I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life learning how to manipulate people. Some might call what I do sales and marketing, but let’s be real: I’ve set out each day, for most of the last decade, with the intention of meeting new people and convincing them that I had a product they wanted to buy. Whether they needed what I was selling or not, it was my job to convince them they did. And I was really good at it. By definition, manipulation.

It’s not hard to see why a company would want to hire a bunch of people like me and send them out in the streets to sell their products in some sort of sales assembly line. And honestly, it’s proven to be a profitable way to build a business. Just hire a bigger sales team and throw some advertising at it. Find a way to interrupt the public with your product and the profits will just pile in.

But if I’ve learned one thing after more than a decade in the world of sales and marketing, it’s that those days are fading fast. The consumer is getting smarter and the slow, stubborn companies are being devoured by new companies that just “get it.”

The consumer is getting smarter and the slow, stubborn companies are being devoured by new companies that just “get it.”

Evernote spends very little on marketing but they have a loyal brand following: How did they go from adoption to addiction? Answer: A great sales process!

Partly because they stay agile, but mostly, because they understand the concept of starting with a great product and letting it sell itself. Just look at a company like Evernote. They’ve spent next to nothing on marketing as a percentage of their revenue over the last seven years, but they have a fiercely loyal brand following.  

Not only that, but their most engaged users are also their biggest brand evangelists. Not to mention that the more people use Evernote, the more likely they are to continue using it. It’s as if Evernote has found a surefire path from adoption to addiction. But it wasn’t always that way, they must have started somewhere…

And what better place for you to start, than with a simple roadmap to the entire sales process itself. So here it is, 10 years of sales, broken down into five simple steps. It’s like a cheat sheet for designing, building and selling kick ass digital products.

1. Win My Attention: Every sale has to start somewhere

There are many ways to gain a buyer’s attention, but when it comes to the web, people are particularly impatient. To design an effective online sales process, you need to deliver your value proposition as quickly as possible while giving the prospect all of the information they need to make a buying decision.

Your call to action might be the desired reaction, but your prospect may not be ready to buy. They might need to know more about you, your product or what you stand for before making a decision. Your design should allow for that.

You may not be hard selling online, but you can control the users flow with great design and strong information architecture. A well-designed marketing website balances storytelling and user choices (scroll, click, tab) that keep users engaged. It’s OK to give me options, as long as the entire flow is nudging me back towards the pitch. The point here is to give the user the information they need and keep them engaged so that we can move on to step No. 2!

2. Tell Me a Story: You must captivate your audience

Businesses need to start thinking more like media companies. They need to understand that storytelling is the most effective sales tactic and then learn how to leverage their story into the perfect sales pitch.

Remove the selfishness from your sales process and watch as your online conversions increase.

To make an impact, reach consumers and change their behavior brands must adopt these characteristics: Content, Relevancy, Recency, Omnipresent and Agile.

Forget about promoting your product and focus instead on showing-off the people and processes behind it. Tell me why you built it and how it will help simplify my life. Show me how to use it, answer all of my questions honestly and tell me what others think about it. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Focus on connecting with your audience and giving them a reason to cheer for your brand as opposed to thinking about them as just another bump on the road to boosting your bottom line. Remove the selfishness from your sales process and watch as your online conversions increase.

3. Gain My Trust: Effective online selling is based on trust

The path from prospect to purchase can be a delicate journey, especially online. People no longer care what you have to say about your own product, after all, it’s your job to sell it. Of course your pitch is going to make everything sound perfect. But a smooth sales pitch is no longer enough, today’s buyers demand social proof!

To overcome this, reassure your buyers with signals of credibility in the form of personalized social interactions, positive reviews and compelling testimonials. Let others do the selling for you by making it easy for them to share, love and engage with your brand. And remember, it takes a long time to earn credibility online, but just a few seconds to lose it.

4. Ask for the Sale: Drive your audience to action by asking for the sale with purpose

People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves.

Of course, you must “ask” for the sale. But before you can make any sale, you must first win over your audience. You must build a platform from which to deliver your pitch before anyone will ever hear it. This is why blogging has become an important tool for small businesses who want to compete online. But the platform alone is not enough. The platform must also be effective at activating the audience it encounters.

According to KissMetrics, there are a number of things that the highest converting websites do differently than most. Much of what they talk about in that article has to do with testing and ease of use, but all you really need to know is that it is imperative to get the right feedback from your users.

Designing for sales is about recognizing and taking advantage of every opportunity to build a community, drive engagement and develop online trust. Create real value in the idea of becoming a part of your brand, and asking for the sale becomes the only logical next step. Because at the end of the day, people don’t buy products: They buy better versions of themselves.

5. Follow Through: Can you deliver what you promised and validate the buyer’s decision

What happens immediately after the sale is important to mention as part of the sales process because this is where the social sale really begins. Most people pay so much attention to the first four steps that they forget the most important of all of them: The follow-through.

The Effect of Design on Decision-Making

Be sure to ask these follow-through questions:

Your post-sale procedures can go a long way to eliminating buyer’s remorse and validating the buying decision. Both of which are important because it is in that moment when the buyer decides whether or not to tell their friends about the experience they just had with your brand. This is also where the lifelong customer and brand evangelist is born.

