Tell them why – and sell more

John Foust
By John Foust, Advertising Trainer

Like some other kids, I learned how to drive before taking the drivers’ education class in high school. My father took me to the school’s football stadium on weekends when the expansive parking lot was empty. The car was an old station wagon with a manual shift on the steering column. “Once you learn how to drive a manual shift, an automatic transmission will be a piece of cake,” he said.

Dad was a great teacher. After he methodically explained the gas pedal, the brake, the clutch and other essentials, he assured me that it was okay to make mistakes, because I couldn’t damage anything around us. Shifting gears was the number one topic. He carefully demonstrated the correct way to move from neutral to first, then let me try it. “Let the clutch out slowly,” he said, “because the car will lurch and stall if you do it too quickly. Do it slowly and the car will ease into gear.” At first, I struggled so much with that clutch that the poor station wagon jumped around like a bucking bronco. But after a while, I developed a feel for it – and the car actually behaved.

One thing that made Dad such an effective communicator was that he told me why certain things should be done. He was a mechanical engineer who dealt with whys all the time. When the car bucked, I knew why, because he had told me why. When I shifted smoothly, I knew why, because he had explained it. And when I eventually drove on the road, I had more confidence than I would have had without his patient instruction.

One of the most important techniques in communication – especially in persuasive communication – is to tell people “why.” Steven, an ad manager who has observed countless sales presentations, told me, “Salespeople have a tendency to do a lot of telling, but not much explaining. It’s important to realize that we all have a need to know why we are being told something or asked to do something. Even children need to know why. They are champions of ‘why’ questions.”

Steven is right. Give prospects reasons why. It helps to use a simple bridge like “because” or “the reason I say that is” or “this will provide you with.” For example:

1) “Let’s take a look at our publication’s readership figures. This will show you how many prospective print and online customers you can reach with us.”

2) “Here’s a comparison between a couple of ads in the last campaign you ran and a couple from the new campaign we’ve been discussing. We’re taking a look at these together, because this will help us see how the new ads build on the brand image you’ve established.”

3) “Let’s set an appointment to talk next Tuesday, after the first ad runs. This will give us a chance to make any needed tweaks to the offer.”

Without a doubt, telling prospects why is a good way to keep your sales presentations in gear.

(c) Copyright 2020 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

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