Sell the sizzle

Selling has been around since the 8th century BC in Athenian agora and the Italian and Spanish forums. So why are we still trying to work out the best methods? You’d think that, by now, we would know how to close a sale. Sales is still a widely studied subject and hotly discussed topic in all businesses. The simple truth is, not everyone knows how to sell something. A lot of us know how to make it, talk about it, research it or analise it but selling a “thing” is an art form and a practise that takes time and experience to master.

What are we really doing

When try to sell anything what are we actually trying to do? The simplest way to approach this question is to remember that when we are selling anything - from software, mobiles, appliances to insurance, healthcare and electricity - anything at all - what we are doing is connecting with another person. Although beliefs change and the world changes, the principles of selling from one person to another person are surprisingly the same. Why? Because, we are all human, we have the same primal drivers. We all have needs, wants and aspirations. We want to make sense of our world and use objects to reflect out, what we think within ourselves. If our world changes, then the objects change, but not the feelings of needing or of wanting. That’s what’s consistent.

Think about it. Selling, at its basic form is building relationships to uncover other people’s needs and wants. What are we selling to others is the satisfaction (Beckwith 2003, pp201-202) of having those needs and wants met. How we do it comes down to a little bit of flair, lots of imagination and a heavy dose of listening.

A festival of senses

In the story told by Lundin, Paul & Christensen in their book Fish!, MaryJane arrives at an open market, not wanting to buy anything in particular and wanting to get away from her stressful team at work. She’d heard about the open market in the neighbourhood and decided she’d try it out. It was not long before the excitement of the markets came to life for her - fish being thrown about, loud laughter, counter staff smiling, tens of people being served at the one time. It had it all! The anticipation of a bargain, the exchange of views, bustling people, the last minute sales, the variety - everything that a marketplace promises to have - a real sense of atmosphere. It was all about “the noise, the action, the energy” (Lundin, Paul & Christensen 2000 p32). All highly successful business have created for themselves some form of “theatre” similar the open markets.

Taking the time to create a total experience turns people into bees swarming around a hive of honey. When we use our senses we sidestep the rational, intellectual parts of the brain and we behave very differently. A smell, like burnt wood, for example, can recall a very powerful memories and evoke strong feelings(1). Hear the sound, smell the freshly cooked food and see the orders fly out. Restaurants are much like markets, they have the high levels of anticipation, groups of people and food envy all rolled into one….I’ll have what they’re having!

Engaging the senses fuels our imaginations, connects and reminds us of our wants and needs. That’s why the long standing author on selling, Tom Hopkins still rings true when he wrote over 20 years ago that “the more senses you involve, the better your odds of making the sale” (Hopkins 1994, p82-84).

Real estate agents know all too well how to ignite the senses. They couple music, event buzz and even the smell of freshly baked bread (2) in an open house to boost sales numbers. Selling the sizzle, reminding us that although a product or service is available, we need to create how a person will gain a sense of satisfaction when they purchase it. The easiest way to simulate this feeling is to place the customer in the environment - conjure the sights, the smells, the sounds...let them see up close, how it will work out for them.

Serve unto others

Okay, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. You’re at a counter. Ready to buy, with your wallet in your hand. Everyone you know said that you “have to” go there. So you eventually go, you take a look around and there’s no one on the other side of the counter. Fifteen minutes later, someone slowly meanders over. They tell you that they don’t know how to manage your order and you’ll need to wait until ‘so-and-so’ is ready (you’ve stopped listening at this point to remember what so-and-so’s real name is. In your mind you’ve already started calling so-and-so some names of your own). What happens next? Personally, I would have high-tailed it out of there for any low-involvement, low-cost items. When there are hundreds of other people selling it - I’m going to find those other people!

Selling to the senses and making a memorable experience also involves the moment when the customer is ready to buy and wants to connect. This is where a sale is made. Quickly building a relationship is critical to sales - regardless of the product. A customer may be ready to buy one thing and they come back, have another conversation with a well trained salesperson then buy into other areas of the business. “You have to listen to the music as well as the lyrics. Often what people really want doesn’t show up directly…” (Blanchard & Bowles 1998, p55). Having a great customer conversation that builds rapport can mean the difference between hearing the ringing of customers coming through the door or the dull sound of the air-conditioning unit.

A great business is one that’s great at doing business with people. Selling the sizzle is about selling an experience and backing it up by salespeople who will sell “the right way” (Smart & Street 2008, p16) to generate loyal repeat customers and creating powerful memories in the hearts of minds of others. It doesn’t have to involve creating a full scale production, it can start with something small and significant….like having someone at the counter, willing and ready.


Beckwith, H. (2003) What Clients Love: A field guide to growing your business.  Warner Books. New York, USA.

Blanchard, K., Bowles S. (1998) A revolutionary approach to customer service: Raving Fans! HarperCollins. London, UK.

Hopkins, T. (1994) How to master the Art of Selling. HarperCollinsBusiness. London, UK

Lundin S. C., Paul H., Christensen J. (2000) Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. Hodder and Stoughton. London, UK

Smart G., Street R. (2008) Who Ballantine Books, Random House Publishing. New York, USA.

Online references


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