How to Persuade People to
Accept an “Unfair” Offer

image of two goldfish

Ever heard of Charley Hill? He seemed like an average, ordinary guy.

He lived in a mid-sized town with his wife, two children, and a dog. He went to church on Sunday, coached Little League, and drove a pickup truck. He was friendly but quiet, the sort of guy you could walk by on the street without noticing.

But appearances can be deceiving. Charley Hill was one of the most successful farm equipment salesmen in the Midwest. People would travel hundreds of miles to see Charley, even when there were plenty of dealers much closer to home.

What did Charley have that other salesmen didn’t? Not a thing.

He sold the same equipment as everyone else. Carried the same parts. Provided the same service. Yet his sales were typically two or three times that of similar-sized dealers. The reason?

Charley Hill didn’t believe in “fair” offers

Every customer went home, shaking his head, thinking that good old Charley was the most unfair salesman they had ever dealt with.

But they thought it was Charlie who was getting the raw end of the deal.

Charley didn’t cheat his customers — no, quite the opposite. He simply made offers that were so compelling, and seemed so skewed in his customers’ favor, people just couldn’t say no.

What is a “fair” offer, anyway? A reasonable price? There’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s nothing very exciting about it either.

An “unfair” offer, on the other hand, is very exciting. It’s a deal that makes customers feel as if they’re getting far more value than what they’re paying for. It’s an arrangement that makes a purchase seem irresistible, easy, and free of risk.

How do you make an unfair offer?

First, let’s consider what an offer is. The most basic offer is simply “Here’s something I’m selling and this is what you have to pay.” But an offer can be so much more.

Consider some of the other elements that could go into an offer, such as:

  • The unit of sale (each? two for? set?)
  • Optional features (personalization? e-book or hardcopy?)
  • Presentation of price ($40 or $39.99? $12 a month or 40 cents a day?)
  • Terms (credit card? delayed billing? installments?)
  • Incentives (free gifts? discounts? contests?)
  • Guarantee (money-back? buy-back? refund unused portion?)
  • Trial period (30 days? 60 days? 90 days?)
  • Time or quantity limit (respond before date? reply in 10 days? only 500 available?)
  • Shipping and handling (extra or included?)
  • Future obligations (buy 3 more in 6 months? no obligation?)

Once you have an idea of the parts that make up your offer, you can improve each one-by-one. For example, let’s say you’re selling an e-book on your blog and your price is $30. Here’s a breakdown of the possible elements of your offer:

Unit of sale: 1
Optional features: none
Presentation of price: $30
Terms: credit card payment
Incentives: none
Guarantee: none
Trial period: none
Time or quantity limit: none
Shipping and handling: none
Future obligations: none

So basically, you offer an e-book for a flat $30 and you want payment upfront. That’s it.

If you’ve built up the benefits of your book, it seems like a fair offer. But how could you turn this into an unfair offer? Let’s look at each element.

Unit of Sale

You’re selling one e-book. Okay, makes sense for most individuals. Though if your market is business or government, you could offer a lower price for a higher unit of sale, say 10 for $250. This works even better if you’re selling physical items.

Optional Features

Many people prefer books in hard copy. A hard copy also seems more valuable because it’s a physical object rather than just an electronic file. In fact, many people print e-books to make them easier to read.

So you might offer a printed version for $10 more. Perhaps the printed version could have an extra chapter or bonus features. Once you have a finished book design, hard copies can be relatively simple with print-on-demand services, such as Lulu.

Presentation of Price

You’ve done your research and found that $30 is a good price for the type of e-book you’re selling, but you could use a “price break” to make the cost appear smaller. You can present this price as $29.99 or $29.97 or $29.95.

It costs you only a few pennies, but transforms a thirty-dollar price tag into what feels like a twenty-something price tag. For simplicity, you could even set the price at a flat $29.

Terms

There’s nothing wrong with accepting credit cards. But you could also accept PayPal. And as odd as it may seem, some people don’t like to use credit cards or Paypal and prefer to send a physical check.

