How to Build Your Business by Walking Away from the Sale

image of high-heeled shoes walking away

Some marketing feels almost impossible to resist.

Your favorite product is 85% off! This really smart expert is only offering advice until Monday! This service will change your life or your money back!

Smart marketers know how to reduce risk, boost urgency, and tempt our wallets with irresistible offers.

But are there times when those techniques work a little too well?

Have you ever been so excited by great marketing that you bought something you just plain didn’t need?

I’ll give you an example. As I was cleaning out my closet this morning, I came across a pair of shoes that I must have bought in another life.

They weren’t my style, I had nothing to wear them with. And — worst of all — they didn’t fit. Why did I buy them?

There was nothing wrong with the shoes. For another person with a dressier wardrobe, a flashier style, a higher pain tolerance, and smaller feet, they would have been perfect.

Some clever shoe store had managed to entice me with a great sale — only for me to wind up with a product that was a bad fit in every possible way.

Are you helping your customers get a good fit?

There are lots of strategies to persuade people to buy. (I mentioned a couple of them in the first couple of paragraphs above, and you can find a lot more in those “resource” links to your left.)

But if too many people buy something they don’t actually want (or need), what happens?

They get their shiny package and realize it’s not for them. At all. They’re frustrated, disappointed, and feel sort of dumb for being taken in.

They may not ask for a refund. They may not say anything to you at all.

But the next time you have a product for sale, they’ll be far less likely to buy it.

That’s why the really smart marketers, the ones who have fantastic customer loyalty that lasts for years to come, let prospects know immediately who the product is for … and who it’s not for.

To figure out whether it’s better to give up the sale or urge your customer to make a purchase they won’t regret, ask yourself a few questions:

Who, specifically, is it designed for?

If you offer a training program for people who run small businesses, and wouldn’t be useful for those who don’t, you’ll want to specify that in your sales page.

If someone asks if your product would work for a freelancer or a large business, tell them it wouldn’t be the best fit — but you’d be happy to tell them about new products that might work for them.

It’s a bit like selling flashy designer shoes to a lifelong Birkenstock wearer. If it just doesn’t suit who they are, they won’t get any use out of the product — and they’ll be unhappy you convinced them to buy.

How much prior knowledge do they need to benefit from your product?

If your product is a 101 guide, it’s just going to bore and annoy advanced users.

And on the other hand, if your product requires an advanced degree to be able to understand and use it, don’t pitch it to newbies or you’ll just frustrate the daylights out of them.

Don’t sell five-inch stiletto heels to a woman who’s only ever worn flats in her life. Sell them to someone who has the entire Sex and the City box set and could climb Everest in her Jimmy Choos.

Let your customers know beforehand what level of expertise is required for your product, and they’ll be able to tell if they’ll enjoy owning it.

Is it location-specific?

If your resource list includes only US and Canadian locations and all of your buyers are in the UK, you’re going to have a bit of a problem.

Or if you’re explaining something that varies from country to country, you could actually wind up leading people astray.

Some sneakers are meant for gym use only; some are great for trail running.

If your customers don’t know where your product is designed to work, they might wind up getting hurt — or at the very least, annoyed and frustrated.

Cultivating customers for the long haul

I recently had someone give up a sale he could have made to me — and I was so grateful I became a longtime loyal customer.

I wanted to buy a specific e-book as a Christmas present, and sent a quick e-mail to the author to ask if it would be a good fit for a relative beginner. He quickly responded to let me know that the information was really intended for a more advanced audience.

This was in 2007. Although he did not get this particular $99 sale from me, I’ve since bought four other products from him.

Giving up a few sales that will make your customers unhappy isn’t just good karma, it’s also a good long-term strategy for customer loyalty.

Tell someone the too-small shoes look great on her, and you’ll sell a pair of shoes your customer will always regret buying.

Tell the same person the shoe doesn’t really fit, and you’ll have a customer for life.

About the Author: Yael Grauer is a freelance writer who owns a lot of shoes. Find her at www.yaelwrites.com.

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Comments

  1. Just another shinning example of how honesty is the best policy.

  2. Yael:

    I like today’s post.

    Much of what we buy today is based upon emotional appeal. People buy for different emotional needs, which the skilled marketer needs to tap into – be it greed, fear, etc.

