How Important is the KLT Factor in Selling?

Used car salesmen — ya gotta love em’!

OK, you don’t.

But you do have to admire them from a marketing standpoint.

Why is that? Because they completely trample one of modern marketing’s sacred cows — the know, like, trust factor (i.e., KLT factor).

They seem to run on nothing more than bluster, moxie, and nerve but… somehow still make a living.

How do they do it? And what can you learn from them?

Before we get to that, let’s talk a little about the KLT factor. Is it really necessary for selling?

KLT factor of nil

The thinking behind KLT is this: customers are more likely to buy from those they know, like, and trust. The higher your KLT factor, the more sales you close. 

It’s not a new concept, but the word itself is. The KLT factor is central to content marketing, which is yet another new term for an old concept.

As we’ve already said, car salesmen blow the KLT theory to smithereens. How? They fail at two of its three components. While everybody knows them, nobody likes them. And trust? Ha! Car salesmen sit at the bottom of the trust barrel among professionals in the United States.

Despite all that, they’re doing just fine. Consider:

  • Car salesmen earn more than the average private sector employee
  • Car salesmen turn over less than the average private sector employee

So what gives?

We’ll cover that in a minute. But its related to…


Desperation trumps the KLT factor 

Gary Halbert, the late great copywriter, was also a teacher. He liked to use the example of a burger stand to demonstrate a fundamental aspect of human behavior.

In his words:

One of the questions I like to ask my students is: “If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?”

In any case, after my students are finished telling me what advantages they would most like to have, I usually say to them something like this: “O.K., I’ll give you every single advantage you have asked for. I, myself, only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will (when it comes to selling burgers) whip the pants off all of you!”

“What advantage do you want?” they ask.

“The only advantage I want,” I reply… is… A Starving Crowd!”

He’s right of course. A starving crowd is best.

But it’s not an obvious conclusion, as his students proved.

Here’s my take. Food is a primal need. So is shelter… clothing… and maybe love too.

Almost nothing else is… except a car!

Which is why no matter how odious you think the fast-talking guy down at the auto mart is, you might still buy from him. Professed behavior (“I’d never buy from him”) and actual behavior, for most people, are worlds apart. 

That’s why good copywriters first learn about an audience before they offer fixes for marketing problems.

Road sign for starving people

Take for example this sign posted high above one of Seattle’s main commercial strips:

KLT Factor

Now the obvious reaction, from anyone passing by, NOT starving for a car?

“Really? No problem — even if my credit score is 300?”

“Really? No problem — even if I don’t have a job?”

“Really? No problem — even if I’m in debt and own NOTHING that can be used for collaterol?”

“How dumb do they think people are?”

But the sign’s copy is not a question of smarts. It’s a question of desire.

“How bad do you want it?”

The sign was made for the person with a Doorbuster, Black Friday-sized urge for a car…

No matter how much it costs!

It goes without saying that anyone with no credit has a BIG problem. They’ll pay for the privilege of owning a car… in blood.

In fact, a few months into their payment schedule, they’ll curse the day they signed the paperwork!

But in the moment, they want what they want.

There’s no shortage of people willing to suspend all disbelief to get a car.

Used car salesmen know this and they speak accordingly.

Cultivating a starving crowd

Halbert’s burger example is helpful for its simplicity. In a real-life sales situation, though, it breaks down for two reasons:

1. Starving people don’t travel in packs, looking for food.

2. Most products and services are luxuries, not essentials.

Taking those realities into account, here’s what you can do to work around them.

1. Find the starving crowd — the easiest way to sell a product or service is to put yourself smack in the middle of people who are already buying. You cannot create desire for a product, no matter how good your sales copy. You can only channel existing desire.

Think Google adwords or the food court in the mall. If there really is a starving crowd, someone is probably serving them already. If no one else is, it could mean the starving crowd doesn’t exist.

2. Make your product essential — finding the sweet spot, the product/market fit, where the product goes from luxury to essential, is always a work in progress (even for used car salesmen). You can try differentiating your product by…

For an added dose of persuasion, use the KLT factor on a starving crowd.

KLT factor full circle

Back to the used car salesman. No matter how hot to buy a zero-credit customer is, a good salesman still relies on systems and procedures for the sale.

He’ll use certain gestures. He’ll change the tone of his voice. He’ll bring other colleagues into the process. The low-grade theatrics are a quick way to increase his KLT factor. This way, the customer is less likely to get cold feet and cancel the sale and more likely to OK an upsell.

At the point of sale — the moment of truth — you’re either adding or subtracting from your KLT factor. To use Halbert’s example again, the burger stand owner does this with…

  • the smell of the burgers cooking (mmm!)
  • the sight of the burgers cooking (drool!)
  • the sound of the burgers cooking (pop, crackle!)

Ranking know, like, and trust

Content marketing, especially the KLT factor, has been badly misunderstood. In the minds of some, it means no selling — ever. Or, put another way, free content all day if and until the customer buys.

That’s nonsense. Marketing and selling go together like chocolate and peanut butter. So, to clear up any misunderstandings about the role of KLT, I define them as they relate to selling.

Know is the least important component of sales persuasion. At minimum, customers need only to know where you can be found online and off. It’s good if they know what you sell.

Traditional advertising with its emphasis on “awareness” often bungles this. Customers may recognize a brand name but not know what they do… at all. For example, how many people know that Texas Instruments is a chip manufacturer — a semiconductor company? I didn’t. I thought they made calculators! Big distinction.

Like is often misunderstood in the sales process. It’s not so much warm feelings or a preference for a product. It’s more like being in agreement. That is, we “like”a company or product when it solves a problem we have.

Years before the internet, Neil Rackman, author of SPIN Selling, exploded the concept of “like” in big-ticket sales. His research showed that preliminaries — small talk, an opening benefit statement — often hurt the sales process.  And yet, the opening monologue or pitch simply won’t go away.

No matter how much someone is rooting for your product, without establishing its value, they won’t buy. Really, the only customers who buy because of personal affection are relatives and friends.

Trust is by far the most important part of the equation.  Trust is relative. At minimum, the customer believes the seller will fulfill a contractual obligation, like handing over the keys to a car. Usually, for all but the cheapest or most coveted products, trust is more complex.

It usually means believing the seller when he or she says, “this product worked for others, and it will also work for you.”

So it turns out all those marketers pushing KLT were right; it will help sell you sell more products, no matter how hungry the crowd is.

And who knows?

Maybe in the future, with self-driving cars disrupting the industry, used car salesmen will be forced to become if not likeable, at least more subtle.

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