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Al Christoph

Ezine Publishers: To Get a Click, Think Like a Customer
By Al Christoph

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Perhaps your hardest job in producing an ezine is answering the "Why question." Why should my reader take the action I want her to take? Surprised? Then, read this guest column by Senior Consultant, Al Christoph of Three Bears Software, LLC who offers three rules to follow in answering the "Why question."

A trap that often snags sales people, especially those in technology sales, is the tendency to talk about features rather than benefits. "This PC has a 3 Ghz processor." "This printer does ten PPM." But it can snare others too. "This fondue mix has three cheeses." "This tie is hand painted." "These pillow cases are 300 denier combed cotton."


So the first rule in answering the "Why question" is to think benefits rather than features. This approach is often overlooked and requires thought and perhaps research. You find it easy and natural to think about the features of your product or service because you know it intimately. The features are the product attributes that set you apart in the market place.

Benefits however are tough to think about because they are associated with the customer. They flow from the attributes of the customer, not the product. They represent a customer need or problem that the product satisfies or solves.

A product / feature may have vastly different benefits to different customers. The teenaged game player sees a fast PC very differently than the design manager for a small business. One sees enjoyment as a benefit of better, smoother graphics; the other envisions improved quality, productivity or timeliness leading to a better bottom line.

Sales people who do face to face sales are taught to listen first and ask thoughtful questions second. Through careful listening they can determine the customer specific needs or problems. Presentation of the benefits - the way the product aids the cusomer - can be the lead in to stopping the selling and to asking the customer to say yes.

With an ezine, you don't typically have such a dialog. The second two rules come from the absense of this dialog.


"The Music Man" opens with a scene where various sales types are sitting around debating sales techniques and the threat of a new product - "Uneeda Bisquits in a box" - to their way of life. One of the constant themes of their patter song is "You've got to know your territory." Let the modern variation of this - "You've got to know your customer" - be the second rule in answering the "Why question".

Louis Kornfield, legendary head of Radio Shack, suggested "To Catch A Mouse, Make A Noise Like A Cheese". From this we derive the third rule:


"To get a click, think like a customer."

So "Know your customer", "Think like your customer", "Think benefits not features". From this will flow answers to the "Why Question" that will get the clicks and the benefits that you want.

You must: "Sell the Sizzle and the Steak"

I first urged you to answer the "Why" Question by thinking benefits, not features. The approach was an implicit appeal to rational decision making. This time I am going to turn my advice upside down:

We like to think that we are rational animals and make rational decisions. We certainly hope that our customers behave rationally and intelligently because that tends to minimize problems. Pitching the benefits of the product fits in that model of behavior.

However, there is significant value to the emotional part of the sale. In the days when most computers filled entire rooms, the prevailing wisdom or perhaps inside joke was "You can't get fired for buying Big Blue (IBM.)" That less than rational almost emotional attachment to Tom Watson, Jr and his wizards and his piles of money made it difficult for the rest of us to get our feet in the door. You can't sell benefits if you don't have an audience.

Emotional Attachment Forming:

It often happens that your customer will form an emotional attachment to you or your product or better still both, even before they determine rationally that you are the best decision. This is a good thing. That emotional commitment can smooth things over when things go wrong. It can also lead to a long term relationship as you deliver good product and services.

Where does this emotional commitment come from? There are a couple of possibilities, at least one of which you control. Well designed products - whatever that means - inherently are powerful attractors. But as modern advertising proves daily, product presentation can trump the actual product any day. The customer emotionally commits to the product because the presentation tugs at something fundamental in his or her psyche.

This is selling the sizzle not the steak. From the point of view of the ezine it gets your foot in the door so that benefit selling can begin.

The way that you add sizzle to your steak very much depends on who you are, what your product or service is, and who your customers are. Pin up girl calendars were found in mid-twentieth century auto repair shops, not beauty parlors. You probably can't afford the services of the latest teenaged heart throb for your ezine. But thoughtful use of good design can help you establish your unique identity and that special sizzle that will get you the emotional commitment you need.

Remember. Answering the "Why Question" was the sixth step in Chris Knights superb how-to. You've got to get the reader to the point of asking the Why Question and that is why you need to sell the sizzle and the steak.

Today's Ezine-Tips was contributed by: Al Christoph, Senior Consultant or Three Bears Software, LLC. Visit his website:

Ezine-Tips for December 02, 2004

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