Sell the Sizzle AND Serve the Steak …

“Don’t sell the steak … sell THE SIZZLE.”

It’s a phrase you’ve likely heard before, especially if you’re searching for tips to increase sales and boost business.

This now-common advice was first espoused by sales giant Elmer Wheeler back in the 1930’s.  Mr. Wheeler claimed that the sizzle sold more steaks than the cow ever did.   Here’s an awesome New Yorker article from 1938 that explains his selling philosophy!

Elmer implored us to sell the bubbles in champagne, the tang in cheese, and the whiff in coffee.

His advice was to find the one key idea, the one compelling collection of enticing words that made your customers swoon for your product rather than barrage them with every feature, fact, or reason they should buy.

Nowadays, business success is a lot more than just the sizzle.

Don’t get me wrong: the sizzle’s mighty important. However it’s just as critical that when the customer receives your steak on their plate it’s the best steak he or she has ever tasted.

How does an entrepreneur sell the sizzle AND serve the steak?

Sell the Sizzle

Selling the sizzle is still a must-do. Why? Because it’s that singular reason, pain point, or need your customer has that will attract them and convince them to buy your product.

So what is your product’s sizzle? The good news is you can easily find out…

Turn Features into Benefits.

One way to pump up sizzle is with this simple exercise:

Create a list of all your product/service features.  

After each item listed, add the words: which means….followed by what that feature does to improve the life of the customer.


    • We offer life insurance coverage up to $1 million, which means your family won’t need to worry about paying the mortgage or buying food after you’ve died.
    • Before becoming a CPA, I worked for the IRS, which means I have the insider’s knowledge to help clients navigate audits.
    • I owned and operated a lucrative custom photo jewelry ecommerce site, which means I offer the “been there, done that” business insight that helps my clients grow profits. [And by “I” in this example, I actually mean me: Kathy Lo Knows.]

Those which means statements are your product benefits—and those are what transform prospects into “buy” button pushing customers.

Now that you have your list together,  you might have 3 or 4 primary benefits; your next assignment is to determine which benefit resonates best with your clients and customers.  

Do this by testing these ideas in website copy, emails, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, tweets, guest blog posts.  Experiment with different language and images to understand if certain words or ideas have more appeal.

Don’t worry if this seems like a tall order, it is!  Figuring out that sizzle can take time so don’t sweat it.  You don’t need to figure it out today or tomorrow.  Have fun with it and be a playful scientist while you are at it.   With enough testing and experimenting you will find the sizzle!

Serve the Steak

Sizzle is what brings them to the table, while the steak is what keeps them coming back again and again.

What’s more, in an online business world where one bad customer experience can result in a tweet heard ‘round the world, bad steak can sink a brand fast.

Serving the steak is about delivering the goods and services.  It’s about being good to your audience.  It’s about serving the best product you can.  It’s about caring what you deliver.

It is an outstanding customer experience end to end, from the time they make first contact with you to when they receive or experience your product. And it’s about making things right if they have complaints or request a refund.

Here’s how to serve that juicy, come-back-for-more steak:

Consider every touch point.
Customer experience is about so much more than that customer receiving the end product, whether it’s a new tech toy or professional dog walking services.

List all the touch points where a prospect or customer interacts with your brand. Depending on your business, those points might include:

  • Initial phone contact
  • Online information about products/services
  • Online ordering
  • Face-to-face interactions with sales or customer service
  • Marketing emails
  • Customer service emails
  • Invoices and sales receipts
  • Product support and customer assistance
  • Social media interactions
  • Community events, like fundraisers and workshops

Problems with any touch point can drive prospects or customers away with a bad taste in their mouths.  If you’ve ever found yourself cursing an automated customer service phone line, you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

As busy entrepreneurs and business professionals, we tend to focus on the parts of our job that made us want to go into business in the first place. For example, if you’ve created a new app, perhaps you’d much rather continue to improve that app or create new ones than deal with how your payment system works.

Yet that payment system, if it’s a hassle to deal with, may be driving dollars away.

That’s why it’s critical to sit down and list every touch point. Then pretend you’re a customer. Go through the process yourself and evaluate its customer friendliness.

If you find yourself frustrated by some aspect, you better believe it frustrates prospects and customers too. Figure out why things are wrong, and then fix them to create stellar customer experience.  

Ask for customer feedback.  
Sometimes we get too close to our products and processes, making it harder to see trouble spots that make the steak tough and unappetizing.

Customer surveys or good ol’ talking to your customers directly can clue you into problems with invoicing, customer support, and other touch points—problems you may be too close to identify.

I’ve also found that calling that seemingly crazy individual (the one who sent you the nasty email) once emotions have cooled can give you incredible insights.   And sometimes you can win a customer in the process.

Asking for feedback can be scary. What if it’s bad?

Be brave. Bad feedback doesn’t necessarily need to be a disaster if you use it to ensure the next steak you serve is better than ever. Consider negative feedback carefully, and make relevant changes.   

Make customer experience part of your company culture.
If you’re a solopreneur, you’ve got a personal interest in making sure customers are happy. If customers don’t receive the steak they expect, you don’t earn a living. That’s often enough motivation for any of us to deliver, even on mornings when the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.  

But what if you have a staff, large or small? How do you ensure they’re delivering the steak as well? Create a company culture where everyone is expected to contribute to a positive customer experience.

There are many options for building a customer-focused environment, including:

  • Incorporating customer service aspects into all training;
  • Rewarding employees who go above-and-beyond for customers;
  • Empowering team members to say, “I don’t know the answer, but let me find a person who can help you.”

Fire up the grill.

It’s time to sizzle and serve!

P.S. Am I the only one seriously hungry for a juicy, tender steak now?    


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