How To Sell Without Selling

Image of

If you want a simple way to make your emails more profitable, without any hard pitching or looking even remotely “salesy”, then give me a few minutes here, and let me show you how to do it in this article.

Here’s the story …

One problem a lot of people have with writing effective emails is they think they’re writing a sales letter. And because they think their emails are like sales letters, they pack them with benefits and use all the usual copywriting tricks — out of context — and selling “choke holds.”

But if you sell a product that solves a painful problem, the opposite is true.

What you really should be talking about (instead of your product and its benefits) is all the pain caused by the problem your readers want solved.

This means getting inside their “world” and writing about the pain they’re experiencing (or COULD experience if something isn’t done to deal with the situation pronto).

Yes, you still make a call to action.

And yes, you still plug your URL (either aggressively or passively, such as in the example below).

But, you don’t need to hammer your readers with benefits. Instead, you hammer them with the painful symptoms they’re feeling — or could feel if they don’t find a solution.

How does this help your sales?

The answer is simple.

It’s all about trust

Since YOU are the person emailing them each day (you are mailing them daily, right?) and bonding with them (not just “pitching” them) by showing them you understand their pain, they will naturally look to you as the go-to person for help.

This concept is hard for a lot of online marketers who study copywriting to grasp at first.

So below is an example of how to do it:

Subject Line: The real reason why good writers die young

Writing’s a dangerous job.

Sitting there on your rumpus for long stretches of time … letting your legs form dangerous (life ending) blood clots, and wreaking havoc on your entire nervous system — which all can lead to some really NASTY pain.

Leg pain.

Neck pain.

Shoulder pain.

Elbow pain.

Wrist pain.

And, especially BACK pain.

In fact, I knew this one copywriter who was spending sometimes 8-10 hours straight in front of his computer in a small “closet like” office — writing copy, editing video/audio, messing around with website design etc, who was always in excruciating back pain.

Every movement hurt like hell.

Every shift in his seat like white fire up his spine.

Every turn of his neck agony.

He suffered like this silently for months, but figured it’d just go away on its own.

It didn’t.

It actually got worse.

In fact, it spread to his rear end and then down into his hamstrings making running (something he loved doing) impossible, and even walking to the kitchen from his office was exhausting and excruciating. Even sleeping was fitful at best as he had to lay in just the right position (and not move) in order to keep the sharp, “dagger like” pain away.

Eventually he sought help.


Orthopedic surgeons.



None were any help.

(One of these doctors even said it was just “phantom pain” and sent him on his merry way with a bottle of pain killers …)

All his tests — MRI, EMG, X-rays — came up negative.

Yet, the pain was getting worse.

And his livelihood (writing) was at stake.

One of the doctors said whatever the problem is, it could be permanent if he didn’t figure it out soon … and to see a neurologist who told him there was nothing they could do and that humans are not built to sit for long stretches of time like that (and he was lucky he hadn’t developed any blood clots …)

Anyway, the point?

Writing for a living really CAN be dangerous.

To your health.

To your sense of well being.

Even, to your life …

To see my “writers pain” prevention plan, check out:

[Sales page URL here]

[Signature here]

See how that works?

The entire email above is about the problem, not the solution. It doesn’t talk about a product, and there isn’t a single benefit mentioned. Yet, it does a better job “selling” the click than pummeling the reader with benefits, bullet points, and features.

It also prepares the reader to eagerly be looking for a solution when they see the landing page, instead of being on guard against a sales pitch. In fact, they’re looking to be sold when you do this correctly.

And the best part is …

This is a very simple way to write emails.

You don’t have to be a great “writer.”

You don’t have to use any copywriting tricks or tactics.

And, you don’t even need to mention your product.

All you have to do is know your market and these emails practically write themselves.

Your homework assignment: Go write a “pain” email like the one I’ve shown you above. Think of all the pains your product solves, use the above email as a template and watch what happens.

Print Friendly

What do you want to learn?