    Often, the skilled marketing writer will paint picture stories, putting the reader into the story. Image how this car will make you feel more important, with a better sense of class status, etc. This is often coupled with product benefit approaches.

    Know your audience! You alluded to this in your post. Much of this depends on research. Perhaps surveying customers, hanging around forums where you target audience is, etc.

    You know what the most important point is (in my opinion)? Cultivating customers for the long hall. I won’t buy any products on-line, where the company is flagged by the “Web of Trust” (i.e. Google for more info), or has a bad Better Business Bureau rating. Companies out for the long hall will try to satisfy customers for repeat future purchases.

    “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company …simply by spending his money somewhere else.”~Sam Walton

    Good post!

    Randy

    • Great point, Randy! Emotional appeal is often temporary, since our emotions change with the wind–or mine do, anyway! Building trust can be much more permanent.

    • I should add a note here. Tonight, I saw an ABC news clip entitled, “BBB Wants Money For Rating.” If you query Google for “abc news bbb,” you will find it. It’s too early to tell of BBB is doing anything wrong, but I’ll be watching future story updates.

  3. Well, said. You have much more to gain by being honest since you build trust and the customer is more likely to come back.

  4. great advice! I spent many years in retail, and some of those jobs came with official “sales pitch manuals”. We were instructed in how to overcome every possible objection to sell the the product, didn’t matter what the client actually needed.
    Once I learned to throw those out the window and simply listen to what the client told me they needed, both my sales and our store’s percentage of satisfied clients grew astronomically.
    Yes, there are marketing pitches that work for a reason, and great things can be learned from them.
    But actually listening to what your potential customers need, providing the product when you can, and steering them to another resource when you can’t, is the very best marketing tool of all.

  5. Yael,

    You make an excellent point, and it’s all too easy to lose track of it: as freelancers, marketers, bloggers, most of us reading Copyblogger are interested in selling something to an audience we’ve worked hard to cultivate. We’re trying hard to build long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships with these people.

    For that reason, failing to sell to them is not the ultimate failure. Selling them the wrong thing and losing their respect is the ultimate failure.

    Thanks very much!

  6. Nice post! I’ve never liked telling customers that the service they’re considering is wrong for them, in case they think I’m pushing them towards a more expensive service or a longer contract. However I just have to spit it out to avoid creating unhappy customers. Happy customers are the only kind I like. If any other kind comes along I’ll tend to hide under a rock :-)

    • I definitely agree that this goes both ways–recommending higher end products that are a better fit as well as steering a client away from bells and whistles they simply don’t need. I had a car mechanic once who would let me know what could be ignored for a while, what needed fixing and what *really* needed fixing. I trusted him, so I did exactly what he said. That’s what happens when ethical sellers use their superpowers for good!

    • I once tripled my sales volume in a month because I listened to a customer, and didn’t try to sell them on something they didn’t need. She thanked me profusely, and said “I have friends who have more money than I do and I’ll send them your way.”
      Since I’d heard that line before (haven’t we all?) I just smiled and thanked her – but she was right. She did have those friends, they did have money, and most of them became loyal customers.

      People are pretty good at evaluating after the fact if they’ve been “sold” or if they got a good return for their money, and word does get around!

  7. Oh yah… I’ve spent thousands as a result of persuasion strategies. Now, I scream and run if I come across another product/service from “those people”.

    It’s nice to know not all things come with a sleazy sales person and bad intentions. I hope someday the internet will be able to siphon “those people” some how.

    Good advice. Common sense for good people.

    Thank you,
    Andrea

  8. I often have US companies offering to sell me US mailing lists – not sure what use they would be to me considering we provide training in the UK. An example of a total lack of effort made to find out anything about the customer or what they might want. What you might describe as the scattergun approach to marketing I guess.

  9. I love this article, and I can tell you that we have told some customers that they don’t need our product. Turning away business from willing customers does not seem natural, but they often tell their friends about how great you are. So not only do you get a happy non-customer, you also get word of mouth advertising.

  10. You are so right! If you want customers to come back, have loyal customers, then be honest. No one wants to be taken, and if you run your business that way, your business won’t last long.
    Thanks for sharing such a great article!

  11. Yael,

    Very smart article! I wholeheartedly agree with Jason, honesty is the best policy because it builds a bridge of trust so repeat customers can easily return.

