29 Dec 5 ways to sell something really hard
I finally had some time to reflect over one of the most challenging periods of my professional life – getting this storytelling biz off the ground. AKA selling something really hard.
Which I think might be interesting for you disruptive food/drink business owners, I’ll explain why shortly…
If I’d known how hard selling brand storytelling was I probably wouldn’t have done it. Cue 6 months of:
‘What the fuck is brand storytelling?’
‘Sounds interesting but I ain’t paying for that’
And my favourite ‘Sounds awesome, let’s do this’. Then 3 months of going around in circles before they ghost me when life gets in the way. Happens a surprising amount (not a moan- that’s the price of doing your own biz).
Tough times when no-one wants a service that is 100% you and everything you love and believe in. So you make a choice – keep doing the same thing and expect different results or become obsessed with how to fix the problem.
Fast forward to now. There is still a long road ahead but I cleared the #1 obstacle – I learned to sell something really hard and proved this extremely hard to describe thing I do has significant value to people I want to work with.
Looking back on it there are 5 key things that moved me from ‘This is impossible, what do I do next??’ to ‘This is now possible and I’m excited about the future’.
Embrace your uniqueness
Be obsessed with your tribe
Just get going and grow through communication
Find the leverage
Always be proving your value
Why am I sharing the growing pains of a brand storytelling business with you beautiful food and drink people? Because you’re my people and most of you are disruptive even if you don’t believe it.
You’re either trying to make something the best in the market, create something that hasn’t been done before or make something accessible that was unattainable to mortals. Sometimes all 3.
All of which is selling something hard as you’re selling a vision that takes people out their comfort zone and changes deeply ingrained habits. To spend more than they normally would, to try something unfamiliar, to trust you can deliver what was impossible before at that price.
Unless you’re selling something easy and reading this lying on a bed of money in which case probably not for you.
Let’s get into it.
#1 Embrace your uniqueness
If you’re selling something hard then chances are it’s because it’s unlike anything else out there. The good news is that your #1 customers are most likely early adopters and waiting for a product like yours to stop them in their tracks (see #2).
Yet so often brands with a really unique product do such a bad job of showing their uniqueness. The branding doesn’t stand out against the rest, the copy is confusing and doesn’t make it painfully clear how not only how unique your product is but also how unique the benefit is to customers. Remember – people buy benefits, not features. The more unique, the more attractive.
And of course your story. The reason your product is unique is because of you. What you do, why you do it, how you do it, the impact you want to make on customer’s lives – every moment of your life has shaped this. No-one else can do it like you so why are you hiding it?
You can have 2 excellent similar products, 2 completely different stories and it’s the story that will define which customers choose which product. 90% of people who switched to a new brand said it was because the new brand shared their outlook and values. Even with a product as simple as mineral water.
And if one of them has an authentic and transparent story with a why that’s bigger than money and one doesn’t? Well which one would you go for?
If you’ve gone through this much hardship to create a unique product, don’t fail at the final hurdle. Not to be too dramatic but stand out from the rest in every single thing you do or die.
#2 Be obsessed with your tribe
Your niche, your tribe, your cult following, whatever you want to call them, these are the people that are going to love you more than anyone else and will make or break your biz. When you’re selling something hard it’s not going to be for everyone. In fact in the beginning it’s only going to be for a tiny handful of people. The more narrow and definable this group, the better.
What I’ve learned from my biz is that there are people who really get the importance of a great story. Sadly there just aren’t loads of them and they are a very specific type. So I need to search far and wide for my tribe but when we find each other you can feel the connection immediately.
The more I’m 100% myself about what I do, why and the unique benefits it brings the stronger this connection. I’ve wasted enough time trying to sell people that don’t get it – that’s pushing a boulder uphill when I could be spending time with the people that do get it. Over time my testimonials, word of mouth and content will win more of the undecideds over.
Yet so many brands try and go after everyone, trying to say everything but really saying nothing. Not standing out, not being unique, not inspiring the love needed to grow.
Your potential tribe have been waiting for a product just like yours to solve a problem that no-one else could. And the loyalty and word of mouth from them spills over to the other niches. Everyone from Apple to Nike to Airbnb started out this way.
You need to become obsessed with these people as they will make or break your biz. Talk to them. Learn about their fears, challenges, hopes and desires. Make them part of your journey – they want to be involved. Now build a brand (visuals, words, ideas, stories) based on what they want to hear.
No surprises, it’s your story above all else that is going to attract them. If you want a cult following, your tribe have to think ‘This person is one of us – they’re speaking directly to me, my problems and my dreams’. NOTE – ‘this person’, not ‘this brand, this product, this faceless corporation’.