Click to get a free course and resources about:

Reader Comments (42)

  1. says

    Kudos for great use of reverse psychology. You just have some seconds to impress before the user clicks off. Suggesting the problems, actually suggests the solution.

    • says

      Yes, it definitely flips on it’s head what I would naturally think to do; benefits and dot points etc.
      I was always taught stating “benefits” were the way to go, but you’ll never know what works best unless you test and try, not blindy listen to others.

  2. says

    Thanks for awesome tips , When mailing out to my lists i always make sure i never ever sound like a seller and instead i keep my tone friendly and that always works for me , its all about building trust and building a relation with your list .

  3. says

    Settle’s the email King. Any of you not on his list, get going. His Email Players and Scribe are the only marketing continuity products I pay for. But even if you don’t subscribe, his daily emails are full of amazingly useful tips. My two cents.

  4. says

    Hey! I feel gyped! I was all psyched up to get the solution to my pain problems that are the result of me sitting morning till night in front of this computer and there was NOWHERE to CLICK!!!!

    (Oh! I get it. I see. Good one!)

  5. says

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for some great tips. I always write emails to my list as if they were a friend I was chatting to, this works really well for me…it must be because by forming relationships with people they grow to trust you and your recommendations!


  6. says

    Nice post. I’ve been working on building my list for awhile, and I have to get off my butt and do something with it. This seems like as good of strategy as any to get started. :)

  7. says

    It’s really effective idea to talk about people problems and to show that you really know what they suffer from, and then you show that there is a solution for that issue.
    As you said at the last of the post, you don’t need to be copywriter or using copywriting tactics but the only thing you have to know is to know your market or your target market.
    Anyway well noted…

  8. says

    This seems like a great way to provide value to your mailing list and broaden your writing topics. I know from my own email subscriptions that reading about the same products and services over and over gets really stale, so this is a great solution to help set yourself apart from the crowd and still get value out of your content.

  9. says

    Even though the sample pain email was written about physical pain, I’m assuming it works for other types of pain, too? 😉

    Thanks for the tip!

  10. says

    Love this post! I copied it into Evernote so I can refer back to it over and over again.

    You’re right. We need to highlight the problem of our clients and customers. It’s not about us, it’s about them. Your email is the perfect example of how to sell without selling.


  11. says

    Great article Ben! In fact, I want to steal your damn email example because you literally wrote EXACTLY what I do in my business (help creative people–especially writers–improve their health and wellness). You really illustrated to me what I need to be doing more of in my emails when I send them. Thanks for making my day!

  12. Al Spaulding says

    Wow Ben!
    I’ve been on your email list for a little bit over a year now and always make sure to read your emails as they are always chock full of amazing tips at creating gripping emails. Once again you hit hit the ball out the park with this post. I wil definitely be applying this little homework lesson later on this evening. Thanks again for imparting your gift with us.
    Much Obliged,

  13. says

    So I’ve been needing this kind of a guide for a while.

    I hated the idea of starting to do copywriting because I hated marketing. I worked in a corporate environment where everyone BUT the sales trainer said to push the product, push the product, sell it, sell it. The sales trainer pointed out that we had to figure out the customers’ pains before we could decide whether or not our product was right for them. I consistently refused to believe anyone else was right in their selling techniques except for him.

    This post just reinforces my beliefs about proper selling. Or rather, helping people with their pains. Thanks!

    • says

      Good marketing copy should be salesmanship in print (or pixels). Listening to effective salespeople about what actually works is always a good idea.

      A lot of corporate marketing, alas, is driven much more by ego than it is by doing what works to serve the customer and make the sale.

  14. David says

    A little over the top don’t ya think?

    Maybe divide into half a dozen emails with less emphasis on the fear tactics and a few more facts. I’ve enjoyed Ben Settle’s daily emails for years, they’re entertaining. You might sell bag balm to a high school farm boy, but I think most writers are smart enough to have seen this coming by the second sentence.

  15. says

    Agree! I was looking for the click-thru at the end because I feel that pain! Thanks for the tips. I’ll be looking out for you in future!

