Strategies for Selling Products that Don’t Offer Immediate Gratification

Various ice cream cones.

Immediate gratification sells itself. If you’re selling cupcakes, lattes or mindless entertainment, your challenge largely boils down to getting in front of the customer before your competitor does.

On the other hand, you face an entirely different challenge if you sell family dentistry, estate planning services or life insurance. There’s no immediate payoff and no urgent reason for your client to move forward (unless they have an abscessed tooth).

Buying Motives

The key to selling anything starts with understanding why people buy it.

If there is no emergency compelling your prospect to buy today, you have two basic options. The old-school approach is to create urgency by using fear or shame. I am not a fan of this approach. The stereotypical life insurance salesman operates in this fashion (e.g. “You could die tomorrow! What will happen to your family? Just sign here.”)

The other option (which takes more work, but is worth it) is to do some detective work and figure out what makes your prospect tick. Instead of trying to create artificial urgency, discover the natural thought process that makes your prospects decide to make you a priority.

Let’s stick with the life insurance example for a moment. The insurance industry has found that typical consumers are most likely to purchase new life insurance policies (or increase their existing policies) in the wake of a major life event, such as a death in the family, getting married or the birth of a child.

Successful insurance salespeople focus on building personal relationships with their prospects. Naturally, they are in the loop when these events happen. Instead of using scare tactics to motivate a prospect to buy today, they plant a seed in the prospects mind and continue to patiently nurture the relationship, knowing that the right time will come.

Slow Pain vs. Acute Pain

It has been said that if you put a frog in a pot of water and raise the temperature slowly enough, the frog will sit there and let you boil it. People are not much different. Most people are willing to put up with a lot of pain, as long as it doesn’t come on suddenly. Surprises are jarring. When people are caught by surprise, they are quicker to spend money.

It’s easy to sell tow truck services. People are caught by surprise and they need their problem fixed immediately. By contrast, someone might complain every day about being tired or overweight, but they’ll put off dealing with it until it becomes unbearable (or until a clever marketer presses the right sequence of emotional levers in their brain).

Identifying Natural Trigger Events

When your product does not solve an urgent problem, the buying motives are not always obvious on the surface. However, people still buy for a reason, and logic has nothing to do with it. There is always an emotional motivator of some kind. For example, someone might procrastinate dental care until a close friend gets a root canal.

For example, here are a few possible trigger events for a company that sells managed Information Technology services:

  1. The internet goes down on a weekday
  2. The existing provider takes too long to respond to a service request
  3. A data breach occurs
  4. The network is crippled by a Denial of Service attack
  5. The company receives a notice that it is being sued because sensitive information was leaked

It is useful to be aware of what these trigger events are for your prospect. However, trigger events may or may not happen. They are beyond the marketer’s control. Furthermore, there is no way to guarantee that your company will be in the right place when the trigger event occurs. Many trigger events are impossible to predict (though not all).

Old-school marketers try to solve this problem with scare tactics, and as far as I’m concerned, this is not much different than the tactics employed by a mugger in a dark alley. There is a much better way to show immediate benefit.

Painting an Ideal Picture

High-performing salespeople know how to paint a picture of what life could look like. They don’t just talk about relieving pain; they show what new things become possible when the pain is gone. As Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Motivating someone to buy today requires showing them what they didn’t know they wanted.

If you sell professional organizing services, for example, the key to motivating a sale is helping a prospect see what life might be like if they were more organized. Would they get their work done earlier in the day and have more time to spend with their kids in the evening? Would they finally be able to take the vacation to Europe that they’ve never had time to take?

The Pain of Missing Out

When people see a glimpse of what they could be enjoying and realize that they are missing out, they will feel discontent with their current reality. This type of pain is a positive motivator. I still remember the first day I played Nintendo at my friend’s house in 1987. My Atari 2600 wasn’t any fun after that. I was hooked. I had to have a Nintendo at my house. I imagined what it would be like to play Super Mario Brothers at home!

Creating a New Buying Experience

Your product may not be shiny or sexy. People are not naturally excited to go see the tax accountant. However, there is an opportunity here to use your creativity. You can be the same as all of your competitors, delivering the same boring product or service. Or, you can make an effort to do something distinctive.

For instance, Earl Nightengale tells a story in his classic Lead the Field about a gas station owner back in the days before mini-marts, when gas stations only sold gasoline. The owner noticed people standing in line to pay for their gas, looking around. He placed chocolate bars next to the cash register and increased sales. Over time, he began to add more items for people to buy. It not only grew revenues, but also created appeal that drew more people to buy gas at his station.

It seems, on the surface, that some products and services are easier to sell than others. In reality, every business comes with different challenges. You have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. The key is to remember that you do not have to do business the same way your competitors do.

Even if your core product does not deliver instant gratification, you can still create a buying experience that is immediately gratifying!

Today, challenge yourself to think about what you could do that no one else is doing. What would your customers really appreciate? What could you do that they would tell all of their friends about? What would make people curious enough to pop into your office just to find out more about you?

If you’re willing to invest the effort into coming up with creative answers to these questions, you will be very pleasantly surprised.

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