What Are You Really Selling?

When asked the question, “What do you sell?” most sellers think about a product or a service with some sort of tangible benefit or ROI. They think about a “thing” they offer as a solution and the business or financial benefit attached to it. But that’s not what reps are actually selling – what you are really selling is an emotion. 

I sat down with Tom Stanfill, CEO and Co-Founder of ASLAN, to discuss how the business benefits or financial benefits of a solution (increase in profits or cost savings) aren’t the ones most likely to motivate a customer to choose your solution. It’s how you make them feel – the emotional benefit that inspires a decision to take action. 

If you’d prefer to take this topic on-the-go, you can listen to our full conversation on sALES with ASLAN podcast episode 110:


Selling Emotion

Of course, there are scenarios where sales are strictly transactional. For example, if a small business needs to buy a copier and you sell copiers – that’s pretty straightforward. But that’s a very small percentage of sales opportunities. 

Where we can distinguish ourselves and win against the competition, or create a wider audience for our solution, is when we tap into emotions. We need to get our customers to emotionally experience the solution that we offer. That’s what sales reps are really selling: some emotion or connection that gets people to take action. 

Neuroscience tells us that any big decision is made using both sides of the brain: logic and emotion. When it comes to sales, this is a critical piece of information to remember. Emotion is equally, if not more, important than logic. Emotion is perhaps the “reason” that people decide to buy. 

Your value prop and data sheets won’t get you very far. It’s about how you make people feel

“The reality is that people make emotional decisions and they support them with intellectual alibis.” – Tom Stanfill

A great example of this is retirement. Most people would agree that it’s crucial to save money for retirement. But only a small percentage of these people actually set aside money regularly. They know they need to, but they don’t feel the urgency. They believe they should, but they don’t care. They don’t know what it feels like to be broke in their seventies. 

If we were to distill this idea down into a formula, it would look like this:

Action = Belief + Care

ABC. In other words, for people to act, both belief and care are required. Most sellers, or most people trying to influence someone, focus on belief. What do I want my customer to believe about my solution? They try to “prove” their solution or their idea or their argument. 

But we should really be focused on care. How do I get my customer to care about my solution? How do I get them to emotionally experience the benefit? That’s the key. That’s what reps are actually selling. 

So, how do we accomplish this?


How to Sell Emotion

The way to tee this up is with a simple Word Picture posed as a question: 

Do you sell vitamins or vaccines?

Think about it. If you sell “vitamins” you’re saying to customers, “I’m going to make your life (or business) better than it is now. I’m going to help you take it to the next level.” If you sell “vaccines,” you’re saying, “I’m going to solve a problem that you know you have right now.”

Let’s take a homeowner for example. If your roof is leaking, you need an immediate fix, a “vaccine.” Or if you’re thinking about selling your home, a builder might say, “Well if you also fix X and improve Y, you’ll get more money from the sale.” That’s a “vitamin.”

As a seller, you might sell vitamins, vaccines, or both. 

The first thing you need to do is figure out the emotions associated with either one of those. Your customer needs to visualize or experience what it will feel like to have the thing you’re going to provide for them (or not have that thing and feel the pain of not having it). Again, back to that retirement example. That’s a vitamin. If you’re a financial planner trying to get your client to save for their retirement, you need to get them to feel the pain of being broke in their seventies. They need to feel the benefit of saving. 

If you’re selling a vaccine, you need to help your customer experience the emotional benefit of being vaccinated (or pain of not).

Take what you sell and figure out the corresponding emotions. One great way of doing this is through something we referred to earlier in the blog called “Word Pictures.” They need to emotionally experience the payoff, or the pain, of having vs. not having your solution. 


Word Pictures

Word Pictures are analogies to simplify the complex, to help the customer picture something they don’t understand and elicit a desired emotion by drawing on a past experience. 

As Tom previously stated, people make emotional decisions and support them with intellectual alibis. More plainly put, while logic plays a role, emotions drive decision making. To win, the customer not only has to understand how your solution will provide the benefit they seek, they must feel the benefit. The simplest way to accomplish this is to tell a story of how others have experienced the benefit but, when presenting virtually, the most effective way is to use Word Pictures. 

Tom uses a great example to illustrate how Word Pictures can be so effective:

He was once talking to a participant after a training workshop when the man pulled out a vapor cigarette. To strike up a conversation, Tom said:

“So what’s up with vaping? Is it the same as smoking a cig?”

The participant explained it to him instantly and brilliantly: “You ever tried turkey bacon?” 

“Yeah, sure,” Tom answered. 

He said, “Not as good, right?”

Agreeing, Tom said, “Yeah, it’s kind of like bacon, but I would much rather have the real thing.” 

He just nodded. 

 By focusing on something Tom understood (the taste of turkey bacon), he was the central character in the story. When the listener is the hero of the story, they listen.

Secondly, the man leveraged something Tom already understood to explain something he didn’t understand. 

It’s a great example of how Word Pictures can have an instant impact on our emotions. They can conjure up feelings of what life would be like with or without the benefits of what you offer. 

 For example, if you sell a high end, very expensive product, you need a Word Picture to help the listener experience what quality feels like, the cost of shortcuts, or why the expensive materials used in manufacturing the product really matter. 

 If you sell an intangible service, like marketing or consulting, you need Word Pictures to differentiate you from the competition or to simplify the complex. 

 If you sell a product or service that, in the mind of the customer, is a commodity — or maybe what you offer is simple to understand and therefore, it all looks the same or is easy to be misjudged (e.g., insurance, medical supplies) — you need a Word Picture.

 To build your library of Word Pictures, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Figure out and rank the most difficult but important concepts required to sell your solution. 
  • Set aside time to develop 3 to 5 Word Pictures for your most critical but complex concepts. Why so many? Some people hate sports analogies but love cars. Some hate cars and sports, but love cooking or wine or music or politics. Therefore, develop a few Word Pictures that will appeal to every type of customer.
  • Lastly, test it. Some of the seemingly best Word Pictures fall flat when delivered live. Like all good comedians, find a few friends to test out your material and refine your analogies accordingly.


You can also use stories, i.e. customer success stories to illustrate this. Or have your customers meet with someone who had a similar problem and found results with your solution. Anything that will help them emotionally connect. 

But perhaps the easiest way is to create a process that helps the customer experience the benefit that you want them to experience. What process can you put in place to accomplish this, and also differentiate your solution?

It just takes a little preparation and brainstorming on your end as the sales rep. The best way to advance the opportunity is to focus on what you’re actually selling: emotion. It will help you sell, it will help your customer make a better decision, and it will make the whole sales process much more enjoyable, seamless, and rewarding. 


What Next?

As VP of Marketing at ASLAN Training & Development, Scott’s passion is to share our solution with those in need and those who seek sales transformation. Find him on: Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

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The best way to get to know us is to know what we value. If we teach it we live it, because what we do speaks far more eloquently than what we say. We’ll always choose people over profits, and we’re most fulfilled and effective when we serve. It drives our culture, frames our training programs and transforms the lives of the clients we partner with.