August 29, 2008

Does it Sizzle?

Ever hear the expression, “Don’t sell the steak—sell the sizzle?”

No, it wasn’t Snoop Dog who first said it. (He said something about “f’shizzle” which I have never understood.) It was Elmer Wheeler, a man who’s scarcely remembered today but who was America’s number one sales guru for more than twenty years.

“Don’t sell the steak—sell the sizzle,” said Elmer Wheeler. And he went on to say, “The sizzle has sold more steaks than the cow ever has, although the cow is, of course, mighty important.”

What Wheeler meant by a “sizzle” is the detail that has primary appeal for the customer—the aspect of our product or service that grabs their imagination and gets them excited. It’s the feature that’s most closely linked to the customer’s interests or motivations.

Wheeler described “sizzles” as being the “best selling arguments” we can come up with, factors that have a real gut-level appeal to the buyer. Wheeler thought this kind of appeal was spontaneous and irrational, and he used lots of food analogies to make his point—the sizzle of the steak, the bubbles in the wine, the tang of the cheese, the aroma of the coffee. A good “sizzle” will have the same immediate impact on us as walking into a restaurant and smelling something delicious, like hot pizza.

Wheeler’s point is a good one. Customers want to know, what’s in it for me? Unfortunately, the vast majority of sales presentations and proposals focus on facts. They cover details of the product or service or, even worse, the vendor’s history. No sizzle there!

A good sizzle should answer the one question every customer has rattling around in their head when they are listening to our sales presentation or reading our proposal: So what?

According to Wheeler, the rule to remember is this: “What is a ‘sizzle’ to one person may be a ‘fizzle’ or a whole bonfire to another person. Therefore, fit the ‘sizzle’ to the prospect on hand!” Figure out your client’s hot button and lead with that.

A technique I recommend to clients is to itemize their differentiators. What is it you do that nobody else does? What are the unique features of your products or services? What separates you in terms of methodology, management techniques, facilities or resources from the competition?

Once you’ve got your list of differentiators, put them down the first column of a table. Across the top, put the kinds of value customers look for—increased productivity, reduced operational costs, improved quality, whatever. This gives you a matrix of differentiators and value orientations. Now you can rank each differentiator in terms of its ability to prove to your customer that they’ll get that kind of value if they choose you. If it’s a terrific proof statement, give it maximum points. If it’s basically irrelevant, give it one or none. When you’re all done, you’ll not only have your sizzles, you’ll know when to use them. If you’re selling to a customer who’s looking for guaranteed compliance with regulatory standards, and you have three or four differentiators that help assure that, those are the ones you mention.

The next time your mouth starts watering at the smell of a onions sizzling in the pan or the aroma of chicken roasting on a spit, remind yourself that your sales presentations and proposals need to create that same kind of quick, visceral impact on your prospects and customers. Start looking for the hook, the sizzle, the appeal to the customer’s interests that will make them excited and eager to hear your message.

You can integrate your best sizzles with Sant Suite. To see an interactive, Web-based demo of our software in action, visit our Web site, Or you can request more information from me by sending an e-mail to

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

last few days our group held a similar discussion about this topic and you show something we haven't covered yet, thanks.

- Laura