The Most Powerful Question In Selling 

Answer this simple 5-word question, stand back and watch the queue of clients form at your door

Today you will ask yourself a simple five-word question that will change the way you sell forever.

Answer this simple question and gain an unfair advantage over your competition. People will set aside logic and be attracted to your message and they wont even know why.

Answering this simple question is the easy way to reach people at a deeper emotional level when selling. It can literally make you wealthy and establish your reputation as a marketing visionary with a Midas touch. This is true whether you’re a single firm accountant, salesperson, marketing manager or CEO.

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 its power.

The Inside Secret Of The Worlds Most Gifted Sales People

People buy things for a variety of reasons but the reasons are seldom the logical ones you’d expect.

When I first entered the world of sales my manager would ask me to consider what all great sales people consider “What are we really selling?”

You are not selling bookkeeping services you are really selling a chance for a business owner to avoid doing the accounting chores he despises.

You are not selling a university course you are really selling a chance to get a better job, earn more and live a better life.

By selling the emotional outcome not the emotion we sell the exciting sizzle of the bbq not the sausage itself.

‘People by on emotion and justify with logic’

Have you ever heard that before?

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

    Cadbury’s does not sell chocolate they sell “happiness”, their ads tell you (not even subtly) Cadbury’s means happiness. No mention of obesity, dizzy spells or the ingredients sugar and cocoa suspended in fat.

     Major sports are not selling game tickets. The successful ones are selling memories of sunny afternoons that a family will cherish forever.

    Coke does not sell sugary syrup they sell “enjoyment” and “good times”. Every image implies youthful fun and freedom. Once again no mention of the quality ingredients …black syrup with 8 teaspoons of sugar per glass.

Back in 1781, when Samuel Johnson 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 dreams.”

Charles Revson was best known as a pioneering cosmetics industry executive who created and managed Revlon through five decades. The lipstick king said “In the factory we make cosmetics. In the store we sell hope.

But Wait There’s More

Here’s what advertising industry great Gary Bencivenga had to say about the impact this question had to when applied to two mass media campaigns.

Originally cigarettes were sold by promoting their “rich tobacco taste.” Then some diabolically clever soul raised the question, “What are we really selling?”

His theory was that no teenager started smoking to receive the “rich tobacco taste.” Most teenagers splutter with their first drag.

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.

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.

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.

By the 1950s, almost every family 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 already owns one?

What are we really selling?

Hey, we could start selling refrigerators as kitchen decor.

Let’s produce them in 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 Secret Psychology Behind The Question

Emotions drive decision making far more than any of us care to admit. By fulfilling emotional needs rather than logical needs you move from throwing stones to firing a cannon.

We all want to lose weight, but are emotionally connected to the wrong foods – sugar, flour and fatty foods.

We all logically want to be rich, but most have negative emotions connected to disciplined saving.

We all logically want to be fit and healthy, but most have negative emotions connected to regular exercise.

Nine time olympic champion Mark Spitz said it best ‘Everyone loves to win but how many people love to train?’

People who love to train have an easy time getting fit.

When logic and emotion are in conflict emotion will always win.

The secret is become a person who can cause others to form more useful emotional connections. Once you link their most desired emotion with your product you instantly create irresistible gravity towards your service that no logical argument can counteract.

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

While you are pitching your logical features like price and experience, the worlds best 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 effortlessly.

As one of my favourite clients Claire once said ‘I don’t mind being manipulated as long as it makes me feel good’.

So think for a moment…

  1. What are you really selling?
  2. What emotions do your target market really wants to feel.
  3. Then use all of your creative juices to make the connection, directly or indirectly.

Here are examples in accounting and beyond of how some of my most successful clients have answered the question.

Accountant – what are we really selling?

  1. Freedom from the handcuffs of the books which you hate, so you can get back to selling and connecting with people which you love
  2. A business that makes money while you sleep, go on holiday or retire from
  3. A legacy you can sell or pass on to your children and grandchildren so they can start life two steps ahead rather than fighting debt to and mortgages

Architecture – what are we really selling?

  1. A more connected family.
  2. A safer happier place to raise children.
  3. A better world
  4. A new start
  5. A status symbol that will make others see you as a success.


Recruitment (procrastinating candidates) – what are we really selling?

  1. This new job for a better life.
  2. This new job means relief from financial pressure.
  3. This new job is a chance to grow into a better person.
  4. This new job is an opportunity to be envied by your peers.

Garages – what are we really selling?

  1. This garage is a chance to increase the value of your property
  2. This garage is piece of mind that your car is safe from thieves
  3. This garage makes your home a more relaxing place to live because of storage space.

Insurance – what are we really selling?

  1. This income protection policy is not a cost but a safety net that gives the confidence you will never be poor should disaster strike.
  2. This life insurance policy is not a cost it’s your contribution to those you love that they will be taken care of financially when you are not around to support them.

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

Do you link a desired emotion to your product or do you get caught up in the detail of what your product is or has or does?

People don’t remember what you said they remember how you made them feel.

‘So what are you really selling?’

If you ask this question often enough and test your intuition, bold new opportunities will open, you will become suddenly popular

… and no one will understand how you did it.