the purpose of snow tires. Then I examine a side-by-side photo comparison of tires for different seasons and read the list of advantages and disadvantages.

Near the bottom of the page, I’m invited to call or visit the Planet Subaru’s tire experts with any remaining questions. I want to know if the pricier tires are safer or last longer, so I decide to call. Once my questions are answered, I’m ready to buy.

How does my company “date” its prospects?
I run a Common App essay tutoring service for college applicants called Red Brick Writers with three friends from Amherst. There are lots of tutoring companies out there and it was hard to figure out how to market ourselves. Initially, our messaging was along the lines of: “We’re so brilliant! We know all about writing! You should hire us!”

Currently, we have a page on our website called “Ask Us Anything!” We invite our prospects to tell us about their needs and concerns and we provide a personalized response. In addition to getting their questions answered, this gives them a chance to get to know us a little. Once they’ve figured out what they need, they can reach out to us when they’re ready.

Since changing from a generic “Contact Us” to a more personalized “Ask Us Anything” page, we’ve seriously increased the likelihood that someone will actually reach out to us. We don’t have exact tracking metrics, but the new page is creating roughly twice as many submissions per visit. Not bad!