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How to engage with selling

An AEX design perspective on sales & marketing

Have you struggled with how to do sales and marketing? Did it come naturally or did you have to struggle, grind and learn how to do it?

If it’s the latter, or if you’re still struggling, then you’re just like me. Sales and marketing did not come easily to me. I needed to learn and grind through it all. And that’s why I thought that a short(ish) piece on some thoughts and learnings that I’ve had could maybe be of use to you. And naturally, all done through the lens of audience engagement and experience design or AEX design.

For a larger piece on how to be truly effective in sales, marketing and brand dissemination, you’ll have to keep a lookout on the website. This piece is just one that details a few methods and perspectives.

The initial step is quite simply to take a step back from what you’ve been doing and how you’ve been doing it. What we’re going to try and do in this piece is to alter our mindset and viewpoint around what it is to be a salesperson or marketer. As you’ve no doubt read in many other pieces, people keep saying that the reason people don’t like sales is that they think it’s ‘dirty’ or relate it to a mental image of a sleazy secondhand car salesman. I suppose it’s an entertaining image, but I suspect the real reason many people don’t like sales isn’t because of some archaic associated image/concept. But rather that the reason is that its tough putting in the work and putting yourself out there only to maybe get 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 or 1 in 100 return on investment for your efforts, it’s just a very daunting challenge.

Unfortunately, this piece isn’t going to change that reality. But what it may do is change how you look at it. The problem with sales, and marketing to a lesser extent, are the words themselves; sales & marketing, and what’s associated with them. Unless we’ve changed our mindset, the default concept that unconsciously jumps into our minds is that we’re somehow pushing something onto someone. We’re ‘selling’ them something, the image that I’ve got something in my hands and I need you to buy it through hell and high water no matter what. And that’s where the reticence likely stems from.

What I suggest is that we approach sales, marketing and branding from the position of engaging our audiences. We don’t want them to buy something, at least not in a broad sense. We want our audiences, be they a client, customer, or whoever, to join us on a shared journey to solve their problems. All we’re doing is offering a method to solve that problem, that’s all. Essentially, sales and marketing are simply about positive engagement.

Sales and marketing are about engagement

A great quote I saw in an HBR article is from Scott Edinger, who plainly stated that “Selling is moving somebody else to action,”. And I think this sums it up quite nicely, the aim of audience engagement and experience design (AEX design) is to help move people to take certain actions to increase their engagement in an experience. So technically, what we’re doing with selling and marketing is just that.

So, if we’re helping people to engage, then we need our mindset to change from pushing something onto someone, to collaboratively working with someone. We’re building relationships and friendships, offering what we have to help them. And to do this effectively we would naturally need to connect with our audiences on a personal level. So when you’re engaging (selling) with your audience, be sure to have done the research beforehand to make sure you know what it is that they’re looking for and expecting. And trust me, winging it, with no research, is a surefire way of disengaging your audience.

Once you’ve done the research, don’t let the inquisitiveness disappear however. If you get a chance to speak with your audience, one on one, then keep asking questions, be interested in them, and delve deeply into their problems. Sometimes they may not even know what the problem is exactly, maybe only after asking why several times reveals the real root of the issue they need to solve.

And should they ask you a question, don’t fall back on selling to them, keep engaging them. Develop and craft a narrative that illustrates how you can assist and support them in achieving their objectives. Tell a story, a parable of how you’ve done this in the past and how you will do it for them.

But refine this story so that hits everything you need to get across without waffling on for too long. Keep your engagement ‘pitch’ succinct. You’re there for them, not for yourself.

As you talk with them, collaborating and building the relationship, keep thinking about what your unique take is on their problem.

Don’t worry too much about whether it is unique or not. I’m fairly certain it will be, as long as you are honest, authentic and transparent. Unique doesn’t necessarily mean the same as original, your method might be something tried and true that you do in such a way that your audience (client, customer, etc.) just hadn’t thought of that it could be done in such a way.

And if it doesn’t work out, the other 9 or 99 in the 1 in 10 or 1 in 100 categories. Well likely it wasn’t because it wasn’t unique, it’s because it wasn’t right for them. In that case, try to get feedback, reflect on your methods and be open to improving.

Adding a brand to sales and marketing

A big part of engaging, selling and marketing something, anything, is the brand. And I don’t mean the corporate identity, but rather what the audience understands it to be.