To really attract one group, you need to repel another. It’s brave to polarise your audience and turn down so much potential revenue in the beginning. But it’s also how you grow the fastest over the long term and really impact the lives of your tribe.
#3 Just get going and grow through communication
When selling something hard it’s tempting to hide behind stuff to avoid the uncomfortable work. Because standing out in public is very uncomfortable and as humans we’re wired to avoid pain and public judgement.
I’m sure most of you have been here – ‘If I just fix my brand/website/IG page then everything will be alright’. It won’t. Because then there will be the next thing and the next thing to avoid the work. And that work is great communication.
Cold calling. Pitches. Networking. Writing vulnerable and honest social media posts. Creating a story that stands out so much it makes you cringe.
When I started I had my proposal on a crappy Google doc. And thank god I did because everything on that doc changed the second it went out. With every conversation I had, every post I wrote, every piece of client feedback. And it never stops changing.
But it’s only when you’re vulnerable and put your ideas out to the market that you can see what is getting people excited and what isn’t. Then you invest in your brand, not the other way round.
I notice there tends to be a level of fear with clients as we go through the Cult Brand System. This need for everything to be perfect in case they get negatively judged for being themselves.
I explain that the brand we create together is only the starting point on a never ending journey. You have to put yourself out there and you have to make mistakes to learn from them. Every time you communicate your ideas, they get stronger, more relevant, more clear. So does your entire business.
There are no shortcuts here and it’s why so many people fail, because they’re too scared of being judged and take one or two failures as the evidence they need to stop doing it. When in fact your tribe are dying for someone to be real and be brave enough to stand up for your shared beliefs.
#4 Find the leverage
I have to credit my old business coach Matt Essam for this. Forget about selling something hard, when selling anything one of the biggest issues we face in this world of infinite marketing options is ‘What the hell do I do next? So we end up trying to do everything which only leads to burnout and zero learnings to build on.
You find the leverage. What is the #1 way you can reach your tribe in the fastest way possible? Stop wasting time on trying to reach people that won’t care.
It’s why I put so much energy into public speaking and podcasts. It helps that I love doing them but for me there is no better way to be able to explain exactly what it is I do to a large volume of very relevant people.
It could be someone with a big following of your target audience who you can collab with on a product/service. Partnering with someone with a huge newsletter going out to your target audience. Hustling your way into office buildings or workspaces and doing product intros, winning your customers one by one but the right kind.
It can take a bit of time to figure out which is why tracking ALL your marketing is important if you don’t want to keep going in circles. But when you find it, you go all in and forget about everything else until you master that thing. Especially in the early days this is how you move from hell mode to sustainable growth.
And the nice thing is you can then ignore all that noise screaming at you to be on TikTok, reels, ads etc etc because now you know what works.
#5 Always be proving your value
There are many challenges with selling brand storytelling and the main one is showing people the value. In the beginning I just focussed on the benefit of telling a great story. The result – zero sales. People don’t want to tell a better story. They want a brand they’re proud of and loyal customers who buy whatever they have to sell creating sustainable growth and opening new revenue streams.
And guess what – when I switched my focus to the ultimate benefit then the sales started coming in. But I had to back up what I said with evidence. Client case studies showing revenue growth after we worked together. Better social media engagement. Increased loyalty etc etc.
Before I had the case studies I scoured the internet for evidence of how other brands achieved this and customer research on how brand and story affects customer choices.
Just because you sell food and drink it’s no different. If you’re going to disrupt and change habits people need to know how you’re going to make their life better – the more unique the more you stand out from the noise. It doesn’t start and end with the taste either.
What is the deeper benefit – is it the status of being the type of person who buys that product? Does it transport you from the daily grind to a different, happier world? Does it make you feel good by making the world a better place through your choices?
If you’re a hip small plates restaurant and your customers are hip early adopters, is it just your exciting food people are coming for or are you reinforcing their status as tastemakers in the know? Still bringing the comfort of familiarity people want from a restaurant with the thrill of the new.
If you’re an artisanal food product and your customers are time strapped home cooks who love cooking for others – is it just about saving them time when cooking? What does that extra time mean for them – does it mean they can now enjoy hosting dinner parties rather than being overwhelmed and stressed doing something they love?
Then how are you backing up these claims? That’s why reviews, case studies, awards, top 10 lists etc are so important. If people can see that people just like them love you and why, they are more likely to follow.
And wherever you can back up with customer stories – actual stories how you move customers from pain to pleasure. The more detailed the better – especially the pain points/challenges they face, how you solve them and all the unexpected benefits that come with that.
If you don’t know because you haven’t done any customer research now would be a good time to have a chat with some of your customers. It’s x10 more powerful when you use real customer’s situations and language.