How to Sell Products

So there I was on stage at Georgia Tech along with four other area marketing experts. I was sweating. Not just because it was a thousand degrees in the auditorium, but because I was anxious about the Q&A session that was about to take place in front of 400 students, faculty, and guests.

What would I be asked?

That’s when it happened. A young lady, a marketing student, with blue hair and a black leather jacket asked me, “why do people buy?”

My mind raced with all of the information I’ve gathered over the last decade or so. What do I say? How do I sum up such a complex question with a few concise words?

I felt like I was being asked, “why is the sky blue?”

So I blurted out, “because they want to!”

Of course, I explained what I meant enough to satisfy the girl and my fellow panelists. But I wasn’t satisfied. I felt there was more to the story and I wanted to know, really, why people buy.

Why People Buy

After a lot of introspection and asking questions I finally figured it out – and I was mostly right after all.

People buy because they want to – because it makes them happy.

Whether it’s a Coca-Cola, a car, or a psychic reading: people buy because they want to be happy and the product/service they are purchasing makes them happy.

I’ve long thought that people buy a product/service in order to solve a problem or need. That’s true. But going deeper into almost unconscious levels of motivation, you will find the desire to be happy as the root cause for purchasing.

I realized this when I looked at the engagement patterns of customers who purchased digital education products. Only 5% actually read them. Going deeper, book publishers know that only about 5% of the customers who purchased a book actually read it.

How do you account for that? If reading the material or the book solves the problem, then why do roughly 95% never read the material nor return it for a refund? How can we justify a purchase which fails to solve the problem?

Psychologists may label it complacency, but the quest for happiness makes more sense.

That’s why there are shopaholics. It’s not the thing they purchase that makes them happy. It’s the act of purchasing that makes them happy.

It’s not the reading of the book or the material in order to solve a problem that makes most people happy. It’s the purchasing of the material or the book and the feeling they get knowing they have it available that makes them happy.

People buy things because they find value in it, and that value is happiness, and it’s relative.

Imagine two cars: a Bentley and a Ford. There are two buyers – each happy with their purchase. The Bentley owner loves it because of its luxury, it’s power, the way it makes them feel about themselves, and the happiness it brings them. The Ford owner loves their car because it’s new, it gets them from point A to point B, it’s fuel-efficient, and it was inexpensive. That makes them happy.

Two owners. Two cars. Both have different reasons for purchasing, but under the surface they both purchased because it made them happy – and it is exactly what they want.

So, like an idiot savant, what I told that Georgia Tech marketing student was mostly right, “people buy because they want to!” I’ll add, “they want to because it makes them happy.”

Benefits Versus Features

If you have studied copywriting legends like Dan Kennedy, Gary Halbert, John Carlton, and Gary Bencevinga you know the importance of selling benefits and not features.

In order to understand the benefits of a product however, you first have to know what the features are.

Let’s use a car for example. Power steering, power windows, antilock brakes, a 300 hp V-6, Brembo brakes, and a sport package are all features.

When you tell someone the features of your product or service, like a 300 hp V-6, and they are moved to purchase, it’s because they have already figured out the personal benefits that feature will provide them.

This type of buyer is informed. They have done the research and educated themselves on the product/service and have sold themselves on purchasing. In order to do this they had to identify their personal benefits and think about how happy they would be as the owner of the product/service.

Unfortunately, businesses don’t have time for their customers to do the mental calculations necessary to develop the desire for a product themselves. They need to sell their products/services as fast as possible. That’s where marketing and sales come in.

Marketers and salespeople help the customer realize how happy the product will make them as fast as possible by focusing on the benefits of the features.

For instance: many people think a 300 hp V-6 is just nice to have. The truth is, if you have a family it’s vitally important. The more people you have in the car, the more power is necessary to propel that car. This is especially important when you are merging into traffic on a freeway. Many on ramps are blind and you can’t see the traffic you will be merging into. What if there’s a row of semis (tractor trailers) in the slow lane blocking you? Sure, you could slow down, but by the time the semi passes with a standard four-cylinder engine and four people in the car you won’t be able to accelerate fast enough to avoid being rear-ended by a semi as you merge into traffic. A 300 hp V-6 engine gives you options. In the same scenario, you could accelerate and merge in front of the semi where the road is clear. But if you slow down and let the semi pass, you would have enough power to accelerate up to speed and merge safely. That’s why an engine with more power actually makes the vehicle safer.

If a car salesman told you that, and explained the benefits of a 300 hp V-6 engine to you, unless you couldn’t afford it, you would want a 300 hp V-6 engine in your new car.

Each of the features of your product/service must have the benefits associated with those features identified, spelled out, enumerated, and have scenarios, like the scenario above, developed to highlight them.

That’s how to sell products. You focus on the benefits the features deliver to a specific group of buyers.

