All too often, I see businesses advertising their wares…but from their own perspective. They talk about their expertise and what they DO or MAKE, thinking that’s what people are buying. Of course, that’s not what they’re buying at all.
Hence my question — are you selling what your customers want to buy?
Confused? There’s a great story that illustrates this perfectly. A college professor stood in front of his classroom, holding a shovel. He told the class that their assignment was to write an ad, selling the shovel.
The students got to work and their ads talked about the virtues of the shovel – the hardwood handle, the forged steel blade, the balance between the blade and the handle, etc. The professor let the students go on for a while and then he stopped them and shook his head. He said, “Let me tell you the secret for selling this shovel. The secret is to realize that no one buys a shovel just because they want a shovel. They buy a shovel because they need a hole.”
No matter what it is you sell – you need to figure out what’s behind that sale. They’re not buying your service or your product. They’re buying what they get out of that service or product. When you miss that – you run the risk of not meeting that need and losing a customer.
Recently, I had a very unsatisfactory experience with a company that promised to “townhouse my house.” I think the reason they were so disappointing is because they didn’t really understand what their customers want to buy.
They believed that they were selling yard services like weeding, mowing and snow removal. As long as they could perform those chores satisfactorily – they thought I’d be happy. But I could buy those services anywhere.
What I really wanted to buy was the convenience of having someone else worry about my yard and just take care of what needed to be done. I wanted the confidence they would show up when they said they would, so I didn’t have to keep calling them back. What I really wanted was the peace of mind that I could just cross all those tasks off of my list – and my life would be easier because of it.
Ultimately – because they didn’t understand what I really was trying to buy – I stopped buying. I didn’t need or want their shovel.
So – how do you go from selling shovels to realizing that your customers want to buy a hole?
Ask better questions: Don’t just ask the standard intake questions. Develop a short list of questions that will trigger a conversation about the underlying need. Listen carefully and ask enough follow up questions so you truly know the root problem you are being hired to solve.
Hire an outsider to talk to your current customers: We have that Midwest nice thing going on so sometimes customers won’t be very candid when you ask for feedback. But, when you hire a firm to do that asking for you (or secret shop you), you’ll be amazed at what you learn. We provide this service for our clients and I’m always amazed at how much we learn.
Observe them in the wild: Watching how your customers interact with what you sell can be incredibly enlightening. They might use it in a way you hadn’t imagined or for a purpose you hadn’t considered. They may have had to create a workaround because of something that isn’t quite right. If you sell your products in a retail environment, hang out in the store and listen as people considering buying your product.
The real secret to knowing what your customers actually want to buy is to never assume. Don’t be fooled into thinking you know. Do the hard work of finding out and earn their loyalty for years to come.