I work with a political organization that sells products online and we always allow payment by check for the small percentage of people who feel more comfortable with that. It is more time-consuming, so you would have to evaluate whether it’s cost-effective for you. With many online businesses it’s not practical.

Incentives

Here’s where you can really pump up your offer. You can offer a free gift or bonus (or two or three) with each sale. This might be other e-books you already have or sections that you pull out of the main e-book. Offering a 100-page e-book with a 20-page free bonus is more attractive than offering a 120-page e-book.

You could also offer special discounts, such as $10 off for the first 4 weeks of your promotion, then raise the price later.

Guarantee

Here’s another great way to strengthen your offer. Remember that people don’t know what they’re getting until they get it. They’ve been ripped off before and have doubts any time they buy something sight unseen.

You could offer a 30-day money back guarantee to assure them that you’re honest and stand behind what you sell. Better yet, a 60-day or 90-day guarantee. It may seem counterintuitive, but the longer the guarantee, the less likely people are to return something.

Trial Period

If you’ve promoted your e-book as a “system,” such as how to build blog traffic step-by-step, you could turn your guarantee into a risk-free trial.

Try my blog traffic-building system risk-free for 3 months. If you’re not satisfied with the results, I’ll refund your money no questions asked.

Time or Quantity Limit

Quantity limits work for physical items. “Hurry. Quantities are limited.” Time limits work for anything. “It’s available only for the next 19 days.” A time limit forces an immediate decision and increases sales.

If you don’t want to set a limit on your e-book, you could set a limit on a bonus. “Order in the next week and get the bonus e-book free.”

Shipping and Handling

For an e-book, there is no shipping and handling. But if you choose to offer a hard copy or physical item, it is acceptable to add a reasonable amount to cover your shipping costs.

You could also offer free shipping as a bonus offer, which is popular for online sales. By the way, most cities have one or more “fulfillment” businesses who will package and ship your items for a small fee.

Future Obligations

Book clubs sometimes offer special low prices on an initial purchase if you agree to make future purchases at the regular price. “Get 3 books for 3 bucks. Order 5 more books later for our regular low price.”

I’ve not seen this offer used with e-books, since there’s a chance you could get ripped off by your customers. But for the right audience, it could work.

Okay, so let’s pretend your e-book is called “The Magic Blog Traffic Building System.” Here is your original “fair” offer:

Order The Magic Blog Traffic Building System for $30

A little boring, huh? Now let’s compare that to this “unfair” offer using some of the elements above:

Try The Magic Blog Traffic Building System risk-free for 90 days. Your satisfaction is guaranteed. If your blog doesn’t explode with traffic, return the book for a full refund, no questions asked. Order in the next 30 days and pay just $19 ($29 after March 15) PLUS get 3 FREE BONUS reports: 9 Ways to Boost Blog Traffic with E-mail, Blog Design Secrets that Make Visitors Come Back, and The Lazy Blogger’s Way to Create Popular Posts.

How could you turn down an offer like that? It’s so good, it actually appears “unfair” to the person selling you the e-book.

“How could anyone make money asking so little and giving me so much?” That’s the impression you want to create. And that’s what can turn a boring “fair” offer into an exciting “unfair” offer.

Old Charley Hill came before the Internet and wouldn’t know a blog from a bullfrog. But he understood the idea that customers come first. When you make people feel you’re giving them more than you’re getting in return, you make sales. Lots and lots of sales.

Want learn more about putting together killer offers, and presenting them in the most compelling fashion? Subscribe to Internet Marketing for Smart People, the Copyblogger email newsletter. It’s some of our best stuff, no junk, no fluff, and no charge. Hey, that’s a great offer!

About the Author: Dean Rieck is one of America’s top freelance copywriters and publisher of the Direct Creative Blog and Pro Copy Tips, a blog that provides copywriting tips for professional copywriters.

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Comments

  1. on the terms part, shouldn’t it be spelt cheque and not check?

  2. Not if you’re American. ;)

  3. ah i never knew that. any clue why americans and english spell it differently?

