What a Container of Pool Chemicals Taught Me About Selling

Nearly everyone has heard the phrase “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” What that means is it’s OK to mention the features of a product, but you need to seduce your reader with the benefits.

Everyone wants to work less, look better, sound smarter, have more time, or make more money. Your product or service is all about the benefits that it delivers, not how it delivers them.

Here’s an example:

I went into a pool supply store recently to buy a container of chlorine tablets. I’ve been buying the same size and brand for years. I expected to do the same on this visit.

As I approached the stacks of 5 gallon buckets in the corner of the store, I noticed something new. There was my old brand, looking the same as it always did. But right next to it was the same brand, same size, but with a blue label instead of green. It was priced $7 higher than my usual selection.

Wondering what the difference could possibly be, I started reading the label.

The number of tablets were the same. The size of the tablets were the same. The chemical properties of each one were exactly the same.

In fact, the only difference that I could see, other than the color of the label, was the fact that the tablets in the new one were individually wrapped in cellophane baggies.

I asked the salesclerk what was up. Here’s what he said:

“Both chlorine tablets are exactly the same. You’re just paying $7 extra to have them wrapped up. That’s the only difference.”

“Hmm”, I thought. “That’s a lot of money to pay for cellophane.” I grabbed my usual selection and headed to the cash register. As I was standing in line to pay, the manager walked by and stopped to say “Hi” to me — I’m a regular customer during swimming pool season. I mentioned to him that I didn’t think little cellophane baggies were worth $7, and here’s what HE said.

“Actually, the extra protection is a very good thing. First of all, the wrappers help to maintain the tablet’s potency. Chlorine begins to break down when it comes in contact with air. If you don’t use a container quickly enough, the bottom tablets can be reduced by half their strength by the time you get to them.”

“Also”, he added, “when you open the container, the wrappers keep you from getting hit in the face with that awful chlorine gas that pours out. Not only does it smell awful and make your eyes water, but inhaling the fumes can be unhealthy.”

I knew what he meant there. I always popped off the top and stepped back a few feet while I waited for the fumes to dissipate.

“The wrappers also help prevent an accident. Chlorine can overheat and cause a fire if even a little bit of moisture finds its way into the container.”

I never knew that, but he pointed it out to me right on the warning label.

And then, to seal the deal, he said: “And finally, people like the fact that they can remove just the number of tablets that they need rather than carrying the whole bucket to the pool each time.”

He was right there as well. I always carried the entire bucket to my chlorinator because it made my hands stink all day if I grabbed 3 tablets and carried them from my garage to the pool. Plus I never liked the idea of having pure chlorine coming in contact with my skin.

I went back to the display and selected the “new and improved” version. All of those benefits were definitely worth the $7 extra to me.

So, what did we learn from this, and how does my swimming pool story mesh with your sales efforts?

The original salesclerk actually talked me out of buying. He had no idea what the benefits of the wrappers were, he only knew the features. I didn’t see any reason why I should pay $7 and have to work harder to unwrap each tablet as well, so it was “no sale” on the featured product.

Maybe you’re doing the same thing. Take a look at your advertising and sales material to make sure that your copywriter is not selling just the steak and missing the sizzle.