There’s a well-loved myth out there that if you do something reasonably remarkable and distribute passionate content, you’ll automatically have an audience who will support you in style for the rest of your life.
You don’t have to do anything scary. Like sell, for example.
Now if that works for you, that’s terrific. So does it?
The painful truth is that there are lots of trusted, loved, and wildly influential smart people out there who are working like maniacs creating amazing content.
And who are nonetheless still broke.
It’s easy to think that if your audience loves you, all that love will translate automatically into paying customers. But if one of your goals is a financial payoff from your content, you still have some work to do.
You have to offer something they want
Your Aunt Frances loves you very much, but if you’re a Prius dealer and she’s more of a Lamborghini person, you’re never going to sell her a car.
(And if you do somehow manage to, she’ll always resent you for it.)
Your audience needs to both love you and want your product or service. They also need to be buyers.
If your audience is made up of monks who have taken a vow of poverty, you have a tough road ahead of you, even if you could somehow demonstrate that driving a Lamborghini is actually a meditation with profound spiritual implications.
Find out what your audience wants and what they’re ready to buy. Then build a product that meets their needs.
Starting with the product and then trying to find raving fans for it is a rookie mistake, and probably the biggest reason small businesses fail.
Why they don’t buy, even when they love you
Now once you’ve found Aunt Frances a nice Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera in racing yellow, she still may have some questions.
She’ll have a tiny little voice in the back of her head saying you might be less trustworthy, because now you have something to sell.
She’s suddenly facing a dilemma. On the one hand, she loves you. On the other hand, you’re a scary salesperson.
If you sell her something she doesn’t like, it’s going to mess up your relationship, and that’s the last thing Aunt Frances wants.
The fact that she loves you doesn’t vaporize her sales objections. And it doesn’t mean she’ll blindly buy everything you put in front of her.
(She may later, once you’ve built complete trust with a few positive transactions. But she won’t take the first step without some hand-holding.)
There’s no such thing as a product that sells itself
Like the “self-cleaning oven” and “hot girls/guys are waiting for your call,” this promise invariably turns out to disappoint.
Prospects have fears. Just like Aunt Frances, one of their biggest fears is feeling like a chump for buying from you. That’s why we communicate logical benefits and features — to calm the fear of feeling dumb.
If you’ve created a relationship with your audience, you still need to address their fears and objections in a respectful way, or you’ll never be able to add a financial dimension to that relationship.
Answer the conversation going on in their heads
All of us have a paranoid internal conversation running about what could go wrong, how the world might be trying to screw us, why we shouldn’t trust anyone, and so forth. This mental chatter gets louder when we make anxiety-producing decisions, like buying something we’ve never bought before.
It’s your job to step right into the middle of that conversation and answer questions.
Start with something like, “You might be wondering if the Lamborghini warranty covers knuckleheaded driving behavior,” or “You may be asking yourself why we’re still charging you $1.50 for the pine air freshener when you’re willing to spend $200,000 for the car.”
Bring up every reason they might not buy. Air objections out, acknowledge them, and get rid of them by addressing them head on.
If some objections remain unresolved, say so. Your product isn’t going to be right for every buyer; don’t pretend that it will be.
Don’t just hope people won’t ask hard questions. Even if they don’t ask them aloud, those nagging worries are still chattering away in your prospects’ minds.
Resolve objections in a social context
Don’t (just) try to guess what prospects are worried about. Ask them.
Ask what their biggest concerns are. Ask what’s making them nervous about their next car purchase. And ask what they’ve been looking for that they haven’t been able to find.
You can create a survey, write a blog post, or just send a handful of tweets on Twitter and watch what comes back.
Your audience wants to tell you about what they need in a ridiculously fast and expensive automobile. They want to tell you all about their frustrations with the Maserati they got last year and the fear that a Lamborghini won’t scratch that itch any better.
You then turn around and, with great respect and perfect transparency, say, “You guys told me what would make an insanely fast and expensive car better for you, so I had this one designed and built to your specifications. I think you will love it.”
You’ve done them a favor, and they’ll want to repay you for that. If they’re in the market to spend six figures on an automobile, you’re the person they’ll want to buy it from.
Wrap your message up with a strong call to action and a price that’s in line with what your market expects, and the race is yours.
Why you don’t have to be a “great salesperson” to do this
You don’t need to be able to sell ice to Eskimos to use these techniques. They use empathy, respect, and natural conversation — tools you use every day — to encourage a new kind of behavior in your community.
You’re not going to exaggerate your good points or offer crummy products, because that would screw up your relationship with your audience. And not only would that be a dumb business decision, it would feel really horrible.
Low-key, ethical sales techniques like these work to make your relationship with your audience stronger than ever, while allowing you to make an honest and comfortable living.
Start putting these tools into place today to convert your loyal audience into paying customers. I’ll race you to the finish line …
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on September 25, 2008.