  4. Same product, different packaging. There’s nothing quite like making the customer feel like they’re getting more than enough.
    I grew up with the ‘price break’ hitting the eye everywhere at 99.99, 12.99.1999.99..and since the money was handed over physically then, buyers (us) usually asked the cashier to keep the change; a teeny weeny .o1. We felt sorry for the flustered cashier who had such a hard time getting the measly change :)

  5. Well, I learned a lot here. Now I understand why everything around costs $xx.95! :-D
    I have no product as of now but I am planning to launch one soon and these tips will be very useful.

  6. Isn’t that wat Hostess does.. what’s the difference between a ring ding and ho ho’s? lol nothing but the shape and the packaging. Yet they sell both and I even know people that will eat one but not the other..lol

  7. Nice article, I particularly like the Boring VS New. It made me want to order the example ebooks!

  8. Dean, excellent explanation of what an offer is, and all the moving pieces inside.

    @Adam, I don’t know why we spell things differently; in America “spelt” is a grain, and the past tense of “spell” is “spelled.” But it’s OK, because we speak the same language. Kinda, sorta, maybe.

  9. Great stuff as always Brian!!

    I’d love to hear the rest of the Charley Hill story.

    So what exactly did he offer?

    Mike

  10. Hey Dean,

    Remarkable value plus irresistibly “unfair” offer is the most effective combination of selling.

    Having amazing stuff is a given here. You wouldn’t want to buy mediocre solutions or meh-quality products, so why would you sell something like that?

    And by having an offer that makes a potential customer feel cheated by NOT getting it makes your stuff irresistible. The “unfair” offer (in the customer’s favor) can become remarkable as well, such as a lifetime guarantee – or even a “if you don’t get X results in X time with reasonable effort, then I’ll double your money back.”

    Thanks for the great reminder to focus on making the offer as “unfair” in favor of the consumer as possible,
    Oleg

  11. Most ebooks I’ve seen already use these tactics, price (usually ending in .95 or .97), bonuses, guarantee and “false” limited quantity. (The price is going up next week! — weeks later, same price).

    So I can see how this would work really well for farm tractors and areas that haven’t been oversaturated by it, but almost every ebook site I’ve been on already uses these tactics. I’m afraid it’s going to take a lot MORE of an incredible offer to get people to buy them than what typically works in other industries.

  12. This is really good stuff!

    I only have one product right now: my first book which I’m selling for $14.95. I definitely think I can inplement some of these techniques into my pitches.

    Thanks again!

  13. I like the article, and although I think some of the examples were a bit weak, overall the premise has merit.

    a 30 day trial for instance, might work well. Also, I think this is why Micro Continuity works so well, especially if you start the offer out with a Free DVD or something of the sort.

    Thanks for getting me thinking.

  14. Great article. I’ve long encouraged clients to provide a hard copy of e-books. In fact, it works even better when you also sell the hard copy book on amazon.com for a higher price than you’ll sell it direct from your site. You can link to Amazon from the site and it does a nice job of providing social proof that the reader really is getting a good deal – especially when the e-book is cheaper than either Amazon’s price or your hard copy price.

    – Jeff

  15. @Dean, one of the things I always enjoy about your posts is the way you lay things out as a reference. Thanks once again for building something so useful. :) I’ll bookmark this and refer back to it often, it makes a great checklist.

  16. These tactics may work very well but I think in the case of an e-book you might want to convince your potential buyer that there is value inside. That it’s going to be a great book and they’re gonna be happy reading it.

    And things like 99.95, free 20% of the book (?!) are a bit discouraging. I might be more curious why this person is using all these tactics on me if his or her book is so valuable.

    I will give two examples: Lovemarks and David Allen’s Get things done books. For Lovemarks is as simple as buy a copy. You want it? Have it. For Get Things Done what Allen’s site offers is the book at a lower place than other sites.

    And that’s it.

    Frankly, I think the e-book is not the best example for all the tactics explained here. Guarantee, trial, unit of sale?

