How To Sell Without Selling

in Business

Education Based Selling

You Don't Have To Be Like This Guy

A few weeks ago I was walking through Home Depot looking for light bulbs when I incidentally locked eyes with a gentleman carrying a clipboard, dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and tie. Immediately, my salesman radar went up. Frantically, I looked for a place to escape, but it was already too late.

Salesman: “Excuse me ma’am, do you know about our latest air-conditioning services?”

I didn’t want to be rude, so I responded “no, not yet,” and quickly started pretending to browse for sandpaper. I knew my body language demonstrated that I did not want to engage in the conversation, but the salesman proceeded to hit me with his hard-n-fast sales pitch.

It was obvious I wasn’t going to get out of this one easy, so I turned to him and said, “I’m not interested in any services at this time, Sir, but thank you for taking the time to inform me.” At which point I turned around and walked away – no – ran away!

Now, I believe this is a poor selling strategy for Home Depot for several reasons. First of all, it’s the worst kind of interruption-selling one could engage in. Obviously, I’m in the store shopping. Now is not the time to try to sell me something I’m not looking for.

But that fact aside, it got me thinking about how averse we’ve become too hard sales tactics. They simply don’t work anymore. And more often than not, they leave potential customers with a negative experience. So why do businesses do it when there is a much better way to sell and market your products and services?

Never “Sell” Again

Effective selling isn’t really “selling” anymore. Effective selling is effective teaching.

For some people selling comes naturally. For others it’s a skill they acquire over time. But by and large, most people don’t enjoy having to sell something to someone who doesn’t already want what they are offering. Combating customer objections, and manipulating customer emotions, is no longer a necessary practice and selling – IF, you embrace the idea that teaching sells.

When you strive to educate your target market about your products and services in a way that appeals to their intellectual, emotional, physical, psychological, and even spiritual desires you remove the need to create an interest in your product or service.

By teaching your target market how (and why) your products and services benefit them, while also teaching them how to maximize those benefits, you build instant credibility, reliability, and likability.

Implement This “Selling” Strategy through Marketing

Selling by teaching has never been easier to implement. Instead of cold calling prospects (trying to convince them that you have what they want and need) you can attract your prospects to your business by providing them with educational marketing materials. This strategy is most commonly observed in online marketing.

For example, most businesses with an online presence use e-mail marketing to provide their target market with valuable and educational content in an effort to convert a cold prospect into a friendly customer.

Another method for implementing this educational based selling is through business blogging. Although less intimate than e-mail marketing, using your blog articles to teach your ideal customers is another way to implement this strategy.

To use this education based selling strategy effectively, you must accomplish several things. First, you must provide educational materials that relate to your products and services that your target market is genuinely interested in. The best way to determine what should be talking about is by doing keyword research. When you know what your target market is looking for as it relates to your products and services, you also know what to talk about.

Second, you must communicate in a personable yet professional tone. People do not engage with companies. They engage with other people. So even though you are using educational subject matter to sell to your customers, you still want to talk to them in a manner that fosters trust and likability. Avoid using phrases like “we,” (unless you’re a two person business) or “at our company.” Instead, opt for making your communications more personal and focused on your target market.

Third, you must use a call to action and provide your target market with offers in these educational materials. Although your materials will be educational in nature, you will still need to integrate offers and a strong call to action. Your target market is not going to click the “buy” button, pick up the phone, or schedule an appointment unless you ask them to. Just because you are trying to inform your customer does not mean that you do not need to ask for the sale. It’s this component that makes the entire process education based selling.

Why this is Win-Win

Personally, I find educative selling a win–win strategy. Not only does it enable me to build stronger relationships with my customers, but it enables me to become an authority in my field by being the number one resource for my products and services in the eyes of my target market. Plus, because your target market is seeking this information from YOU, they are open to receiving offers from you.

I believe if Home Depot would invest their time and money in setting up a display booth where they gave away sample products in exchange for e-mail addresses (so they could e-mail targeted customers with information and offers for specific products and services) they’d see much better results over the long term.

Not to mention, they wouldn’t run the risk of running customers away, because they have lurking salespeople scanning aisles for defenseless victims. As far as I’m concerned, from now on I’ll be shopping at Lowe’s.

So tell me, what are you doing in your business to eliminate the need for selling? How are you integrating sales tactics into your marketing materials so that you don’t have to actively “sell” to your target market? Do you believe in educative selling, or do you think there will always be a need for the full-court press?

Let’s chat about it in the comments below.

Leave a Comment


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

paulhines July 14, 2011 at 6:53 am

This is exactly what I’m doing now, educating people about my product and services, we all make assumptions about what we think prospects should know and you know what they say about assumptions.

Evelyn Parham May 4, 2011 at 11:34 am

Hi Marlee,

Very informative post! I can’t stand it when they do that at Home Depot. I love your recommendation about setting up booths and collecting email addresses. Now that’s something HD should consider.

I do believe in educative selling. I think it attracts those who are really interested in your services and what you can provide. When people see that you know what you’re talking about and have the tools to help them, then they are more likely to do business with you.

Very helpful!


Liz Bronson May 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm

In my business (recruiting), I’m selling people and jobs. I told myself when I got into this business that I would only work for companies where I believed in my product. I take an educational approach- I have something that they want and I just need to convince them that they want it. Then I have to learn what it is about them that I need to sell to my company.

Sales is about product placement and teaching people what the want, even if they don’t know it yet. Great post about taking an educational vs a used car salesperson approach.

