The Art of Affiliate Selling in Seven Critical Lessons (exclusive for subscribers)
If you are going to be building a business around affiliate marketing, you MUST learn how to sell, and I don’t mean how to convince people to buy something they don’t really need. That’s sneaky, scammy and just not my way. Instead, I will show you seven strategies to leverage the value you provide, the experience you gather from using the products you promote and being transparent and honest with your results to sell products and make a commission.
Selling may seem like an easy concept to apply to many. Give a product or service a good image, talk up a good show, and someone will likely buy. The process can’t be that hard, can it? Yes, in fact selling can be extremely hard, especially when trying to sell enough to make an ongoing profit and keep a company going. However, there are specific, key steps sales people and a business can take to make sales happen on a consistent basis. These steps, dubbed the art of selling, make the difference between success and bankruptcy, especially for new businesses that need to realize a level of sales on an permanent basis every month.
The idea seems simple, however. Generate enough income coming in the door to offset the expenses going out the door. However, many companies big and small have struggled with the concept of successful sales. Some think the success happens with stellar sales people. Some believe the product or service does the selling. Still others believe success is a combination of the two. In reality, good consistent selling happens long before an kind of conversation begins with a customer. This article will cover many of the critical topics that make up the real art of selling. Once practicing all of them, you will find your business will connect on a much more regular basis with customers, securing and completing sales every month.
1. Pre selling
Pre-selling is an interesting idea. Prior to the Internet most pre-selling occurred through specific orders or catalog selling. In some cases it happened with subscriptions. Generally, however, pre-selling was a foreign idea in sales until mass Internet selling came along. Now, it’s a valuable tool to generate sales long before a product or service actually hits the market.
New music CDs, movie DVD releases and concert tickets are perfect examples of pre-selling. The popularity of these products are in such high demand when first mentioned, companies can sell hundreds and thousands of units before the product or event has actually been released for general sale.
However, pre-selling isn’t a magic pill that produces extra sales at a whim. It comes with requirements and demands. First off, pre-selling creates an artificial demand. That means on date certain the product or service has to be ready or delivered to the customer who has already paid for it. This is part of the commitment made when selling early. People are willing to give up their money ahead of time if they know on date certain the thing bought will appear guaranteed. There is no delay allowed or waiting period for a missed date. As soon as even one day is missed, customer sentiment and confidence is horribly lost.
2. Soft Selling
Alternatively, a company or an affiliate can put its bet on soft-selling up front, warming customers to a product or service versus trying to jam them into early sales. The emphasis of the approach is on relationships with customers versus just trying to win a sale. This is done by building a long-term brand approach that the product or service offered is a viable solution to a customer’s need. Ergo, a mental relationship is built that every time a specific problem, then the solution can be bought from company X.
Soft selling often depends on building up a brand, establishing its presence and resounding link with a given activity or need. Today, a lot of this work can be done via social media and Internet website work. Many companies use free help articles, offering education to customers for free but linking the product as the solution to the topic or problem discussed. The repeat linkage eventually brings consumers around to the business to try the solution and see for themselves how it works.
Soft selling is preferred by many for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it avoids the high-pressure sales approach. In fact, many times soft selling can be done without even making direct contact with a buyer. As a result, the approach appeals to many who favor a passive sales method versus a proactive, aggressive cold-calling approach. The approach also seems to appeal to many customers who don’t want to fuss with sales people and instead just want to learn and evaluate products on their own.
However, the downside to soft selling is that it requires a lot of resources and energy to keep updating online materials and keep the marketing information flowing. Further, consumers could be happy with just getting the free information, never making the next step to a conversion and a true sale. It shouldn’t be relied on exclusively; the approach works in capturing customers during the off-hours, but that doesn’t mean a business should stop working on connecting and trying to sell through traditional means. The direct person-to-person selling still matters.
Soft-selling is my favorite approach when it comes to affiliate marketing, because I don’t want to push stuff down people’s throats. I give people the opportunity to see the offer and decide whether or not it is for them. If it’s a piece of software or a tool, I like to make tutorials on how I use these tools to help my audience. Remember, your audience comes first, secondly comes your audience and the product comes last.