In order to understand how to develop your benefits from your features you need to learn about the product layer framework.

Layers of Features and Benefits

Marketers think of a product/service having many layers, like an onion. They use the layers to help identify the features and benefits of a product/service. It’s a conceptual tool, a model called the product layer framework they use to help them create the messages, advertisements and campaigns that sell the product/service.

The product layer framework layers are:

  • Core Product
  • Generic Product
  • Expected Product
  • Augmented Product
  • Potential Product

Let’s discuss each one of these in more detail.

A Layered Product Example

Let’s continue to use the example of an automobile to illustrate the different product layers.

Core Product

The core product layer represents the products core benefit to the consumer.

Using the car example, the core benefit is that it takes the driver from point A to point B.

This core benefit is true of every car regardless of manufacturer or model. It’s important to understand the core product layer, but it’s not a unique differentiator in the mind of the consumer.

Generic Product

The generic product layer represents the basic functional benefits of the product.

In the car example, the basic functional benefits are four wheels, brakes, four doors, floor mats, and a four-cylinder engine, etc.

This is where the product starts differentiating itself. Still, in the generic product layer the differences between products are largely feature-based. As we move out toward the outer layers in the product layer framework the benefits become clearer and more motivational.

Expected Product

The expected product layer represents the additional desirable benefits of the product.

In the car example, the expected product benefits are quality of workmanship, dependability, zippy, smooth ride, and easy to drive.

The expected product layer represents the edge of the minimum expectations of the consumer. If certain features/benefits are not included in a product, the product will fail. A car that gets you from point A to point B but is hard to steer because it bounces all over the place like a boat will be passed over by the consumer because it doesn’t match their expectations.

Augmented Product

The augmented product layer represents the extra features and benefits a product delivers.

In the car example, the extra features and benefits are the style and design, the manufacturer and their brand reputation, the choice of colors of paint, and upgrades to the wheels, the brakes, the engine, etc.

The augmented product layer is where marketers can truly start to differentiate products from one another. This happens not only between different manufacturers, but within a specific model of product from the same manufacturer. In automobiles you see this in the form of different packages within a model. For instance, in addition to the base model, there are touring packages, sports packages and luxury packages.

Potential Product

The potential product layer represents the future of the product. This is an improved version.

In the automobile example, you can look at different model years as well as changing package options. These option examples would be antilock brakes, a lighter frame, keyless entry, auto park assist, accident avoidance systems, heads-up displays, cruise control, voice-activated systems, and more.

The potential product layer represents the bells and whistles of a product. Marketers can use focus groups to identify the upgrades that consumers would like to see on future versions of the product. However, in addition to what the product can become, the potential product layer also represents the current best iteration of the product.

Selling the Benefits

With each layer of the product layer framework you convert these features to benefits in order to persuade consumers to buy the product.

In order to convert features to benefits, think about the value your target market would find and receive from a specific feature. We’ve already talked about the benefits of a 300 hp V-6 engine, but we could apply the same logic to tires, brakes, stereo systems and more.

How we do this depends upon the target market. For instance, a college student has different needs from a retiree. A soccer dad has different requirements from a soccer mom. Knowing the benefits each of these target groups desire not only helps manufacturers develop products to meet their needs, but it helps marketers sell those products after they’ve been produced.

It’s been said that features form the steak of a product and benefits form the sizzle. It’s true you should always sell the sizzle and the steak when marketing and selling your products, but you should look at it two different ways. First, as I said above, features are the steak and benefits are the sizzle. Second, the core product layer, the generic product layer, and the expected product layer make up the steak and the augmented product layer and the potential product layer form the sizzle.

This means that you should always try to point out the ways a feature of a specific product will make a customer, or target market, happy. As you move toward the outer layers of the product layer framework, specifically the augmented product and potential product layers, the language you use to express the benefits can become more aspirational and egoic.

Just remember, people buy things to make them happy.

Copywriting experts have long said that people buy because of emotional reasons. That’s true. People do not buy because it’s a logical purchase. They buy for emotional reasons, then back up their decision with logic.

Even though they will recognize themselves purchasing a product for emotions like vanity, ego, or fear, etc. The underlying motivation for every purchase is a desire for happiness.

Therefore, the real answer to the question, “how do I sell my products,” is: find out what makes your target market happy and give it to them.

About Michael Miller

Mike Miller is the co-owner of, a Digital Marketing Agency in Atlanta, Georgia that focuses on aligning sales and marketing for exponentially greater results.

Michael’s mission is helping small business owners understand, and organize their marketing so they can make money and grow.

Mindwhirl helps business owners plan and implement effective, profitable marketing campaigns and sales programs.

If you need more sales, we know how to get leads and grow businesses. Call us today at (770) 295-8660, or email Mike at


  1. Easy to understand. Fabulous!

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