Level 3 Sharpening: So You Can Rely Less on Sales

You’ve got a product. You’re getting attention from your audience too. You’re having conversations with people in your audience, hoping to get some sales through the process.

And during those conversations, you find yourself relying too much on convincing, on selling.

Maybe you’re working a little too hard. Something in your toolbox might benefit from a little more sharpening.

Let the knife do the work

Chef Gordon Ramsay

Just like a sharp knife makes it easier to prepare your food, a sharp understanding of your buyer makes it easier to prepare the sale.

Let the [sharpness of your understanding of the buyer], do the work [of prepping the sale].

I propose these three levels, qualifying the kind of understanding you have for the buyer:

  1. Not Sharp Enough: Understanding the Role, the Market and The Benefits
  2. Sharp: Understanding the Problem and the Aspiration
  3. Sharpest: Understanding the Situations That Are Ripe for the “Switch”

Level 1 (Not Sharp Enough):
Understanding the Role, the Market and The Benefits

At this level, you understand that people with a certain role in a certain market could benefit from a certain tool. You probably found yourself within that role, in that market, wishing that tool existed.

  • A designer in the UX industry could benefit from a better app for making designs.
  • A project manager in the construction industry could benefit from a smartphone app to track the project’s risk factors.
  • A dentist in the suburbs could benefit from an automated scheduling system.

Selling your product, however, means that you have to rely on crude tactics: turning more conversations into opportunities to raise awareness, show the benefits, and trying a sale.

At this point, your understanding of the buyer isn’t sharp enough. It’s out of focus, since the focus has been on the appeal of your product. Let’s move to Level 2.

Level 2 (Sharp):
Understanding the Problem and the Aspiration

As you focus a little more on the buyer, you get to a point where you understand whether they have a problem your product fixes.

  • The designer is always having to come up with mock data to put in her designs, and that’s a distraction.
  • The project manager keeps being the bottleneck for information about the project.
  • The dentist keeps getting no-shows and that’s costing the business money in lost opportunities.

More than that, you start to realize that the problem points to something bigger in the mind of the buyer: an aspiration.

  • The designer would like to get to do more design direction, and to start by doing more design systems.
  • The project manager would like to get to coach junior project managers.
  • The dentist would like to get a second clinic going.

You’re now at Level 2. You realize that you can concentrate your efforts only on potential buyers who have the problem your product fixes and for whom your product might be the key to fulfil their larger aspiration.

At this point, your focus is sharper.

Despite all this, despite only talking to those experiencing the problem, you find yourself still relying too much on getting a sale out of every conversation. You lower the price, you add bonuses, you try to make it appealing.

Because of this, you know you don’t have the complete picture just yet. There’s more sharpening that can be done.

Level 3 (Sharpest):
Understanding the Situations That Are Ripe for the “Switch”

Level 3 demands more digging. You choose to replace the act of convincing with the act of asking questions with curiosity.

You try to dig for the back story. You try to find the forces that push and pull on the buyer’s mind as decisions need to be made:

  • What did you try before finding my product?
  • What did you search for in Google when you first thought of solving that problem?
  • Tell me about moments when you backtracked and decided to just make do with your current “I’ll do it myself” solutions?
  • What pushed you forwards? What made you hesitate and go backwards?
  • What happened that made you decide to continue in your search?
  • What happened that made you decide that “enough was enough”, “this can’t go on”?

When you ask those kinds of questions, you start understanding what happens right before your product becomes appealing.

You start getting a sharp focus on the situations that precede a purchase, the situations that are ripe for people to “switch” away from the old, and toward the new.

  • When I’m moving to a cold city for a career opportunity and I’m about to experience my first real winter, I want to find the boots (even expensive boots) that I can trust can handle all types of winter conditions, so I can continue concentrating on my work, not on winter (Note: I interviewed a guy who did exactly this).
  • When I’ve tried to do it myself for a while and got good at understanding the subtle details but just got a big problem that requires more of my attention, I want an automated app workflow thingy that I can use to do my old operations so I can attend to the bigger problem.
  • When I’m realizing I’m not going to honour the commitments I pledged and it will affect my reputation negatively, I want to find a way to get moving on this problem so I can cut my losses.

Understanding these situations, these specific switching moments, exposes all the subtleties that are at play in the mind of the buyer, and the real reason (job-to-be-done) for which they purchased (hired) your product.

With these, you’re hitting the bedrock, something solid, and you no longer need to rely so much on sales tactics. You can just focus your conversations on something else.

You can focus your conversations on being helpful. You recognize that the buyer goes forward and backward all the time, and that there are multiple stages to them solving their problem.

“I’ll try to do it myself first” ends up being the most common competitor for your product. Since that’s the case, why not help them out with that? Teach everything you know, package all your best knowledge into a guide, an email sequence or an ebook. Be helpful at the stage they’re at in their story.


In the end, buyers just want to make progress. They want to get to the next level. Out with the old, in with the new. “Enough is enough”.

A focus on the buyer’s switching situations lets you know when it’s a good time to step in and offer with a bigger product. It also helps you know whether that person just isn’t ready yet, because they haven’t felt that hard struggle.

So let’s have conversations and let’s be helpful. No sleeze required.

Stay Sharp!

P.S. When you’re at the stage where you’ve started digging for the back story of your buyers and find yourself wanting a little more help, consider digging into some of the other articles I wrote or maybe checking out the services I offer. I help solo businesses and modest online products sharpen what they offer.

Also, stay tuned for more examples of how Level 3 Sharpening helps design better product pages.



@pascallaliberte

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