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How to sell without selling out

Yellow poster featuring the words How to sell without selling out

Most of us understand 'selling out' to mean gaining financially by compromising your integrity and authenticity. You don't even have to actually complete the transaction — just the hint of doing so through an aggressive sales pitch, an odd product offering or overpriced item on your website can leave a bad taste, and cause your valued customers to seek products elsewhere. The same can happen if you overpromise and underdeliver — for example, expanding your product range too quickly for a special event and not being able to deliver to your customers in time — or take advantage of your customer base — such as by selling on their data or allowing their details to be used by another supplier.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with selling your product — there are hundreds of Ted Talks, YouTube gurus and entrepreneurs' podcasts telling us how to do it — but, for many small and medium businesses, high-pressure sales tactics just don't sit comfortably with their business ethos.

Here are 10 ideas you can try to build sales without denting your brand values

1. Have clear capability and mission statements.

These basic business tools can help you to avoid deviating from your core purpose when it comes to sales strategies. That might include refusing to do 'cold calls' to drum up sales. If that's the case, there are other techniques you can try — for example, join local business hubs and identify where you might share target customers, and arrange a joint promotional campaign where another non-competing business allows you to add your website link to their homepage for a limited time. Think about where your ideal customers might be and set up a pop-up stall. But whatever you do, don't waste people's time with irrelevant emails and sales spiels.

2. Improve your products and services.

The easiest way to sell without actually pushing a sales pitch is to have a product so good and valuable to your customers that it sells itself. So, are there improvements that you can make to enhance your offering to customers? See point 3. below!

3. Understand your customers' needs.

If you don't know what your customers want, find out — try an informal online survey, a quick phone call, or how about a local coffee morning? Make sure there's an incentive for people to participate.

4. Be personal.

Promote the value in your product by explaining to people (on your website or brochures) how it will help them — whether that ranges from simply creating joy in their day, to solving a real workplace or household issue.

5. Sustain your business growth without damaging people or the planet.

Connect to your customers' wider needs by ensuring you use a sustainable supply chain. Make sure you have a sustainability policy, use renewable energy and resources, recycle, offset carbon, and any other solutions you can implement in your business.

6. Live and love local.

Just because our marketplace is now global, don't discount the importance of your local customers — nationwide, statewide and down to your borough, suburb or neighbourhood. People like to support local businesses. In turn, you can use local suppliers, providers, recyclers in your business supply chain.

7. Keep yourself accountable.

Have your business policies clearly articulated and readily available — that way if a customer or wholesaler, retailer or business tender opportunity requests copies, you won't be creating substandard versions on the fly or at the last minute. These policies should include: supply chain choices, anti-slavery, anti-discrimination, pro-diversity, training and staff remuneration and rewards. This sort of background activity doesn't boost sales immediately, but it could eliminate a chunk of your sales if your business was ever found to be lacking in these business basics that underline your ethics and operations.

8. Don't rush into new policies and tactics.

Make sure you think through the consequences of any actions. For example, I heard of a local gardening service that took photos of people's back yards simply to improve their own reporting to the umbrella group that hired them. This completely ignored the customers' reactions, not to mention possible breach of privacy regulations — and they wondered why their usual customers stopped calling.

9. Give back to your community.

There's nothing wrong with having measurable targets and goals for the future. And, if you are lucky enough to be very commercially successful, think about giving back to your industry and customer base in some way. You could create a mentorship or offer genuine opportunities through internships and training through an apprenticeship to under-served members of your local area. If you don't have the resources to offer that support in-house, you could consider ways to back local community efforts and charitable causes.

10. Teach your potential customers a valuable skill.

Is there an aspect of your product that lends itself to a training or information session? If you make jewellery, can you hold a how-to class? If you run a winery or a restaurant, hold a tasting session. Your trainees could form a mailing list and they might even become your advocates with word-of-mouth recommendations — much more powerful than a scattergun social media ad campaign.

I have found that, in your marketing, content and general business approach, if you listen more than you speak and give more than you take, then you will reap the rewards that flow on.

If you've tried any of these ideas, let me know your results.

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