3. Providing free valuable content
As discussed above, soft selling is one of the big drivers of providing free information to consumers in the hope that it aids brand development and eventually connections and sales. This thing about providing free, valuable content, however, is that it takes a lot of work to happen. Articles and educational information can’t just be thrown up willy-nilly. The materials has to make sense, be well-written, usable and relevant to the reader, and optimized to actually score rankings with search engines rather than be ignored as cheap, SEO-tagged babble.
The reader needs to feel that the information provided for free is actually worth reading and coming back for more. This takes time, energy, resources and sometimes money to secure the writing needed. Further, it needs to be on an ongoing basis. Good writing and information develops a following, with readers regularly hungry for more. If they aren’t fed on a timely basis with new articles, they quickly go elsewhere. Keeping up with the demand can be expensive over time, especially if the work can’t be directly linked to sales results. So free content sites should be used wisely and with common sense. Don’t get caught up in the rat race of putting out free content just because someone else is doing the same.
If dedicating energy to using free content for marketing, then do the job right. Dedicate time and staff, or hire a good writer, to produce consistent free content that is regularly updated on a website consumers can access. Make sure the content ties back to the product and your company with every reasonable opportunity, but don’t be blunt about it. The references should flow with the content and make sense versus looking like ill-constructed SEO-tagging in an article.
Have you ever heard a good story told by a person versus a book or magazine? The storyteller adds flavour and inflection. In fact, a really good storyteller actually brings listeners right into the story, making them forget for a moment where they are and instead being enraptured in the story, even if just for a brief second.
When it comes to sales, the sales rep who can spin a good story with a product or service often tends to win. Some believe that it’s the product or service’s fault. The thing being sold is so bad, no one would want it. Then a storyteller comes in and sells 100 of them in a day. While the product may still in fact be bad, it then becomes a problem for customer service after the fact. The lack of quality doesn’t automatically stop a sale per se from happening. Only the sales person and the customer can do that.
Storytelling brings with it six big benefits for a sale:
• It captures a customer’s attention.
• Done right, the story can convince a person to act and purchase something.
• It makes a sale personal, which builds trust and relationships.
• Boring topics can become interesting elements of a story if woven together correctly.
• The story also helps a customer remember a product and its unique aspects if a sale doesn’t happen right away.
• Stories can also change how people think and see the world.
There are a number of ways to tell a story when trying to make a sale, and no method needs to be relied on 100% of the time. These include company visions of a new lifestyle (think Apple and the iPod lifestyle), stories about how a company and its product has come to be, stories on why a product is being sold, and stories on the company itself wrapping history around a product.
Stories often work best when selling in a presentation to a group where the audience can be held and controlled, at least part of the time. They also tend to be good openers when first introducing one’s self and company to a new customer, if timed right in the conversation. Just remember, if using a story, the critical elements need to be present. These include the main character or hero, something that causes a change, the challenge a hero must overcome, a big decision that can trigger risk, and the final end of the story which includes a call to action by the customer.
5. The Four Steps of a Perfect Sales Letter
In many cases, the initial sales contact won’t be in person. Often, a written sales letter has to be relied upon to make the contact. However, sales letters can’t be sloppy things. For a written communication to even have a chance for consideration, it has to be put together with a specific, important structure that causes a reader to think. Once the thinking occurs, then there is a chance for follow-up.
a) The first point in the letter is to present the problem. This needs to be framed in such a way that the reader empathizes with the situation described. Often, if the problem used is a situation the reader is already dealing with, then there is a sense of familiarity. This captures the reader’s attention and pulls him in to read more.
b) The problem then needs to be followed up with a viable solution, preferably leading into the product or service as the solution that’s needed. This can’t be a simple one-liner that says, “Use our product and your problems will go away.” That sort of medicine man selling is long gone; customers are too educated and too smart for it. Instead, the message needs to deconstruct the problem already established and then show how a solution does exist and the problem doesn’t need to be tolerated.
