Updated: July 13, 2019
Sell the sizzle not the steak. That’s the secret of a great salesman in one sentence. But what does “selling the sizzle” actually mean?
This old sales aphorism is about understanding human nature and how people make their purchasing decisions.
Around 2002, a Harvard Business School Professor named Gerald Zaltman did some research and in his book, How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, he says:
“What we really think is largely hidden from us. In other words, most of what we know, we don’t know we know. Probably 95% of all cognition, all the thinking that drives our decisions and behaviors, occurs unconsciously — and that includes consumer decisions.”
What this means is that most of the time, people buy on emotions. And to illustrate this point further, let me give you an example:
In a bazaar the other day, I was browsing through some shirts. I saw one that looked nice and asked the sales staff how much it was.
She says, “P400 po pero may bawas pa. Maganda po ang tela niyan at hindi kumukupas ang kulay. Marami nga pong bumibili niyan sa amin.”
(It’s 400 pesos but there’s still a discount. It’s durable and the colors won’t fade. That’s actually one of our best selling items.)
I just smiled and said that I’ll think about it first.
Then, in another stall, I saw a similar shirt and asked the sales staff there how much theirs was.
The saleslady says, “P400 po ‘yan sir. Pero bigyan ko po kayo ng discount para makatipid kayo. Bagay po ito sa inyo sir – magandang pang-gimik. Mukhang imported at branded po ‘di ba?”
(It’s 400 pesos but I’ll give you sir a discount so you’ll save some money. This would look good on you sir – something you could wear when you go out with friends. It looks imported and branded, right?)
In your opinion, who had the better sales pitch?
I’d say the second one because she was more personal, tried to “appeal to the emotion” and encouraged further interaction from me by ending with a question.
When you’re selling something, always try to connect emotionally. Your prices and product features are important but when it comes to closing the deal, one should go beyond the litany of specifications and benefits and offer an emotional rationalization for the purchase.
Do you know why home television shopping is so successful? Because they know how to sell…
Sell luxury and status
“This is the beauty secret of Hollywood stars.”
Sell hope and inspiration
“You’ll lose weight in no time and feel great about yourself.”
Sell solutions and opportunities
“Throw away all those useless junk because this is the only gadget you’ll ever need.”
Again, sell the sizzle not (just) the steak.