HOW You Sell is More Important than WHAT You Sell

5 Reasons Why HOW You Sell is More Important than WHAT You Sell

Imagine you made reservations at one of the best restaurants in town to celebrate a special occasion. When you arrive they can’t find your reservation but after arguing with the host for ten minutes they finally agree to seat you. While the food is amazing, the service is slow, the server is rude, and the room is so noisy you can’t hear anyone else at your table. Hours later you leave the restaurant disappointed and upset.

Unfortunately, this is precisely the lackluster experience that you could be setting your customers up for if your sales motion is focused on product features and benefits. When salespeople shroud themselves with the warm, cozy blanket of solutions and pitches, and venture out into the cold wilderness of the marketplace in an attempt to convert customers, they often find one thing. No one cares!

With literally hundreds or even thousands of solutions saturating nearly every market, most vendors end up drowning in the “sea of sameness”. And yet, in order to thrive, we need customers to pay attention.

So when the perceived value or differentiation of your solution is low and most vendors sound the same, how can you compete or simply get noticed? The first step is realizing that, for most of us, the secret sauce doesn’t lie in the details of our solutions. In his best-selling book, Start With Why, author, Simon Sinek, asserts that people “don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The idea is that the buying process transcends the product. And transcend it does!

Here are five reasons why HOW you sell is more important than WHAT you sell when it comes to converting customers.

1. The buying experience IS your product

Make no mistake. We’re living in an experience economy which is why no matter what you’re selling or who you’re selling it to, the experience your customer has with you or your organization IS your product! Don’t believe me? Suppose you wanted to buy an iPad or Apple Watch. Would you rather buy those products at your local Apple store or Best Buy? If you said the Apple store, you’re not alone. Apple works very hard to create a specific vibe, atmosphere, and arguably “cooler” buying experience (for precisely the same product mind you) than other retailers.

Note: science tells us that the experience you create for your customers is especially critical during periods of adversity, like a pandemic. Read more about that HERE.

Data from Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report agrees, stating that 80% of customers feel the buying experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. That’s why, as a seller, your goal should be to create a high-value, pleasurable, and frictionless experience during the sales cycle that transcends the business value they get from your solution.

The added benefit of a focus on buyer experience during the sales cycle is that it helps transition your customer to your success and supports teams with prevailing a positive sentiment. After all, how your organization sells is often an audition for how you service!

2. The basics matter more than you think!

An experienced personal trainer (remember, we’re ALL in sales!) once told me that 90% of the success formula in his line of work is simply being on-time, organized, prepared, and attentive to your clients. Did you do your research before speaking to the client to understand their business? Did you review and internalize the notes from your previous meetings? Did you send a meeting summary in writing and follow up on the agreed-upon next steps? Even total no-brainer basics like listening can be massively impactful to your customer’s experience.

In fact, in Salesforce’s State of Sales Report, when salespeople were asked to list factors that they felt had an extreme or substantial impact on converting a prospect to a customer, listening topped the list while demonstrating ROI was tenth!

In his popular TEDx talk, “The Power of Listening”, Getting to Yes author, William Ury illustrates how the simple act of attentive listening helps us better understand and connect with others. Listening also has the added benefit of invoking feelings of reciprocity. When we listen to people and demonstrate an interest in their content and consideration of their feelings, it makes it more likely that they’ll want to listen to us.

And the best part about leveraging all these selling basics to create a high-impact buying experience; they require zero talent only practice and discipline.


3. Buyers expect you to add value BEYOND your solution

According to Forrester, 60% of buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of information; 68% prefer to research on their own, online; and 62% say they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list based solely on digital content. That means that when they DO decide to interact with a salesperson, they expect you to deliver value beyond the information they can find online.

In fact, according to Gartner,  88% of account managers believe servicing accounts above and beyond customer expectations is the surest way to grow.

Unsure whether you’re delivering a top-tier experience to your customers beyond your solution? Ask yourself this;

Would my prospective customers feel our interaction was valuable, even if they don’t end up buying from me?