c) Third, the reader needs to see the results of the solution and what it can mean for his situation. This is referred to as the potential, the results a reader could realize if he decides to implement the offered solution from the product or service being pitched. The description of the potential should be realistic and not embellished. Going too far can lose the reader who will think the letter is trying to flatter him too much, which can come across as insulting. Instead, statistics and comparisons of similar customers can be used and are often helpful in grounding a potential description of benefits. Done right, the stage is then set for the reader to take action and obtain the solution offered.
d) Fourth, a solution doesn’t connect just because a sales letter says so. A sale happens when a reader is convinced that the solution offered actually works. This is where reference to statistics and testimonials come into play. A strategic personal story can begin the convincing tip of the balance, moving a reader to believe a solution actually works and works well for the problem they have. At the end, the customer should be clearly instructed how to take action and make a sale happen. Don’t work up the energy all the way to the top and then not give a reader a means to make something happen. Drive that energy into a description of steps that can be taken. Make the sale happen in writing.
6. Creating a Sales Funnel
Particularly for small businesses that want to generate sales to get by but also the potential portfolio for up-selling, sales funnels can be extremely helpful. The approach involves using initial, low-cost sales up front to generate more follow-through and bigger sales down the road. This is done with repeat connections with customers rather than just letting them go after the initial, first sale.
The process hinges tremendously on establishing and building relationships with customers, generating customer retention and repeat sales again and again. This can be done with a wide range of products versus a narrow offering, by having a range of prices to choose from for the same product (i.e. small samples versus bulk purchasing), or by having multiple service offerings that allow connections to bigger, focused services later on. Whichever the approach, the first layer of sales is not the real target; getting the customer to come back for the bigger purchase is the real goal.
Sales funnels can also be started through brand and market development, generating communities and communication to hopeful “up-sell” activity into a real sale with chronic and regular engagement of consumers. Another approach can involve giving away low-cost free product or swag. This approach gets people’s attention quickly since many consumers like free stuff, and hopefully they consider coming back for a serious sale once connected.
Whichever the case, the goal in the sales funnel is the get customers to ultimately connect and commit to medium or high-level sales. These actions bring in the real revenue, and represent the big sales that a company needs from multiple customers to be truly successful. All the other stuff is the work up to this point. And with a properly-functioning sales funnel, this result has a higher probability of happening for a business than without one.
7. When “not taking no for an answer” Shouldn’t Be Applied
What’s the worse thing a business representative can be described with? Often, it’s being accused of being a car salesman. This is because car sales reps often include people who have very little sales training and are perennially aggressive to make sales, especially if they are entirely on commission. As a result, they can’t take “no” for an answer. These sales types will push and push until a customer is literally driven away from them. That’s not the way to make a sale happen.
Sales don’t happen when a customer has decided that a purchase is not going to happen. In fact, the person has shut down at that moment. A sales rep continuing to push and push after that point only makes the situation emotional. In fact, a customer can even feel personally attacked if the sales push is particularly aggressive and desperate to change the customer’s mind. This is what a sales rep needs to avoid.
However, there are times when a customer says “No, not interested,” and instead means he just wants space and time to figure out what he wants. Instead of shutting off the sale, the customer is more in a mode of needing convincing. With the right information and the right conversation, a sale could happen. Again, the sales rep needs to be cognizant when this kind of “no” really means “maybe.”
The above steps represent part of the magic of selling. They are not all the tools a business can use, but many other pieces rely on understanding these elements thoroughly. Whether it’s a website landing page with sales copy or pre-selling with different methods and using A/B testing to figuring out the best product launch approach, these steps lay the groundwork for effective selling. Businesses that learn to use them often jump leagues ahead of other players in the same boat simply because the sales happen with far more regularity as a result of smart work.
Selling doesn’t have to be a mad secret science only a few have access to, but good selling takes thinking and work. It’s not all flash and having the right face. Often some of the best selling comes from lots of strategic planning and anticipation long before the sales discussion actually happens. Those who understand this fact frequently can take advantage of it and gain the benefits from the art of selling.
P.S. I want to invite you to join my free PRIVATE mastermind on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SavvyPreneursMastermind/ we help each other with our business in that group. (not everyone gets accepted though, but I would love you to apply).