5 Steps to Sell Anything Without Selling Anything
There was no way I could pull this off.
One of two things was about to happen:
- The CIO of Disney, Susan O’Day, was going to kick me out of a meeting and I’d be left hunting for another job.
- She was going to sign on the dotted line for $22 million.
This was the defining moment in my sales career.
Susan was a seasoned veteran in her field, a stone-cold businessperson. She had the bearing of a four-star general and was notorious for throwing Disney’s vendors out of meetings.
Yet here I was, a 26-year-old kid. I thought I didn’t have a chance.
Susan smiled, knowingly. “I like you,” she said. “We’ll keep you around. Let’s do this.”
What? Why would she keep me around when so many sales reps had failed before?
Because I didn’t try to sell her anything.
And she bought $22 million worth of product.
Eight-figure tech solutions, $25k+ coaching and consulting packages, $50k+ paintings—you name it, I’ve sold it. And I did it all without selling a single thing.
Sure, that sounds counterintuitive, but let me explain what I mean. Whether you’re selling high-end physical products, complex systems, premium services, or just an idea, the principles of selling have nothing at all to do with selling. They have to do with building trust.
Here are the 5 steps that get you there:
Step 1: Start with Intention
Your intention matters most—more than your shiny suit or fancy dress, more than your makeup or hair, more than your faux confidence or well-rehearsed sales pitch.
99% of people get this wrong. It comes before any conversation with a potential client.
Think of a typical salesperson. What do you picture?
Someone who is undeniable greasy, grimy, sleazy, and manipulative—just like a used car salesman. Right?
If I approached Susan that way, I’d have been out on my ass in minutes.
People feel that kind of slimy contortion. It’s uncomfortable at best and offensive at worst.
So take a different approach. Don’t think of yourself as a salesperson; think of yourself a trusted advisor.
You’re the guy who has the best interest of the client in mind—NO MATTER WHAT. Sometimes, that means telling them a product or service is just not for them. There are better options out there.
But it also means being 100% confident in your product, service, solution, or idea. If it’s a good fit, you believe enough in what you offer to align your clients vision or problem with your solution—even when they’re hesitant.
Think of yourself as a good doctor—a gifted, education professional who always has a patient’s health in mind. If someone wanders into your office talking about a broken arm but you know it’s just a sprain, you’re not going to throw on a cast and charge them hundreds of dollars just for the profit. You’ll show them how to heal a sprain.
At the same time, if a patient develops something as devastating as lung cancer, you’re going to tell him/her to stop smoking a pack a day. A good doctor—just like a trust advisor and a top-notch salesperson—won’t let a patient fall back on vices or inaction. They’re honest, and they hold up a mirror so that patients can see their own situation with clarity.
Step 2: Establish a Connection
You must build rapport at the beginning of any relationship. If a person does not know, like, and trust you, then they won’t open up to you.
If they don’t open up to you, you’ll never be a trusted advisor.
If you’re not a trusted advisor, you won’t make a sale.
So after you have set the intention—with the client’s interest in the spotlight—make sure you connect with them. Not as a prospect, but as a person. Ask real, heartfelt, curious questions. Ask about their lives, their families, their interests.
If your curiosity is genuine, they will begin to open up.
Step 3: Clarify the Problem
You can never sell anyone anything. You can only help someone realize they have a problem that you can help solve.
So, clarify that problem. Remember: No one buys their way into something. They buy their way out of a problem.
Again, think of your role like that of a well-respected doctor.
If someone walks into your office with a hurt wrist, you wouldn’t toss them Vicodin and tell them to go about their day. You would ask them questions about how they hurt their wrist, where the pain is, and how bad it feels. A good doctor should NEVER prescribe a solution before fully understanding the problem.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Step 4: Understand the Destination
After you understand where your client is (problem state), figure out where they want to be (dream state).
Linking these two together is the path to a problem-solving sale.
Demonstrating the distance that has to be traveled between problem and solution (or problem state and dream state) is an effective way of selling your product or service. The longer the distance (or, by some measure, the bigger and more complicated the problem), the more a client will want a solution.
In other words, the distance dictates the true value of a product or service. When that distance is long, the solution seems much more appealing and the price easier to digest.
Case in point: I helped show Disney that a $22 million solution would save them over a half a billion dollars—and preclude a massive management headache. It was an undeniable steal.
Step 5: Prescribe the Solution
If you’re sure what you offer is a good fit to help get someone get from where they are to where they want to be, then prescribe your solution.
Make it clear how your product or service will get your client from problem to solution, and how easy it is to implement. After you spell this out, the solution (whatever you’re selling) will be a no-brainer.
That’s it! You’ve made a sale without “selling” anything.
Here’s a recap, using my experience with Susan as an example:
- I was there to help her as a trusted advisor, not sell her on something.
- I connected with her and her team before ever throwing out a pitch.
- I knew her problem—better than she did. I made it clear that I knew that problem well.
- I saw where they NEEDED to be.
- Finally, I gave her the solution and was confident in my prescription.
After that, it was simple yes or no. As we already know, Susan said “yes.”
Keep in mind that this process won’t always unfold over the course of a single meeting. When applied to complex business to business solutions, it can take months. But if you’re an entrepreneur selling high-end products, premiums services, and ideas, this process can unfold in just a few hours. It all depends on the client, the problem, the solution, and the relationship.
Still not sure the no-sale tactic works? I have proof; I’ve worked with clients who successfully sold $5k products on domestic flights and $15k services while waiting in line at the coffee shop. They just saw a problem and started a conversation.
The key is to approach sales not with commission in your sights, but with the goal of becoming a trusted advisor. Not only will this help you land your first sale with ease, but it will create a close, lifelong customer who comes back to you time and again for solutions to their problems.
And you won’t have to sell them anything.