Repeat Sales And Sales Ladders Work Differently But For The Same Reason: Trust

It’s worth stating that the Internet has opened the door to a cluster of new marketing modalities, but it’s removed something very fundamental that was there from time immemorial, and which brick-and-mortar businesses inherently have: the trust conferred by having an address and real-live personnel. In other words, accountability and the trust that goes with that.

It’s well nigh impossible to sell anything on the Internet without trust. As consumers and as business owners or marketers, we don’t often consider this, but there are several sales-chain breakdown points that exist precisely because of the perceived risk inherent in buying online. We forgot the concerns we had in 1995, but they’re still there. Lurking. 

Signs a site cannot be trusted can include:

  • A cheap website.
  • No physical address listed on the website.
  • No ‘About Us’ section, or indicators of who runs the website.
  • No telephone number listed. 

In recent years, not just SSL Certificates, but site badges (PayPal,, McAfee, etc.) have become trust signals.

While you might see ‘Zagat Rated’ or ‘Yelp!’ or ‘Best In The Bay’ stickers on the window of a restaurant on Main Street, you would not not go there because these were missing. And it has to do with the basic perception that, from a cost-benefit standpoint, it wouldn’t be worth the $80 they get from you for a dinner for two, for a restaurant to up and leave if you got food poisoning after eating there. And it would be impossible for them to take your money and not serve you – or at least very problematic. You could simply call the police if – by some oddity – you paid and were not given your food. The same holds for a shoe store in Anytown, USA. But this is not the case for Internet vendors, who can and do ‘fly by night’ – the biggest brands notwithstanding.

People need trust in order to pull out their credit card – not just trust that you’re going to give them what they pay you for, but that it does what you say it does, that it does what they need it to, etc. This is not an obstacle brick-and-mortar businesses have to contend with, most of the time, if at all. If give an auto repair shop your tire and return in 6 hours to pick it up, they’re not going to deny it ever happened. This is why buying expensive items and fairs can be a dicey proposition for consumers.

But this happens on the Internet, because it can happen on the Internet, and website scammers have grown more savvy about how they deceive while consumers have grown more savvy about how they discern. 

When we consider big ticket items (again, for all but national or well-established brands), this trust is even more determinative.

And it needs to be addressed. Making a website professional, informative, spending money on content and platform speed and performance help with trust. Having your physical location and contact information – who you are – listed on the website, all help. But sometimes, even that isn’t enough to license, say, a software suite that’s $90,000 a year. In a case like that, especially because sales are more and more buyer-driven, and your sales team means less and less, it helps to use ladders

So, what are ‘sales ladders’

Put simply, you don’t try to sell the big-ticket, high-buy-threshold item from the door.

You design a sales ladder that culminates in the sale of that item, and which: 

  • Offers initially free things, ideally that provide you insight into who might want items of greater cost;
  • Subsequently offers low-cost items to a smaller segment, also providing insights into who wants still more costly solutions;
  • Culminating to the highest-cost item, proffered to the smallest segment;
  • All the while, building trust and enabling the sale of a bigger-ticket item, which nobody would have purchased at the outset. 

This means that if you want to sell dental caps or bridges, you start with a free cleaning.

Not only will people accept the freebie, but you’ll be garnering more and more information about who the smaller segments are, and what they want.

During the free dental cleaning, you (the dentist) might see a cavity and schedule that repair that costs them $600, and which offers $400 profit to you. 

A smaller segment of the people who got the free cleaning will choose to get a cavity filled, but some segment of those people will need a bridge or caps – which are $20,000 apiece, and which provide $15,000 in profit to your dental practice.

The money-maker is the bridge or caps. With each step up the ladder, an offer is made – for a more valuable service – to a smaller and smaller audience, as you build a relationship and trust.

Too often marketers and businesses jump right to the good part (for them), the sale of a profitable – even if valuable or useful – service or product, forgetting that a courtship and relationship-building has to occur for people to trust you to deliver something that costs 5-figures or more. 

If you don’t have a an offer ladder for your product, create one.

Too often marketers and businesses jump right to the good part (for them), the sale of a profitable – even if valuable or useful – service or product, forgetting that a courtship and relationship-building has to occur for people to trust you to deliver something that costs 5-figures or more. If a website or brand is big and established enough, with great brand exposure, a footprint and other validators, selling household-name products, then this might work. You can jump right on or to buy a $1,500 bed. But if you’re selling a unique product or service, that’s generally not the case.

The same psychology explains repeat business: people already trust your brand or company, and therefore there’s little question of their ability to deliver. There’s some knowledge of brand identity, quality and values. In other words, since they’ve transacted with a given company before, the trust is there, along with other information that help sales happen.

Figures vary, but it’s many times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to re-sell them on a complimentary product from your company. 

In each case, it has to do with trust, even if one phenomenon of repeat sales being easier than new sales predates the Internet. 

The take-home is that people need trust in order to give you their money. And even moreso with the Internet, since they have no fall-back if you’re just a scam website. Millions of people have been taken for a ride by dishonest or criminal web rackets. It’s much harder with physical businesses, but trust still governs commerce. It’s one reason why certain nations have a better time courting business or investors than others.

With a laddered offering, you will do infinitely better than if you just try to hit someone up for a $20,000 dental bridge at the door.