How do you sell what no one wants to buy?

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How do you market stuff no one wants?

Most of us don’t have the luxury of selling ocean front property, the coolest laptop, the latest in tractor technology or porsches.  But in most cases, while it may not be sexy to many — someone really wants it.

But how do you sell something that no one has any enthusiasm or interest in buying?  You know, things like…. funeral services, trauma clean up or bankruptcy law services.

Granted…when someone has lost a loved one, had a horrific accident in their home or can’t survive their financial crisis — they need to talk to you.  But it’s not something they’re looking forward to doing.

How do you market to them prior to that triggering event so that when an event occurs — they know about your company, your offerings and you, at the very least, are on their short list of potential vendors?

When you sell something that people dread having to buy, the psychology of that dread is pretty straight forward.   Something very bad has to happen before they’d need to buy something from you.  And odds are that bad thing would have to happen to someone they love.

Focus on the emotion: 99% of the time people don’t want to buy what you sell is because of the emotions attached to the purchase.   You are not a want.  Sooner or later — you’re a necessity.

So in your marketing — paint me a picture of how you help your customers get over the very thing they’re afraid of.   This means you have to truly understand the psychology of your customers at their point of purchase.  Once you do, think through every touch point of the purchase cycle and make sure you’re focusing on getting them through the event.

This isn’t the time for being fuzzy with your message.  Directly acknowledge that you understand their pain/fear etc.  and show them how you’ve  built your business to ease those emotions.

Go with a prevention message: One of the best ads for a funeral home I ever saw was an ad with an anti drunk driving theme.  The basic message was — don’t drink and drive, we’re not that anxious to see you.  it made them seem very human and caring.

If your product or service only comes into play when something bad has happened — one strong marketing tactic is to help people avoid that bad event.

Offer/sponsor a financial literacy class or promote a suicide hotline.  But do something that actually helps people avoid you.  Those who aren’t so lucky will remember that you were compassionate enough to try and help.

Demonstrate on a small scale: Usually, part of what makes people dread buying from you is the enormity and finality of their situation by the time they get to your front door.

But you can show off your skills on a much less scary scale.  For example, if you clean up trauma scenes — think of the stains you have to remove.  Blood, body emissions, etc.

Is there a way you can demonstrate those abilities — but on a less scary scale?  Kick off  a series of blog posts or post card tips that talk about how to remove tough stains like blood.  Show us you know your stuff — but slowly and in less dramatic applications.

Find your influencers: Often times, people are a bit numb at the moment they need to buy these sorts of services.  They are on auto pilot, due to the emotions they’re facing.  So people like attorneys, police officers, hospice centers etc. are often guiding them through the process.

Find out how to genuinely connect with these influencers.  Give them information, materials, etc. to help them get a person/family through that moment in time.  Be truly helpful and they’ll remember you at the point of referral.

The over-arching message here is — you have to be part psychologist to sell what people have no interest in buying.  You are often meeting them at their most vulnerable moments and they need you to help them feel safe and cared for.

The upside of all of this is just that.  You are meeting people in their worst nightmare.  If you can truly serve them well, help them with not only the mechanics of what you sell — but more importantly, walk through the nightmare with them — that’s very noble work and you should take great pride in it.


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16 comments on “How do you sell what no one wants to buy?

  1. Really great tips and specially with the influencer. In every group of consumers I think there are few people who has a say and everyone listen. Convince that person and a great deal of people will take into consideration to buy your service or product.

  2. Whoa yea, for boring or difficult products, it’s about emotion and focusing on a fear. I think it’s also a good idea to give a statistic, so people can rationalise their decision by clinging to the statistic, when infact the reason they are buying is because of the emotional attachment.

    1. David,

      Good point. Giving your prospects some key facts/stats that would allow them to react both rationally and emotionally would be very effective.



  3. Tip no.1 is also the first on my list for me. And I think it applies not only to products and services that are hard to sell but to all kinds of offers. Once you get into the zone of the person’s emotion, there’s no way you wouldn’t be able to strike a deal. After all, potential customers by then understand what you’re really selling.

    1. Mae,

      No doubt — every purchase is based on emotion. But especially when you’re trying to get someone’s attention for something they may need one day but don’t want to think about that inevitability — it’s critical.


  4. mike says:

    is it possible for you to give an example of some products which were sold by emotions being relatively useless?

    1. I think it’s fair to say that all products have some use to a target market. I think it’s also fair to say that ads use varying degrees of emotion and rationalism. A pure emotional ad is really used to change perceptions about a brand, but it will have difficulty selling immediately as there’s nothing to grapple on to and there’s no call to action. A good example of an emotional ad is a John Lewis ad from 2010 :

      1. David,

        I don’t believe any ONE ad or sales appeal is going to do the trick. It’s really about multiple touch points all moving the prospect in the right direction. In the case of the examples I was talking about — you don’t need a call to action. I’m not going to buy funeral services for my mom until she dies. No sale or special is going to change that.

        It’s about making the connection so WHEN I am ready to buy — I think of this company first.


    2. Mike,

      I think you’ve misunderstood me. It’s not that these products are useless at all. It’s that they are only needed when something bad has happened — a death in the family, a tragedy in your home etc.


  5. Carl Diamond says:

    I think it’s really easy to confuse emotion with “solving their problem”. We see this on websites all the time.

    When a prospect or customer shows up on a website, who is trying to solve a problem, and they say, “Yes, this is it!”, the emotion is that they are happy. Happy didn’t play a role in the sale. It is what you got after you solved their problem.

  6. Jeff says:

    Very interesting and helpful! As a newbie I need advice. Thanks a lot!

  7. GREAT tips! I am going to share these with my business networking group!

  8. Gary Davis says:

    I have a very difficult service to sell which is connected with trauma. The comments that I am getting is why should I buy something that I don’t need. Can you guarantee me that the service will be available at the time of a serious incident, which the answer to that question is no. Most people tell me no immediately and will not allow me to explain what my service is all about. I am in need of some advice can you help .

    1. Gary, I too sell a great product to a difficult not-so-obvious market (for proprietary reasons, I’m not going to reveal the product; it’s one that has a VERY obvious customer base for which that market is flooded with competitors; I chose to go the relatively untapped not-so-obvious route). I begin and conclude with the need to be prepared BEFORE anything happens, worded differently so as not be appear repetitive. Stats and visual images certainly help, and leave them visible where the prospect can see them while continuing on. Maybe quotes from people who have benefitted from your service (perhaps a running count of all these “beneficiaries” and/or their pictures). Insert the phrase “This IS a life or death decision” if it applies. If it’s a family you’re dealing with, make sure the wife and kids are present. If it’s a question about price, ask them if their main concern is the price or the cost (see Zig Ziglar)? How much is their life worth? Lastly, if the answer is still “No,” leave them a list of local funeral homes, hospitals, ambulance services (whatever is applicable) should the trauma occur. Happy hunting!

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