Tell, Don’t Sell: Giving Back to Your Customers


The hard sell has its place, but it isn’t on your blog or in your feature articles. Your customers see hundreds of ads in just a few hours on their computers, and if you focus on selling, your message becomes part of the cacophony. Telling, not selling, gives your current and future customers a break from the constant flow of advertising. Ads eventually get tuned out, but information retains its allure.

One reason that “tell, don’t sell” content works especially well in an online context is that your customers already know what they want and are actively seeking the solution to a problem. They most likely found you through a search engine or through word of mouth on social media channels. If they weren’t looking for what you offer, they wouldn’t have Googled you. Because they’re already in the market for your product, you don’t have to give them a push into your virtual storefront; you only need to showcase what you have and let your customers do the rest.

Getting Closer to Your Customers

Almost everyone has had the unpleasant experience of going into a store and feeling pressured to buy. Asking a question about a product produces not a cogent answer, but a stream of up-selling and attempts to close the sale. Content that does little but tout a product has a similar effect on readers, many of whom have already seen ads for similar products in their search for more information. Competitors’ sites are just a few clicks away, and if a potential customer finds something off-putting about your high-pressure tactics or senses that you’re more interested in closing a deal than in establishing a connection, that customer will move on to the next site.

Relationship-building is key to long-term success. Your best customers become your allies, happily recommending you to friends and colleagues. They trust you to make them look good when they give you referrals and know they can count on you well after the initial sale. As Geoffrey James of Inc. magazine notes in his article on the pros and cons of the hard sell, people don’t like being sold to even when they respond to it with a purchase. Strong hard-sell tactics produce short-term, temporary increases in sales figures at the cost of long-term customer satisfaction.

In today’s market, highly visible company reviews and social media conversations affect your sales directly; alienating customers over the long term is not a winning strategy.

Telling vs. Selling

To illustrate the difference between telling and selling, take a look at these fictionalized examples drawn from real blog posts. The first paragraph illustrates a typical hard sell approach filled with hyperbole and pressure:

“You hate trimming your pet’s claws, but what if we could show you a way that you could do it easily, painlessly and best of all, at the lowest possible price? Our automatic trimmers give your pet the perfect manicure every time without all the fuss and bother of using conventional clippers. When you order today, we’ll send you your set of clippers plus a FREE instruction booklet. If that isn’t enough, we’ll throw in a surprise gift for you and your pet, but only if your order email is received this weekend!”

While it might work as a script for a late-night television ad, it isn’t persuasive to customers who are looking for effective grooming solutions. A better approach rewards visitors for reading by giving them real information:

“Your cat’s claws are for more than just shredding scratching posts; cats rely on their claws to climb, jump and defend themselves. Without the occasional trim, though, a cat’s claws can create problems for owners as their pets accidentally scratch during an enthusiastic play session or sharpen on upholstery. Unlike your fingernails, your cat’s claws have a core of living tissue that can make trimming at home a challenge, especially with clippers designed for human nails. A specialized claw trimmer isolates the claw and takes away the pointed tip while leaving the sensitive quick of the nail intact.”

In the second example, readers learn something about why their choices matter and about your product line. You inform their decisions rather than try to influence them, forming a deeper connection than any sales push can create. Use your content for telling, not selling, and keep the ad copy where it belongs – in advertisements.

© Business Content, Inc. 2013 All Rights Reserved.

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