Did you share any free, helpful resources? Provide insights into industry trends? Make an introduction to someone else who could help them? Even recommend a book or event you thought they’d find helpful? Given that the timing won’t always align for you and your buyers to do business together, ensuring you create a valuable buying experience will significantly increase the likelihood that your customers respond to any future outreach. Or better yet, call you when the time is right.

Related video: How to use reciprocity to stop prospects from ignoring you


4. Tone and approach transcend tactics

The tone and approach with which a sales tactic is delivered can have a huge impact on how the customer interprets it. For example, suppose a buyer is deciding between two products that they feel could meet their needs. Product A might be a better fit for them, but it comes at a higher price than Product B. In conversation with the sales rep for Product A, the customer says, “I like your product, but it’s a lot more expensive than Product B.” Now let’s suppose the rep wants to use a reverse psychology tactic to test the customer’s resolve. They could snap back with a snarky comment like “Okay! Why don’t you just go and buy Product B then?” Alternatively, they might respond with something more thoughtful: “It’s true, we do cost more than Product B, and Product B can be a great fit for many customers. We’re certainly not for everyone. If you don’t mind me asking, why might you lean away from purchasing Product B?”

The sound science on which the tactic is based is the same in both cases. However, the tone of the first approach is curt and antagonistic; it can piss customers off. The second is agreeable, curious, and demonstrates a sense of caring. The same principle applies to how sales reps ask their discovery questions. Buyers hate what I call “polite interrogation”. That’s where they feel you’re working down your prepared list of questions and just hitting them with them one by one. But sometimes making your customers feel comfortable answering those questions is less about the questions themselves and more about the tone and pacing of your delivery. 

Related video: The way you ask questions matters!


5. People don’t buy products, they buy feelings

Modern neuroscience has proven that humans are emotional creatures first and foremost. From the lunch you ordered at the food court last week to the car you drive and the clothes you wear, as humans, we rarely make decisions that perfectly align with our logical interests. But we always make decisions that align with our feelings!

In a recent study entitled, The New Science of Customer Emotions, researchers showed that there were 10 emotional motivators that had a significant impact on customers’ perception of value. Motivators like standing out from the crowd, feeling a sense of belonging, feeling secure, being successful in life, and becoming the person they want to be. What’s even more interesting is that these motivators often reflected deep, unspoken emotional needs. In other words, buyers are heavily influenced by emotions, yet they rarely vocalize them. It’s no surprise then that brand affinity experts like Denise Lee Yohn talk about how truly great brands, like great salespeople, avoid selling products. They cultivate emotional connections with customers. They sell feelings!

So how can you move from selling solutions to feelings? One of the easiest ways is to ditch your traditional sales pitch (which is typically focused on the details of your product) and lead with belief statements and polarizing messages. Approaches scientifically proven to break through your customer’s armor. Not only will these types of messages resonate more quickly and deeply with your audience but you’ll be able to deliver them with intoxicatingly high conviction. Stirring a massive amount of positive emotions in your customer’s mind and moving them to convert faster!

Related video: Don’t Sell Solutions, Sell Feelings!


In a world with a seemingly endless marketplace of similar-sounding solutions, the key to sales success lies in being able to differentiate not only on your product but on the buying experience itself. If this hasn’t been a focus for your sales organization in the past, try to focus on one of these areas at a time and look to make improvements.


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3 replies
  1. Toni
    Toni says:

    Number 1 and 5 is the reason I refused to make a recent purchase for a vintage sewing machine from a website. The seller was very short and precise with me, focusing only on the product features and how the sale benefitted the seller in the end. I politely ceased the deal thinking, “Why should I give you my money when all I receive from you is a dull and lifeless interaction?”

  2. Ian Wollermann
    Ian Wollermann says:

    Hi David,

    The post is looking amazing. Selling things is art. All the 5 points are looking really good and explained very well. For a good seller, it is important to become a good learner so that we can implement things and get the best process.



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