  17. Good copy is a difference maker in almost all cases. Combine that with a well written call to action and you could sell just about anything!

  18. Ina,

    I think it goes without saying that these tactics are all used *in addition to* the straightforward approach of building value for the item/e-book itself. Of course you want to convince people of the value of the content itself. The idea is to use additional cues and “value-adds” to make the terms of the deal feel unfairly great for your Web visitor.

    Also, David Allen’s GTD book is a perfect example of the situation I was talking about – the book is available on Amazon and from his site, but the price from his site is a bit lower – making it feel like a good deal. All I’m saying is that you don’t have to be as famous or widely published as David Allen to use that same technique. If you’re selling an e-book, getting copies printed from Lulu and then hosted on Amazon is a simple and effective way to build perceived value for your e-book.

    – Jeff

  19. Great post. I’m curious as to price points in ebooks, though. I’ve seen them priced all over the spectrum. Is there any particular guidance for page length-to-price ratio, or any other metric to help authors establish price?

  20. Dean,

    I really like your spin on the “unfair offer.” We spend so much time trying to add value and bulk things up, but if you create a way for yourself to sit in the other person’s shoes and make them feel like they are taking advantage of you, you’ve locked up the sale and eliminated buyers remourse in the same step.

    The customer will almost feel like they have to sneak out of the office before you notice how good of a deal they got. That just recently happened to me when I bought a car. The salesmen made me feel as though I completely robbed the dealership and it made me feel great… and I even knew exactly what he was doing.

  21. Sales is all about packaging an already existing product in such a way that a customer will be willing to pay for it. It is not cheating or deceiving people. It is just making sure that the customer gets what he wants.

    There are many angles to look at the same product. But it is important to find an angle that appeals to a certain person. I believe that people like having options and feel like they have a say in what they are getting.

    If we are able to satisfy that desire, we are just helping the customer make up their mind. It is all about re framing the way we look at selling products.

    If we know that other people would be at a disadvantage if they did not read your e-book or bought your product, then we will do anything and everything we can to help people see that value of our product.

    Best,
    Tomas

  22. A great post.

    I love the way the “unfair” offer revealed itself. A great story and lesson for us all. Another way to put the customer first by giving them an “unfair” offer.

  23. Another model of “unfair” offers I’m trying out:

    A friend of mine is issuing a “Holiday Fitness Challenge”. To enter the challenge, you need to buy an e-book, which is linked from my site (and many others around the web). However, I’m offering an additional cash prize of 500$ to the winner. That is, an extra 500$ paid from me to the winner if he buys the product from my site. First prize is a trip to Jamaica. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I might end up losing some money, but it’ll create a nice buzz at least.

  24. @Sheryl, great question but unfortunately one without a great answer. Ebooks range from about $7 to about $97. There are a few that can command more, but typically to break the $100 mark you need some kind of add-on, like audio, Q&A calls, an additional tool, etc.

  25. As usual, full of specifics I love. Thank you Dean for the tutorial-I needed it. Keep on plugging away-you are a machine!

  26. Dean

    Excellent way to take the sales pitch to a new level. The goal is the sale and to get sales you have to sell The unfair offer is a selling technique that is not only enticing it is very persuading.

    Very well done!

    Suzanne

  27. Great article with brilliant info for anyone even thinking of writing an e-book and hoping to sell it. I have 2 questions that I’d love your thoughts on.

    1. Re payment – would providing bank account details for direct payment be good or is that a silly idea?

    2. Re the hard sell: “Try The Magic Blog Traffic Building System risk-free for 90 days. Your satisfaction is guaranteed. If your blog doesn’t explode with traffic, return the book for a full refund, no questions asked. Order in the next 30 days and pay just $19 ($29 after March 15) PLUS get 3 FREE BONUS reports: 9 Ways to Boost Blog Traffic with E-mail, Blog Design Secrets that Make Visitors Come Back, and The Lazy Blogger’s Way to Create Popular Posts.”