Nicolette May 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm

A true scenario that we have all run into. Very informative article and I also believe that educative selling is best. The potential customer needs to have buy-in to the product.

Bryan@Work From Home May 3, 2011 at 7:30 am

Hey Marlee,

I believe blogs should head into this direction. if you can educate your readers about a product and explain why it fulfils all their business needs, then I’m sure you won’t have a problem getting them to at least show an interest in your product. Buying is another thing, probably some might just get it straightaway but I reckon people need to be convinced a little bit more.

Fran Aslam From Online writer May 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Hi Marlee:

Wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it. Power of skilled sales people is that they can sell ice to Eskimos. Marlee, your strategies for marketing are all outstanding. And as an online marketer, I will have to keep them in mind. Yes you are right that the educational material that we publish creats our credibility to sell. Thanks for a good post.

Fran A

Brankica@Blogging for beginners May 2, 2011 at 3:55 am

Hey Marlee, this is really a great illustration and then a great demonstration of selling 🙂 I have a lot to learn about it but this opened my eyes in some ways and gave me an idea where to start improving first.

By the way, love your pic, so professional but great, great looking 🙂

Marlee May 2, 2011 at 11:18 am

Hi Brankica!
Thank you for your kind words about my pic – you made my Monday.

I’m glad this got your gears turning a bit. One of my favorite resources on this topic is Copyblogger. If you digg through a lot of their content you will see this theme throughout. The thing about education-based selling is that it’s actually fun to do, because when you believe in the power of your products and services it’s hard not to want to teach people about them.

Thank you for your comment Brankica. 🙂

Tia Peterson May 1, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Hi Marlee!

In my business, I’ve been doing a lot of online & offline networking – which to me, is getting to know other people and their businesses. Through the networking, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to educate, and it is paying off because it’s led to two great new clients. I even started my own networking group which is thriving and meets twice monthly.

I plan on continuing on this path. Interruption sucks. I’ve been interrupted in Home Depot, too! Luckily I don’t have the kind of business that requires that type of sales tactic. I simply fish where they are gathered and looking for bait. 🙂 Probably a bit of a weird analogy, but I find it easier to talk about my services when people are expecting me to do it.

I never, ever “sell.” I always prefer to simply educate people about what I do and answer questions that may arise. And because I’ve been able to to get to the “root” of what my clients want, there’s never an issue with being turned down! So I guess you could say I have picked up a thing or two from traditional selling, because, I don’t educate people on “what I do” so much as I educate them on how to resolve the deep-seated issues they are facing effectively.

Marlee May 2, 2011 at 11:20 am

Hiya Tia!

That is so funny that you were attacked at Home Depot too. I’m really not sure what they are thinking.

You are right on the money with your philosophy, and I think your fishing analogy is perfect!

Brad Harmon @ Big Feet Marketing May 1, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Besides being a business owner, Marlee, my only sales job was selling suits for JC Penney while I was in college. I used this education approach and consistently ranked in the top 10 for South Texas as a part-time college student. I gave my customers the right information to make an informed decision, and if a competitor met their needs better I would let them know. I would even show them what to look for in our competitor’s suits, alterations, etc. I was always busy with customers and referrals much to the chagrin of those older salesmen who had been doing it for years with the hard sell. For me, this is the only type of selling.

Marlee May 2, 2011 at 11:22 am

Hey Brad!

Right on! Why to kick-butt and implement educational-based selling. Thank you for sharing that great example. And just think, you did all of that in person. With all of our networking tools online that process is that much easier today!

Thanks again for sharing your experience.

Ryan Biddulph May 1, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Hi Marlee,

Selling by teaching is the only way to sell.

Attract prospects. Don’t hit them over the head with a pitch. Show How To, then feel free to share your opportunity. The more you teach How To, the less you have to push your product or service. People naturally gravitate toward teachers. They desire to learn more and some eventually decide to buy from or partner with you.

The teaching method takes some persistence, but it minimizes stress for both the seller and the customer. No awkward, Home Depot-esque moments 😉

Thanks for sharing Marlee!


Marlee May 2, 2011 at 11:24 am

Hiya Ryan!
So nice to see you here.

You make a great point. Teaching in lieu of hard-core selling does take longer to convert and as a result requires much more persistence. And that brings up another great point. You have to teach and teach and teach. Just educating a prospect once won’t cut it. You’ve got to continue to educate…even after the purchase!

Thanks for your comment Ryan. 🙂

Dennis Edell@ Direct Sales Marketing May 1, 2011 at 11:47 am

Luckily for me Marlee, I haven’t shopped offline for almost a decade, lol

I agree with you. I blog under the premise of guidance and the sales will come naturally.

Marlee May 2, 2011 at 11:28 am

Hi Dennis!

Your premise is spot on and over time you’ll find that the educational material your publish on your blog will continue to “sell” for you long after you’ve written it.

I shop online quite a bit myself, but I’ve yet to be daring enough to shop for food or hardware from a virtual storefront.

Andreas May 1, 2011 at 9:01 am

Maybe instead of cold-selling a different product, he should have offered assistance in the department where you were currently browsing, maybe by comparing specific products there, so that you’ll build up some kind of relationship, before cross-selling his air conditioning systems.

Marlee May 2, 2011 at 11:25 am

Hi Andreas,

I’m with you! I mean it was very clear that I wasn’t shopping for what he was pitching. It just made the whole situation awkward. In all honesty, I felt bad for him. Just imagine how many people run from him EVERY DAY! LOL.

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