    All the best,

    Travis

  12. Yael,

    Thanks for the great article! I am a true believer that honesty is the best policy when it comes to sales and marketing. In a climate where we’re encouraged to be ourselves in order to make the sales, it means nothing if we’re not honest about it. This is a great post and I hope everyone reads it.

  13. This is a really good article. Great timing too just before the holidays gets here.

  14. Great article! It’s much easier to keep customers than it is to attract new ones. Being honest with them and treating them as you would like to be treated is the best way to keep them, doing the opposite is the fastest way to lose them.

  15. Love this! Great article. And the strategy works, I use it! ;)

  16. Very, very smart advice. Stanley Marcus said it this way: “There is never a good SALE for Neiman-Marcus unless it’s a good BUY for the customer. ”

    Great post – I’m glad I’m on Copyblogger’s email list.

  17. I have experienced this lot very recently when checking out certification programs, coaching programs, training programs ect.

    The sales person doubles if not triple qualifying the potential consumer. It’s almost like a stronger take away.

    I do this when people ask about the programs I offer as well.

    One woman had asked me if she was able to get a particular result from just using the product. I made it very clear that the product alone would not give her the desired result and informed her on what actions would be needed. She bought and was very satisfied with not getting “lied” or hyped too.

    I see truth marketing as a more powerful form of posture and the client relationships tend to be much stronger.

    What are some of your truth selling/marketing experiences? Has it increased referrals, help build a stronger client base, convert more sales?

    • It’s very difficult to quantify! I’ve referred others for work that didn’t exactly fit my area of expertise, and I’m not entirely certain whether it immediately converted more sales–but I know that the clients were happy with their choice. I’ve also been really clear on what I can and cannot do and have found that clients appreciate it and do come back. I’ve found this to be the case with both magazine editors, copywriting clients and workshop participants.

  18. Very well said Yael.

    Building relationship with your customers is far more important in the long run. Sometimes what frustates people is that if they are not interested in buying or they dont find what they are looking for marketers just flood them with other products. It happened to me when I was a newbie and it really pissed me off.

  19. Hi Yael,

    This post is awesome. I’m a huge believer in ethical sales tactics, and that’s exactly what this post is about.

    Trying to make every sale for a quick buck is not a good long-term strategy. Everyone knows that the cost of getting a knew customer is much higher than getting your old customers to buy.

    Your post has a lot of great examples of why selling people what they really need is a good idea. You might make less in the short run, but you’ll be around for the long run.

    This is an excellent, excellent post. Thanks!

  20. Barbara Saunders :

    I have found the same thing. Just yesterday, I got an email message from a person I haven’t seen for several years. He wrote, “I still go to that chiropractor you referred me to.” (I was working as a personal trainer at the time.) Paradoxically referring him out made me look like more of an expert, a person who really understood his problem and needs even though I did not have the solution within my own business offerings.

  21. This is great post related to online marketing.
    I know there are some people who do not care as long as they get you to open your wallet. I do not think it is a good idea.

    In order to have a repeat customer, you have to build a good relationship with your customers and credibility. If you don’t, your business would go down. So think about the long term result, not just a sale.

  22. An amusing yet accurately informative post, Yael — thank you! Not to mention, one loyal lifelong customer can bring you more business than you’d ever accumulate selling to people who don’t need it. As Rebecca’s story shows, that’s the power of caring for your customers.

  23. You make a great point in this article. Why wouldn’t you want to build a relationship and trust with your customers. Because when you do they will be more comfortable buying the product or service they need from you. And the only way to accomplish this relationship and trust is through being honest.

  24. Studying the psychology of sales will definitely help you discover more about what your customers are looking for in terms of making a buying decision. It is important to use as many psychological sales triggers as possible without over doing it.

  25. I have walked away from a ton of business…though in much lower heels and never in fish-net stockings. It can be manipulative to say to a buyer with an ego problem, “You really don’t want this, it’s too expensive,” knowing he will say, “Oh yes I do! I can afford that!” Far better to work in your client’s best interest and talk him out of an inadvisable plan (even though you can earn from it). Eventually he realizes that you really are in it for the long haul.

  26. I’m a big believer in focusing on the right fit for the customr, and not hesitating to refer when it’s the right thing to do. Happy to say that philosophy has resulted in a healthy volume of repeat business, as well as referrals . . . even from my most ardent competitors. Great post!

