Want to Increase Sales? Think Deeper About What You’re Really Selling

My friend is a photographer, and she was recently hired to shoot one of the best restaurants in . She was working there late one night, and she was hungry. was everywhere — well-constructed, beautiful, delicious food that people usually spend hundreds of dollars on, just sitting around untouched. But the chef would not let her eat it.

Why? To torture her? No, he said. It’s because he wants her to truly understand his , and she cannot do that by eating the food alone. Come another night, he said. Bring a friend. Dinner on the house. But tonight, the food is just a prop.

Here’s my question to you: Is this guy just cruel, or does he understand something that others don’t?

Before you answer that, consider one other story.

Related: Top 3 Strategies to Sell Without ‘Selling’

Entrepreneur hosted a conference in 2017, and Jon Taffer, host of the TV show Bar Rescue, was our closing keynote speaker. Taffer has spent his career in hospitality, and he understands how customer psychology can drive success. So when he got on stage, he asked the crowd an intriguing question:

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What product is a restaurant really selling?

The answer might seem simple — the restaurant sells food! But then he walked us through a scenario. Imagine that meals arrive for a tableful of customers. What do these people do as the food lands in front of them? “Either [they] sit up and look at it and react to it, or nothing happens,” Taffer said. “If nothing happens, that business is stuck in mediocrity forever.”

So, he asked, what product is the restaurant really selling? Is it the plate of food, or is it the reaction that people have to the food? His answer: “The reaction is the product, isn’t it?”

The way Taffer sees it, restaurants are not in the food business. They’re in the experience business. The food is simply the medium through which restaurateurs create that experience. “I’ll redesign that plate 30 times until you sit up,” he told the crowd. Because if a customer doesn’t react to the food, then the food hasn’t done its job, no matter how good it tastes.

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This, I suspect, is what my photographer friend’s client thinks, too. He didn’t want her to eat the food by itself, because that’s not the thing he’s really selling. He needed her to have the experience — the service, the atmosphere, the meals arriving with pomp.

As I thought about it more, I realized how powerful this mode of thinking is — for everyone. Nobody just sells a product or service, after all. We must sell something bigger. Something more fundamental. So what is it? And what happens when we identify it?

Related: Listen Closely to What People Ask You. That’s Where to Find Your Hidden Power.

I challenge you to consider this for your own business. For example, the team here at Entrepreneur makes a magazine — but what if we’re not really in the media business? Instead, what if we’re in the trust business? After all, everything we publish is meaningless if it cannot be trusted, and our readers do not buy magazines because they know what’s inside. They buy because they trust what’s inside…before they read it.

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When we recognize these fundamentals in our businesses, we can use them as our guide. We can do more than just sell things to people; we can mean something to them, too. And we then know how to conduct every interaction, small and big.

So, let’s go back to my earlier question about the restaurateur who did not feed the photographer: Is this guy just cruel, or does he understand something that others don’t?

I say: He understands something that others don’t. He is uncompromising about that. And although this creates some blind spots for him, his unwavering commitment to his vision has likely driven a lot of his success. I respect it. I hope he continues it. Although, let’s be real — he could have at least made my friend a sandwich.

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