How to Sell a Paid Item When There Is A Free Option
Most great things in life are free. However, human beings love their shiny items and complex solutions to simple problems. That’s terrible for the average consumer, but for the super evil salesman it’s a great thing. At least, you’d think it would be.
In reality you’ll often come up against a roadblock if you’re a marketer or copywriter. Even if you’re just trying to make a living from little niche websites or writing how-to books, you’re going to come up against a couple of problems. Both of them relate to “free alternatives.” How many times have you heard or read (or said!) these things online?
- “Why would you pay for information? It’s free on the internet!”
- “Why would you buy [product name] when you can do something else for free?”
Chances are high that you’ve read, said or heard one of these things or a variation on them. They’re a true concern; it’s easy to find free, better alternatives online for a lot of things. Why would you sell a product when you could just honestly tell someone to follow a free solution, and how does your conscience not eat at you when you sell a product in this manner?
I’ll give you the how, the why and the moral argument for selling stuff even when there’s a free solution in this article.
First Things First: What Is Selling?
When I read the question posed in this comment, (left by Fotis, who has been leaving some quality comments,) my immediate answer about how to sell a premium product with a free alternative is what I’m about to suggest in this section.
If you’re worried about selling a premium product when you know there is a free alternative, then take a step back and think about what selling is.
It’s not about a product. It’s about providing a solution to a problem.
Let’s think of a really useful example here: fitness and bodybuilding and all that stuff.
There are a million adverts for various fitness programs. There are billion dollar companies based on providing fitness equipment to gyms. There are nutrition companies, health food companies, weightlifting companies, bodybuilding companies and sports companies. The list is endless.
If people were really searching for a cost-effective solution to their fitness/body images issues, this industry wouldn’t exist.
You can get pretty lean, muscular and powerful with bodyweight exercises.
You can get every nutrient you need from your diet without ever touching a supplement.
You can play sports, run about and explore the world and live a healthy life with a functional body that looks great.
None of those things cost anything. Yet people will spend $50 a month for a tub of protein powder that they hate the taste of. They’ll spend $100 a month on a gym that they never go to.
Because they’ve been sold a solution to their problems. It’s not a logical process, it’s an emotional one. When you’re selling a product, you’re appealing to that emotional side of a person. The emotional side of a person doesn’t care about cost-effective alternatives. They care about getting rid of problem A with solution B, and if product C does that, they’ll buy it.
So, there’s the theoretical out of the way. Now it’s time to think about how we channel that emotional person so that we confront and dismiss their objections. (Don’t worry if this is all a bit Darth Vader… we’ll get to the “Good Guy Salesman” part shortly.)
How To Sell A Premium Product When There’s A Free Alternative: Meet and Dismiss An Objection
“But Jamie,” you say, “What if someone says, “I don’t want to buy your skin cream because I can use coconut oil instead!”
If you’re tasked with writing a sales letter, then you’re naturally going to have a list of reasons why your product is better than the competitors. You should treat any free alternative as you would any other competing product.
Here’s a Sneaky Black Hat Trick: If you can’t think of any reasons, go to a forum for your product or niche and post a thread. “Why would I buy X when I could just do Y?” Watch as the militants jump all over you and build your sales letter for you.
For instance, go to a bodybuilding forum. Type, “Why would I lift weights when I could just do pushups?”
They’ll tell you:
“You won’t put on enough mass!”
“You won’t get as strong!”
“You’ll plateau earlier!”
“Good luck being tiny all your life!”
The arguments would ring true to some degree no matter what product or niche it is. It’s that ring of truth you need.
“Use our acne cream because it works faster than natural products.”
“Nobody wants to eat a clean, boring diet of plain broccoli… with our cream, you can have perfect skin AND eat cake!”
You get the picture. As always, illustrate examples with testimonials and case studies.
The Good Thing About Consumer Culture
I wrote recently that I tried to sell a low-cost alternative idea to mainstream ideology. It was met on Reddit with scorn because it was unconventional.
If there’s one thing that’s great about consumer culture, it’s that people are pre-conditioned to solve their problems through buying stuff. Selling premium products is made easier in a culture where people think they’ll get more girls if they buy an expensive watch or they’ll get massive muscles by taking a spoonful of creatine.