To take a page from the Disney Corporation, remember to make your product magical. And by this I mean remember that when you promote, sell, and engage, you want your audience to remember you and be left with a positive feeling. Disney’s corporate identity is that they are an entertainment production company, that houses several other brands that do very similar things. Their brand, in the eyes of the audience however, is that they provide fantastical, magical experiences through film, tv, and theme parks. Nike’s identity is that they are an apparel producer, their brand is that they promote health, wellbeing and fitness.

These two examples show one thing specifically, and that is that the brands tap into the emotions of their audience. If you want to effectively engage your audience, then you need to tap into what they are feeling and what they want to feel. Create a spectacle out of your product, show off what makes it unique, and why it has to be you and then promote the absolute sh*t out of it! Entertain, use visuals, sound, and the written word. Whatever you’re comfortable with, do that, and do it 10 times over. Get people to notice you and your brand.

Remember though, this isn’t suddenly going back to pushing something on someone. We’re still engaging, all we’re doing is making people aware of who we are and in essence inviting them to join us on our adventure.

And if you’re having trouble engaging, then you can always use a few simple tactics to get your target audience to take notice of you. For example, employ the mechanics of exclusivity and scarcity. I know it sounds like these are black-hat, negative mechanics (to borrow a term from Yu-Kai Chou), but we’re not trying to con people. We’re just trying to move them to take the action of being interested in you. If you make a video, then have a short one for free and a longer one if they join your mailing community. If you have a course, give lesson 1 away, but the rest is only available for a small fee and an email address. And so on and so forth.

All of this is perfectly fine, as long as you always make sure that both you and your audience leave the experience with a net positive outcome.

Belief and engagement

One way of making sure your audience doesn’t think you’re being disingenuous or running the risk of alienating them, is by genuinely believing in what you are selling. If you truly want to increase engagement in your product and brand, then you need to believe in it fully. Your conviction in what you do and sell needs to be felt.

If you don’t believe in what you are doing, then your audience will disengage. And I don’t mean the BS concept that you would be doing this even if you weren’t being paid for it type of belief. You’re doing all this, the sales, the marketing, the brand development so that you can make money from it. But the reason behind all that is what you should believe in. I do what I do because I genuinely believe that everyone should walk away from any experience feeling happier, more fulfilled and having learned something new. And this can only be done by creating an experience that has both meaning and value, regardless of the industry. And for that to happen I need to help organisations more fully engage their audiences so that this goal can be achieved, for all of us. The benefit here is that any organisation wants more engagement, and through that, I can make a living by helping clients, customers, employees, students, and audiences.

Look at Amazon, they make a lot of money. Jeff Bezos is one of the richest people on the planet. But personal feelings aside about the man and the company, Amazon’s belief is in helping customers get what they want and keeping the trust they’ve earned with those customers. Just look at their leadership principles. From personal experience, their customer service (when you find them) is efficient, polite and very effective. And because of that, they’re as successful as they are.

What you’re probably wondering and asking at this point is: well that’s all well and great but how do I get that belief thing across to my audience?

Storytelling, much like you crafted a narrative when you got to speak one on one with an audience member, craft a story that showcases your belief in your product and brand. Tell a story about how it helped or helps a client. A story that has a beginning, middle and end. And if you’re struggling with this, then use Daniel Pink’s Pixar pitch method to help build this story.

If you believe in the value of your product, then don’t be afraid to give some of it away. If you need examples of how this concept works, then look no further than the financially successful Free to Play games out there. They’re free, yet people are willing to pay for them once they’ve determined the amazing value the game offers. And to borrow from Amazon, if you believe there’s value in what you’re doing, then build trust in that value, be honest and transparent.

Final Thoughts

Now comes the hard part, doing all that stuff and targetting the right audiences.

First of all, doing all that stuff, well that’s just putting in the time and the work. One way I can help you with that is by offering a goal-setting method. Use the EPICQ goals to figure out what you want or need to do to reach your objectives. Once you’ve figured that out, break those goals down into manageable targets, milestones and rewards. Maybe even add a little HEART to your goal setting, so that you know what signals to look out for and how you can measure whether what you’ve done is successful or not, and where to improve for the next time. As with so many things, even if you do manage to get better at sales and marketing, it’s not worth anything if you’re not writing down and measuring to see what’s happening and where you can improve.

As for targetting the right audiences, well that’s something left for another article, where we explore how you can create fictional audiences based on behavioural and emotional layouts (or FABELs) to be able to better understand people’s motivations and desires and to target them and their actions more accurately.

But for now, I sincerely hope that this piece has given you something to think about, and maybe will help you in altering your mindset to one of engagement and collaboration when thinking about and practising sales and marketing.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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