The Most Powerful Question In Selling

November 25th, 2010  |  Published in Marketing Secrets  |  11 Comments

Here’s a true story.

A friend of mine, who is a household name, celebrity and sporting legend was finishing the construction a stonewall around his spa pool.

Is it name dropping if you don’t mention the name?

Anyway he had council sign off and everything was going ahead smoothly, when the inspector who signed off the plans called him on the phone to say he’d changed his mind.

As this was not normal procedure the council then sent around three big wigs to check out the wall again.

They looked at it and said ‘No, we’ll take back the consent, it’s no longer valid’.

My friend was furious. After all he had the papers signed by the council.

“I will take you to court, because you cannot change your mind like this” he said to the three senior council inspectors.

This was now battle with the council, which he was not going to lose.

Have you ever got into the state of mind where you are so determined on course of action that almost nothing could stop you?

Then almost nothing occurred and everything changed.

One of the inspectors made a statement. Once this one statement was made my friend never challenged them again and changed the construction plans to the way the council requested.

Now I will grant you it is not everyday where you get a story (particularly a true one) where the hero is a council inspector.

What did he say?

“You can take us to court … and you may even win, but will that make you feel any better if that stone wall falls on one of your children?”.

Bang. Game over. No complaints, no argument, a complete back down from my friend.

‘What could I do?’ my friend asked me when he told me about the situation.

OK, but how does this apply to selling more stuff?

Here’s the secret of persuasion.

The Most Powerful Question In Selling

Ask this simple 5-word question, stand back and watch your selling breakthroughs – and conversion rates – erupt.

In this Bullet, you will learn a simple five-word sentence that explains how people make decisions.

It gives you an almost unfair advantage in persuading anyone to do almost anything, outselling your competition and triggering an ongoing stream of creative breakthroughs.

Asking this simple question is the easiest way I know to get yourself and your staff to think outside the box. It can literally make you wealthy and establish your reputation as a marketing visionary with a Midas touch.

This is true whether you’re an entrepreneur, salesperson, marketing manager, CEO—anyone with anything to do with selling or marketing.

Shameless over promising? Not at all, as you’ll now see.

Here’s the question:

“What are we really selling?”

Just five little words. But let’s explore their revolutionary power.
Basic Level: The Secret Behind The Question

Selling is all about influence. Influence is all about controlling meaning.

Attach a certain meaning to a product you have redefined the client’s likely reaction to the product.

Use this knowledge in selling one to one and your words can change a person’s whole reason for buying or not buying.

Guess who else uses that style of communication – think about the most lucrative communication industry in the world… advertising.

For example:

Cadbury’s does not sell chocolate they are selling “happiness”, “Cadbury’s is happiness”.

Strangely there is no mention of getting fat, facing dizzy spells or the quality of ingredients sugar, cocoa suspended in fat.

Coke does not sell sugary syrup they sell “enjoyment” and “good times”

Every images you see reinforces the feeling of enjoyment.

Once again no mention of the consequences of drinking it or the quality ingredients …black syrup with 8 teaspoons of sugar per glass.

Once again changing what the product means.

McDonald’s slogan used to be “Good times great taste” and is now “Lovin it” – with every image projecting love and good times’.

Once again changing what the product means from features to emotions.

Back in 1781, Samuel Johnson understood this well. When he was appointed to auction off the Henry Thrale brewery, he announced, “We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond their dreams.”

Perhaps lipstick king Charles Revlon said it best: “In the factory we make cosmetics. In the store we sell hope.”

Once again these masters of influence are changing what the product means.

You get the idea.

Advanced Level: The Secret Behind The Question

If you are really smart you will notice that all the examples above are all selling the same thing… do you see what it is?


Advertising is all about vivid graphic images combined with emotionally intensity… I wonder why that is.

Have you heard the saying ‘people buy on emotion?’

Do you sell your product on emotion?

Mega sales people and mega marketers do.

You may think ‘well it would be a huge stretch to say my product will make a client feel a certain way’ but all the brands above are doing that very thing.

While you are selling a house or a car they are selling what every person in the world really wants … to feel good or to stop feeling bad.

And they are selling billions of dollars of it while you sell one at a time.

You can make anything mean anything with clever persuasive skills, graphic images and repetition.

Whenever you are marketing anything, always ask, “What are we really selling?”

Don’t stop until you’ve got a long list of answers and test an ad built around each of your best.

The difference in response will often astonish you, open up whole new markets as well as lots more opportunities to raise the question again.

But We’re Just Getting Started.
Let’s Think Even Bigger…

For many decades, cigarettes were sold on the basis of “rich tobacco taste.”

Then some diabolically clever soul raised the question, “What are we really selling?

He reasoned that teenagers don’t start smoking to experience “rich tobacco taste.” Heck, most teenagers turn green with their first drags on a cigarette.

What are we really selling? Why do teenagers start using such an instantly noxious product? The answer is to look cool amongst their teenage peers.

A cooler self image—that’s what cigarette makers were really selling. The Marlboro Man was born as the strong, aloof cowboy on horseback, squinting into the sunset like Clint Eastwood, his own man, impervious to the demands of society—just like so many teenage boys crave to feel and look like.

Result: Marlboro sales skyrocketed and to this day, decades later, Marlboros remain the world’s top-selling cigarette.

Such is the power of this simple 5-word question.

Another example:

By the 1950s, almost every family in New Zealand owned a big square white refrigerator. As long as it kept the milk cold and didn’t conk out completely, families were content to let it sit in the kitchen forever.

So how do we sell more refrigerators when everybody owns one?

“What are we really selling?”

Hey, we could start selling refrigerators as kitchen decor.

Let’s produce them in decorator colours and styles to suit every taste and fashion. This way, when people remodel their kitchens, they’ll want new refrigerators to match.

That insight quickly became (and largely remains) the driving force behind new refrigerator sales.

The Lotto sells more than lottery tickets. BMW sells more than cars.

Hit the right emotional hot buttons in an ad and you will get 10X the number of calls than what you are used to. That’s what happens when you write an ad that is a run away success and allows you to dominate your market.

Remember …people buy on emotion and justify with logic.

Ask ‘What emotions do my target market really wants to feel?’

Then ask yourself what are you really selling?

If you ask these questions often enough and be brave enough to test you intuition —bold new opportunities will open and you will be the envy of your peers.

And they will never understand how you did it.

Go and prosper



  1. Kerry says:

    July 28th, 2011 at 3:41 am (#)

    Hi Richard,

    Love this ! very in sightful I have been in business for 30 years and this is the clearest explanation I have seen
    on what we are really selling.

    Would love to talk to you about our business
    Wild Poppies we sell 60-70% online
    Kerry 0274 418 218

  2. Phil says:

    August 3rd, 2011 at 6:25 am (#)

    Really, so I buy cadburys chocolate cos I am buying happiness. Well I buy very little of it, in fact I probably buy cheaper chocolate because thats what I feel like buying. Sorry but it doesn’t work on everyone. I know that Coke sell more than coke. Guess what, I only buy it very occasionally. In fact I find those Coke ads incredibly annoying and an insult because you are only buying a sugary drink. No sun, no beaches, no bikini clad girls, its an insult. I can see through this rubbish. I don’t need a BMW either, they are overpriced (paying for all that hype). Japanese cars are more reliable. Marketing people have alot to answer for.

  3. Richard Petrie says:

    August 4th, 2011 at 4:45 am (#)

    Hey Phil.
    So because the two general examples to illustrate a point don’t specifically apply to you then the concept is invalid? If the whole world revolved around you then you would be right.
    How old are you 13?

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