Another Great Thing About Free Alternatives When Selling Premium Products
Remember when I said about case studies and testimonials?
Using free alternatives is something you need to acknowledge, but it’s something that’ll help when you do.
Most copywriters, bloggers and other scoundrels do exactly the wrong thing on this topic: They don’t acknowledge free alternatives or cheap alternatives. How many times have you seen a blog where the writer will write:
“I have never found anything that solves the problem of making muscle! There are no programs out there that work! That was, until I found Sneaky Tim’s “MAKE MEGA MUSCLE IN TEN MINUTES” program… Guys, it’s the best value program out there and it’s only $2995!”
Don’t do this. You can immediately sniff out a liar, and a guy who tells you there’s no alternative but their affiliate link option is definitely a liar.
Will people buy a $2995 fitness program? You bet. So it’s not a price issue. It’s a refusal to acknowledge reality.
Now, back to the free alternatives.
Every sales letter is some variation on the zero-to-hero story we all love. We want the reader to feel like a zero (no offence) and by the end of the letter, we want them to feel that they are about to become a hero if they just take the next step.
Free alternatives are a good thing to add to your sales letter for this reason.
Chances are every teenage kid has tried to gain weight by doing push-ups or bicep curls until they’re sore. Don’t forget that when you could write, “I always wanted to gain weight. When I was fourteen, I curled my dad’s dumbbell until my arms just didn’t work anymore. But I still didn’t get bigger arms.”
Even if you’ve got a free solution that absolutely works, then there’s no reason to hide it. “When I cleaned up my diet, my acne went away. But guess what? Sometimes I have to work fourteen hour days and my diet slips. Sometimes I get a ton of stress when my business is failing. Sometimes I just want a god-damned pizza. In those moments, super clear acne skin cream helps me from slipping back into my depressed self.”
To use a non-health related example, here’s a real life business example. You can build an online business for pennies. You can literally buy a domain and hosting and that be your only expense. Why would you buy advertising space? Why would you pay for SEO tools when you can use the keyword planner?
The answer is because it makes the road shorter. It brings you more success. It achieves goals that’ll leave your competitors in the dust. It makes your site look better. In short, the product confers the benefits it says it does.
Ethics When Selling Premium Products
Most people get jittery when it comes to selling products online. Selling premium products makes people even more spooked. In fact, there’s a weird culture where if you even try to sell a premium product, you’re automatically stuck in the evil salesman box.
Of course, that’s not true.
Sales = Solve a problem, present it to person with problem, tell the target why your solution works for their problem.
Remember, the product is largely irrelevant. Obviously, do your due diligence and refrain from selling bad products wherever you can help it.
Two more things though:
- Your target market is not the critic.
- Acknowledge the free alternatives and let the customer make their choice.
Despite what the people who shout “evil salesman!” think, you can’t brute force someone into buying a product. Ultimately, if I say to you “You can gain ten lbs of muscle in one month in my program, but it’ll take you one year to do it without it,” then you can either choose to take my program or not. I can’t force you.
There are a lot of people that would look at that offer and say, “Fine! You’re evil and I’m gonna take a year and gain muscle my way!”
They were never the target market anyway. They are critics, sure. They are probably well-versed in muscle making theory (isn’t everyone) and they might know that there are free alternatives out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re ever going to use any of them, and if they’re unswayed by a reasonable claim and an honest product, then they simply aren’t going to convert.
Don’t worry about the critics. Worry about the people that can be convinced. That’s perfectly ethical because you’re giving people what they want and not giving people something they don’t want. It’s also good business because chasing people who are never going to buy is just wasting time and money.
If you’re trying to work out how to sell premium products, then there are a few things to consider.
- What you’re selling – a solution to a problem, and not a product.
- A better alternative to competitors. This includes free products or methods.
- Your target market: it’s only the people who’ll buy your stuff… not those that would never buy regardless of what you do.
- Creating a relatable narrative by which your product helps solve said issue for said target market.
Providing you follow the above, you’ll do well with selling premium products regardless of however many better or cheaper alternatives there are.