    Doesn’t this sound a bit pushy and desperate? I tend to avoid sales pages like these. I guess I like the soft sell more. I agree with all your other sales tips but this one makes me uncomfortable. Will I sell less with the soft sell?

    Thanks for sharing your brilliant advice. I hope to read more of your words of wisdom:)

  28. Nice post Dean. I think it would have been complete if it was wrapped around an actual example, or you could use what Charley was selling.

  29. This is some killer stuff Dean! As being a copywriter and biz owner myself, you really structured this well and shared some top info.

    Are you guys here at Copyblogger trying to put all other similar blogs out of business? I don’t see posts like this getting beat…dang :-)

  30. Very nice nuance Dean.
    So much is written on win – win that its refreshing to see someone more slanted towards the opinion of lose – win.
    Love the way you’ve laid out all the options and explained them as well.

  31. you can include pro blogger forum offer as example. It is great tricks when he improve the price, but offer the old price before it.

  32. I really like the idea of $xx.99 pricing because it really works. As for having the customer see it as unfair to you that you have to make such an offer, it is something that makes it all sound so simple yet so effective. I will really consider doing that when am ready to launch my product.

    Thanks for the great content and tips

  33. Really interesting post and something I’ve not thought of before. I think there are those people that see something to good to be true as a con, but the way your portray your ideas makes sense.
    Thanks for this post Dean.

  34. Jeff,

    I was also giving David Allen’s “get my book cheaper here” as a good example. My point was that all these tactics: guarantee, trial, free percent of the product – they might not work very well for this kind of “merchandise”. On the other hand, I agree that having a printed copy does add value.

    Don’t get me wrong, I also like the “too good to be true deal approach”, I like the marketing lesson, I just don’t think it applies directly to e-books and that you have to be more careful when selling that. From this point of view I don’t think it goes without saying that you have to add and prove value, I think this is where you have to start and where you have to understand what you’re doing and why.

  35. I needed to hear this… been reading Question Based Selling as well. They mesh very well, as asking the right questions let’s you “make” your customer aware of their needs, and then a compelling “unfair” offer helps you over deliver, delight, and seal the deal. Thanks again!

  36. Michael: Charley sold farm equipment. That’s one reason I didn’t use his products here.

    Sherice: I was just trying to explain the basics of making an offer. Of course there are other things you have to do to make a sale, like writing good copy.

    Ina: Guarantees and trials are being used more by e-book sellers. The tactics are universal. It’s about psychology, not about the product.

    Annabel: I really don’t think the offer I concluded with is “hard sell.” If you want to sell something, you can’t be afraid to make a pitch. Too many people are shy about saying, “Hey, this is great stuff. Buy it!”

    And if you want to read more of my “wisdom,” come visit me over at http://www.procopytips.com.

  37. Fantastic article, I’ll be noting this down as a check list for all my sales offerings.

  38. Thanks for the breakdown. Although your title of an “unfair” had me a bit concerned from an ethical standpoint, you redeemed yourself in the end.

  39. Great Post! just wondering … have you written any books. As a wordpress website designer I struggle with identifying specials & give a ways for my site. I can see the value in my services. I can see the quality I deliver and the impact it makes on a business success – yet I still get stuck on the sales side.

  40. Cool Post – Surely this Charlie sustains a pretty good relationship with these clients to have them keep coming back…

  41. Some great tips on here – thanks folks. p.s. How about replacing those totally knackered expressions ‘killer offer’ and ‘killer app’ with something original ? Or is there some underlying interest in violence ?

  42. Even better would be persuading people to accept an “unfair” offer that is actually _worse_ than the “fair” offer for the same item … like getting people to pay $197 for an ebook which, if printed, published and sold at, say, Barnes & Noble, would cost $29.95. Oh wait, that’s what Internet Marketers do all the time.

  43. Dean, you’ve lost credibility with the Charley story – what the heck did he do that made his offers so much better than the competitors?

    I’m sure Charely is real, but without offering any “proof” or insight as to what he did that worked so well it makes it seem like you’re making it up (or that it isn’t such a relevant example).