WHAT are you selling?  +  WHO is buying?  =  HOW to sell it!

“People don’t buy our services, products, or ideas.
They buy how they imagine using them will make them feel.”
—Spencer Johnson, M.D.

“Nothing happens until someone sells something!”  This old adage best describes the basic goal in the world of advertising and marketing.  Selling is not only the goal in advertising, but by its very nature, contains the entire strategy and process of reaching that goal.  Often, when studying and analyzing the success of a marketing strategy, a definite formula can be discovered.  As I outline in this chapter, the formula represents a very simple system of analysis, i.e. if you know what you are selling and to whom, you can determine the “how.”  It is imperative to know both your product and your customer.  They are inseparable, because the “who” and their respective ‘needs’ often defines the essence, or benefits, of the “what”: the product.  Conversely, when you determine the essence of the product, you usually discover the “who” it is that’s most likely to purchase your product: the primary target market. This approach is what I call “consumerism” marketing.  It is based on knowing who your customer is, providing the benefits that customer wants, and doing it with a sincere desire to keep your customer satisfied for the long term.  The result of selling—sales—is the main objective of all advertising and it has become a profound science as well as a direct-marketing art form.

“The result of selling—sales—is the main objective of all advertising and
               it has become a profound science as well as a direct-marketing art form.”

The First Step: WHAT Are You Selling?

It seems so natural to assume that one would know what one is selling, right?  Wrong!  You’d be quite surprised to find out how many companies and individuals who are selling a product or service, do not actually identify and exploit what it is that they are really selling.  And until you learn the WHAT and the WHO, you cannot learn HOW to sell it.

Let’s look at a few examples to help you identify the WHAT.  Did you know that last year there were over a five million 1/4-inch drill bits sold in this country and nobody wanted one?  That is, no one really wanted a 1/4-inch drill bit. WHAT did they want?  They wanted 1/4-inch holes.  That’s WHAT a drill bit is used for.  That’s the benefit and result of using the product.

WHAT Are The Benefits of Your Product?

Let’s say you are selling a line of cosmetics or skin-care products.  WHAT is it you are selling?  Is it the eyeliner, makeup or moisturizing cream?  Are your customers “buying” the cream in the jar or the colorful shades of lipstick?  Maybe not.  When people buy cosmetics or skin-care products, they are really buying the product because of its perceived benefits: hope, beauty, vanity, sex appeal, self-confidence, or younger-looking skin.  That’s WHAT the products are designed for.  Therefore, the WHAT usually relates to the benefits—or results—that the consumer wants or needs.

“…the most effective sales presentation always focuses on the customer and his/her needs and wants: the benefits they are going to gain from using the product or service.”

As a professional marketer, using DRTV as the primary advertising tool, I’ve worked for a number of the nation’s most prestigious financial companies, such as Kemper Financial Services, Fidelity Investments, Charles Schwab & Co., IDS/American Express and Dow Jones & Company, helping them to sell several hundred million dollars worth of products and services. Seldom did we sell tangible things like the paper transactions of mutual funds, stock or bond certificates, life insurance documents, newspapers, or commodities.  WHAT we sold were the benefits and results of these investments and services.  WHAT we sold were profits, financial security, financial freedom, savings for retirement, the children’s education, a second home, etc. That’s WHAT the products and services were designed for, and that’s what the customer desires as a result of buying the product or service.

Yes, of course, we must also sell some of the features of the product.  But a primary rule in selling is: Never mention a feature or give a description of how a product works without selling its benefits. Every sales presentation includes an itemization of the product’s features, and should also describe how the product works.  However, the most effective sales presentation always focuses on the customer and his/her needs and wants: the benefits they are going to gain from using the product or service.  For instance, if you’re selling an automobile that gets 60 miles to the gallon (feature), don’t forget to capitalize on its corresponding benefit and the feeling of satisfaction that accompanies it: the money it saves, the environmental benefits, etc., and how those benefits make the consumer feel.  In other words, the benefits that are “sold” contain the essence of the selling proposition, which triggers an emotional response.   


Again, it’s simple to determine WHAT it is that you’re really selling by asking seven basic questions: 

1.         What are the benefits of the product?
2.         What are the advantages of the product versus other similar products?
3.         What makes this product different or unique from any other product? 
4.         What does the product do for the customer?
5.         How will the customer feel when they imagine using the product? 
6.         What is it that the consumer of this product really wants? 
7.         Who can most benefit from this product?

The detailed answers to these questions should give you enough information to clearly define the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for your product or service.  This is what makes it different from your competitors and this uniqueness is WHAT you should sell!   When the benefits and the results of a product are thoroughly analyzed, you can usually express in one sentence your USP.  For example, my client, Edgar Morris, Inc. sells a line of corrective skin care products that was specifically designed for all people of color.   Its uniqueness is rather obvious, and therefore the headline that accompanies the corporate logo is also the essence of its USP:  “Edgar Morris, The Ultimate Corrective Skin Care System For All People Of Color”.   Just ask yourself the seven questions above and the answers will automatically reveal WHAT you are selling.

The Second Step: WHO Is Your Buyer?

Next, you need to determine WHO is going to buy your product or service in the future.  In other words, who represents your primary target market.  Knowing your prospective customer is essential in the selling process.  This is where market research is invaluable.

If you already have existing customers, then use that database to determine WHO by sending out a simple questionnaire that asks a series of marketing questions.  Through this process you can determine a great deal about your primary target market. You can ascertain the demographics and psychographics of your potential buyers.  Demographics are such things as age, sex, marital status, income bracket, city and state, etc.  Psychographics are such items as personal interests, hobbies, buying habits, attitudes, values and lifestyles.   This kind of survey is the best tool you can have to help you identify WHO you want to sell to.

“One of the key principles of smart selling is: The best customer you will ever have is the one you already have.  Don’t ever forget this!  It is probably your most valuable resource when it comes to marketing research data.”

What you can learn from your present customer, you could not get from a focus group or through any other research studies.  The demographic and psychographic information you gather from your existing client base will provide a very accurate picture of your primary target audience.  In fact, I would predict that if your sampling were large enough, you would not have to do any further research to determine the all-important…WHO is your buyer?

If, on the other hand, you are launching a new product and have no customer base to draw from, then you must enlist additional marketing research tools.  The most commonly used one is the focus group.  This is where individuals of varying backgrounds, ages, sex, values and interests are brought together in a clinical setting and the product and its benefits are presented to the group.  Their responses to the product or service are recorded and later reviewed.  But, please be aware that focus groups have a poor track record—they are not all that reliable. If you conducted only one or two focus groups, you would not have a valid indication of whether the product is desirable or not, and to which audience. 

“Focus groups tend to skew to the point of view of the most dominant character in the group.  I have seen this happen over and over.”

If one person in a focus group is very assertive and has strong opinions, he or she is, unfortunately, likely to shape the opinion of the rest of the group.  This can occur even when the moderator is well trained in creating a “balanced” presentation.  In my own experience, I have found, all too often, that focus groups tend to be a complete waste of time and money.

“A much better way of test-marketing the quality and desirability of your product is by putting it into the hands of hundreds of people who would be most likely to benefit from and enjoy the product for a “research” period of time.”

Let the customers use and play with the product for at least 30 days. Then go back to these individuals independently and interview each one with the same series of questions that you ask “existing” customers.  People buy products from people.  Therefore, the results of a survey of why people like the products and what benefits they receive as a result of ownership of the product, can determine your primary target marketplace.

“Call Now 1-800 -  How to Profit from Direct Response Television Advertising”  Copyright 2006  Rodney H. Buchser

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