Unless of course the post-sale-experience doesn’t live up to their expectations. In that case, they are much more likely to share a negative review with their friends than a positive one.

And honestly, this entire article was just a long way of saying that if you want to build a successful digital product, you are going to have to bring more than just your sales game. Maybe that was good enough in the past, but from-here-on-out, you’re going to have to solve real world problems and build meaningful relationships with your customer base.

You are going to have to start exposing the soul of your product in order to let people connect with it at a core level. At least if you are looking to win over the long term. Because if you can find a way to connect with the consumer’s emotions, then you are well on the path to winning their trust.

If you can win their trust, then you don’t have to sell. You just become the guy who has the thing that other people want. And in the world of online sales, that’s the perfect place to be.

  • Alexandria Lawrence

    Very insightful article. I never imagined I would have any interest in marketing, but the more I learn about this modern-day approach to it, the more intriguing it becomes. In order to sell your product, you have to genuinely add value to people’s lives. What’s not to like? Win-win. I am in the process of building my own brand and have taken a couple one-off marketing workshops and an inspiring online course called What Retailers Want. This article confirms absolutely everything I have heard and read – a fresh approach where communication and engaging with your users is at the core.

    • Awesome! Thanks for sharing your thouths Alexandria.

      The truth is that sales and marketing is just a process. People add the intent. And The internet along with all of the communcation tools which we have at our disposal, are making it easier to actually end up with a win-win scenario in the world of sales and marketing. Something that was not always possible or wanted by the people who were doing the selling.

      If you are interested, here is a video of a talk I gave recently about the future of sales. You might find it beneficial if you plan on getting in to this line of work.


      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  • Sales and marketing is the process of guiding customers to a buying decision that works for them. It’s about hearing their problems, explaining your solutions, and finding out if the two are fit for each other. Sometimes sales and marketing is about educating potential customers about products or services other than your own if the fit just isn’t right, or if they need something to supplement what you’re offering. If you’re selling or marketing something to people that don’t need it, you’re a con man. A sales or marketing person should only manipulate potential clients as much as a teacher manipulates her students.

    • I agree wholeheartedly that sales and marketing is a process.

      More specifically, it’s the process of exchanging information which might lead to a buying decision.

      Yes, a good sales person will qualify their prospects and make sure their product is a good fit, but you are being naive if you think that means that all sales people will not try to sell their product to someone who might not need it or is not necessarily ready to buy at the moment. That is your job after all, to sell things.

      Actually, that is the point of sales and marketing in general. To get your product in front of possible buyers.

      If you watch the video I linked to in the reply to the first comment, I talk about the future of sales, and how the internet and social media have brought transparency into the sales process and is slowly moving the entire industry in a new direction, but that transformation is not yet complete. Not to mention, some sales people are just downright dirty.

      As for the manipulation part, I think you are getting caught up in a negative application of the word, as opposed to looking at its definition objectively.

      “Manipulate: To handle, manage, or use, especially with skill, in some process of treatment or performance;”

      A magician “manipulates” the playing cards in order to properly perform the illusion, a teacher must manipulate her students in some context in order to effectively educate them, and a sales person, at some level must also maniplate his audience.

      However, I will admit that many people have a negative connotation to the word “sales” itself, and many sales people have been known to take advantage of their buyers, but it is up to us to change that behavior.

      It is up to us to set a new standard for how people think about the sales process. And hopefully, this article is just a small piece in making that a reality.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • No, I agree. There are plenty of dirty sales and marketing people who just want that signed contract. I was trying to add to the conversation by sharing my approach/belief system on sales.

        As a sales person and marketer, I don’t want people using my products or services that can’t get value out of them. To me, that’s bad marketing and sales because it tarnishes my reputation and the reputation of my offerings (and nobody wants bad reviews).

        I’m pretty unbiased about the word “Manipulate.” Like I said, teachers manipulate their students and that’s fine. It’s the magic we wordsmiths and speakers have and it can be used for good or evil.

        Your article definitely is a step in the right direction. It’s a great manifesto for the future of sales.

        • Agree 100% with all of that. Sales is the process, humans add intent.

          It is up to each of us in the world of sales to start setting a new standard for how we operate moving forward.

          Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  • Finding hard to apply some of the above rules for a biotech consulting services company.

    • How is that? Are there not processes in biotech sales which could be beter catered toeards the end user? Are there not opportunities to improve the entire customer experience? Deliver better relationships, provide more value, improve some level of efficiency?

      I will admit that this post was focused on building and selling digital products, so there may be some industry specific issues to overcome when personalizing or optimizing a sales process in your field, but I would also have to argue that in my experience, the points in this article are relevant (at least in general terms) to the sales process in any industry.

  • Automating the sales process has helped me tremendously in minimizing interaction with customer, thus expediting product delivery. This could be done when your sales letter or ads are comprehensive enough (including all your 5 step roadmap) that customers will quickly press the Buy It Now button or text the discount code you offer.

    • Hello Pengedar,

      I agree, there are parts of the process which can be automated, and technology is a great way to reproduce the sales touchpoints, but automating too much can also turn a buyer off.

      It seems you have figured out a system that works for you, but automation is not a one size fits all game.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.