How to Sell Anything: An Introductory Guide

“I am a hustler, baby; I’ll sell water to a well!” — Jay-Z

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Regardless of your business, sales matter. Sales are your organization’s oxygen. They drive the resources that power the business and provide the opportunity for profits. Despite being so critical, sales often take a backseat to sexier topics.

While innovation, culture, and efficiency are key to success, without sales, you’ll always find a failed organization. I’ve sold big contracts to multinational corporations and formed partnerships between startups — and I’ve made mistakes in between. While I’m still learning, my modest ability to sell has provided the breathing room to improve other areas. Here’s my take on sales.

Underlying Forces

Product-Service Spectrum: Every offering falls on a spectrum, with physical products (a fork, a smartphone) on the extreme left side and custom services (consulting, ad agencies) on the extreme right. The left side is characterized by its features, advantages, and benefits, as well as the clarity in the pain it solves and its ease in replacement. The right side typically has opaque characteristics and flexibility in the pain addressed, requiring high trust for purchasing. Therefore, the right side requires a personal approach with a long sales cycle, while the left side has a short sales cycle and latent demand.

Vitamins vs. Painkillers: Demand comes in two general forms. One involves actively pursuing something that immediately addresses a known pain. This is called a painkiller. The other type of demand surrounds something people could use to solve a problem — but they don’t realize they have a problem or aren’t aware of your solution. This is a vitamin. The difference couldn’t be starker. If you wake up with excruciating pain, you’ll pay almost anything to ease it. The same can’t be said for something that might be useful, but isn’t considered necessary.

Searched vs. Unknown: It’s far easier to get in front of existing demand than to create it. Every second, people are searching for products and services (think Google) to meet their needs; companies are stepping in front of that demand, pointing them in a direction, and delivering. (Think Amazon.) An army of salespeople can generate demand, but it’s a time-consuming and costly war of attrition — yet sometimes necessary. (Think Groupon.)

80/20 Rule: Almost every sales situation follows the Pareto Principle, which states that 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. It’s likely that 80 percent of your profits come from 20 percent of your customers, 80 percent of your customer service issues come from 20 percent of your customers, 80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your products, and 80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your efforts. Therefore, you can see huge gains by understanding the 20 percent and largely ignoring everything else.

Making Sales

“Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust.” — Zig Ziglar

You know how important sales are to your business, but how do you make sales?

Obsessively Prepare:

  1. Know your audience. What type of person would they buy from? Why? What are they trying to achieve? How will it make them look
  2. Investigate timing. Under what conditions will your prospect buy and why? How can you create urgency?
  3. Know your audience’s audience. What is your prospect’s business proposition? Why do her customers buy? How can your product help her help her customers?
  4. Explore commonalities. Trust requires context. Do you share an alma mater, know the same people, have the same interests, or come from similar backgrounds? The quickest way to build trust is to have it transferred.
  5. Read what’s written. Many decision makers write — or are written about — at some point. Find out what they deem important (and are deemed important for).
  6. Work the puzzle. While it’s easy to develop categories, people are complicated. Our stories, personalities, and situations are unique. Piece it together to truly understand.

Nail the Opportunity:

  1. Understand the goal. Not all sales cycles are immediate. Understand the goal of the interaction and mindfully work toward it.
  2. Be enjoyable. People don’t buy from jerks.
  3. Be confident. Fear smells terrible. If you’re not confident in what you’re selling, what can you expect from the person you just met?
  4. Demonstrate competence. People buy your expertise. If you lack thoughtfulness, people assume your product or service sucks.
  5. Uncover pain. No pain (for them), no gain (for you).
  6. Hunt excuses. Figure out why they might say “no” and overcome their objections.
  7. Shut up. As a general rule, the more they talk, the more likely you are to get the sale. Small bits of silence never hurt anyone.
  8. Ask for the sale. This is the single biggest hang-up for most salespeople. When you feel the right time has arrived, ask for the sale.
  9. Establish a plan. Make the next step clear, mutually agreed upon, and time-sensitive.
  10. Set expectations. Clearly state and reinforce the process, its possible variations, and what’s expected of them to make everything run smoothly.

Always remember what Abby Donnelly said:

“People buy for their reasons, not yours.”

Go out there and sell them something.

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Brent Beshore is the founder and CEO of, a family of companies throughout North America. Read more of Brent’s writings on investing, operating, risk, and not being an asshole. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Founder/CEO of Reading constantly. Writing occasionally. Tw: @BrentBeshore

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