  27. If you look at all the big businesses, they are the ones that are quick to refer you to another store if you are looking for something they don’t have. Sure, the owner of those stores may own the other chain that they are referring you to, but it still helps to build trust for that company.

  28. Very informative post. I think it all ties into “WHO?” are you providing value for with your product or service. The better you can identify your audience for a particular product, the better your sales pitch, and the more genuine and trustworthy you will come off as a businessman or woman (whether for current customers or future customers).

  29. Hi Yael!

    This is a very honest account and I am glad we are espousing the same sentiments in making the virtue of honesty THE only policy when it comes to dealing with our clients.

    Oftentimes, it is really our genuineness, candor, and honest-to-goodness approach that really seals the deal.

    Because, if you are just pitching and closing a sale only due to your gift of gab, and not because of what is really good for the customer, then you’re just another phony salesman who can just irk your potential buyer.

    Great post!

  30. Wonderful article!

    I think being able to have perhaps a summary guide up front (ie: Product Level: Beginners, Advanced, etc. and a Who Is This For: Marketers, Bloggers, Moose Wranglers etc.etc.etc.etc.) is a very smart idea.

    Must add that into me site….

  31. Good post. It’s easier to do this when you can anticipate the issues beforehand. If you don’t know who your product «really» satisfies, it’s easy to have a broad appeal that might ultimately lead to lower engagement in the long run.

    The importance of doing customer research!

  32. Yael,

    I’m going to send your terrific article to one of my prospects to whom I have given (perhaps a bit too much) food for thought.

    She is launching a wonderful new company that I believe in. She knows the level of investment she’ll need to make and what is to be done in 6 to 12 months on the marketing and communications front and we see eye to eye on that.

    For the near term, though, we were at variance on how best to leverage the modest budget available immediately. I felt that what she wanted to do was like tossing money out the window, said as much and proposed other options. I have have probably “lost” a sale, so to speak, but proved my business philosophy.

    Yeah, I have a couple of pairs of shoes in my closet like yours too. Never went back to where I bought them…

  33. I think of my clients as partners. It is important that they know that I am here for them from the very start. This is not simply about values. Being honest to your clients is the most practical thing to do if you want a lasting relationship as partners in business.

  34. I realize that to really build a business that will last, it takes being consumed with uncovering and meeting the needs of your customers.

    I also realize it means being really good at saying no…No to the wrong customer, the wrong employee, the wrong vendor and the wrong business associates who do not fit your ideal customer.

    I will be honest, this is difficult for me – but the more I do it, the more my customers and I are a whole lot happier.

  35. I will be honest, this is difficult for me – but the more I do it, the more my customers and I are a whole lot happier.

  36. This is such great advice. So many business owners are so worried about the money, they forget about honesty. Nurturing the long term relationship is much more desirable than the one-off (not so happy) customer.

  37. I’ve noticed that too. A real good marketer start a salesletter explaining to who is his product ment for and to who it is not. It always made me think why they putted it there, because it can reduce their sales, but thanks to this article it hit me, that it’s for the purpose of getting loyal customers. Thank you

    Vaclav Gregor

  38. I so agree. I’ve had a lot of clients this year come to me wanting a social media strategy because OH MY GOSH, SOCIAL MEDIA! WILL! FIX! EVERYTHING! and I have to find a way to tell them that if their website content–what they are driving all their social media efforts into–is where they should actually focus their efforts. Because if their website is confusing, hard to use, hard to navigate, social media won’t fix that.

    It’s easy to sell people something they want and don’t need. What’s hard is to have integrity as a sales person.

    Thanks for writing this!

    • Thanks for reading! I’m really thrilled by the response and excited that it’s resonating with so many people. The example you gave is a great one. Sometimes people have set expectations/ideas and are adamant about their approach even if it isn’t the best one–but often all it takes is a bit of redirection to truly help them get what they truly need for their unique situation.

  39. Honesty is so very important. We often neglect and take our life for granted. Just remember one thing, no one can put us down if we have a clean heart. Honest is the Best Policy :)

  40. Right on, Yael. Good piece.

  41. Great points. It’s so tough to walk away from someone with cash in hand, but always worth doing. Thanks for the reminder. Michael