  16. says

    Absolutely; it’s about trust! Due to shrinking budgets and ever-increasing pressure from management, I feel that marketers are trying to accomplish EVERYTHING, all at once, within a single touch-point. First, disarm the audience from being ‘sold’ – offer them something of value to build trust; it should be multi-staged approach. Great article and thoughts.

  17. says

    Gee, your email example makes me want to go exercise. As a writer I can relate. Great example of presenting the problem and pulling the reader in.

  18. says

    What a great “Article Heading” – How to Sell Without Selling. BRAVO !!

    And the E-mail pitch is even better – A combination of human Psychology, Copywriting and Innovation.

  19. says

    I had been into Email marketing for quite sometime and your ideas and tips are simply superb.

    Thanks for sharing such an awesome post with us, Ben…

  20. says

    I agree that this tactic works very well for emails.

    However, I disagree that you don’t need copywriting skills. All those spaces used in your email and your easy-to-read, flowing writing are all traits of true copywriting skill.

    If it didn’t take a good writer to like emails like this, I’d be out of a job.

    Thanks for the tip! Will definitely use this tactic the next chance I get.

    • says

      This is most certainly a copywriting strategy, good old problem-agitate-solve. :)

      The more copywriting strategies and skills you have in your tool kit, the better your chances of having the right tool for the business problem you’re trying to solve.

  21. says

    Thanks for the tips :)

    I tend to try to go for a personal approach. I think you definitely need a cirtain amount of copywriting skills though

  22. says

    Kinda makes sense in that overselling a product or services benefits over competitors can be a little annoying. But emphasizing common issues and problems the reader may have is a good way of giving them that “I have that problem too” thought as they read through the email meaning they may feel like they want to learn more…

  23. says

    Thanks Ben, some interesting tips. I write for various travel websites and always try to provide information but perhaps I could take it from a different angle.


  24. says

    Fantastic piece, Ben. I agree wholeheartedly, and I loved your example — great way to show, rather than tell. And speaking of showing — focusing on pain is the best way to show the reader that you know their world, and something I strive to do in my business advice articles. I find that too many pieces skip straight to the solution, without taking the reading through the experience of pain – in my book, without the pain part, the solution is meaningless. Again, great advice and so well put. I will share.

  25. says

    Wow, great ideas here. Interesting point about focusing more on the problem rather than the solution when writing an email. I know firsthand how easy the unsubscribe button is to click when receiving one too many emails hitting me on the head with sales copy!

  26. says

    Superb. I was looking for this stuff since many times, Now I got the way to use the long list of e-mail subscribers. I will try and bring traffic via mails and also try for the conversions. The points which you wanted to clear here are really impressive and everyone should think about them. All these points were basics but as always we humans tend to go for tough things and forget about basics.

  27. says

    I love that you bring up the importance of building that trusting relationship between the buyer and the seller. There are two types of salesmen, the kind that will do anything for the sale, and the kind that care about the customer’s needs. It is true what you shared about talking about the pains. As you are able to help alleviate some pain through your product or service, you will build trust in the process. Thanks for the article.

  28. says

    Compelling article, but its really circumstantial from business to business. Timing would be critical to success, so for example Black Friday… I could see this working really well about a week before, as sale anticipation ramps up.

    My response also assumes that you are already using some sort of personalized targeted email plan and don’t make a lot of bad pitches.

  29. says

    I can say this has proven to work on my list! As someone who has just started out with e-mail marketing and creating newsletters, I noticed that I wasn’t getting any clicks in my e-mails. In other words, people weren’t reading my stuff and I wondered why.

    I think this template, plus the whole idea of showing the reader you UNDERSTAND them inside out goes a long way.

    Anyways for some harder numbers – I don’t have much of an e-mail list but…

    List – 31 people
    Opens – 12 (38.7%)
    Clicks – 4 (12.9%)

    One in three clicked – not too shabby!

Comments are open for seven days. This article's comments are now closed.