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Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

07970 638857


What Makes Your Customers Buy From You?

It's not what you or they think ...


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 01/11/2023 @ 8:00AM

When I started marketing and selling myself, it was pummeled into me to stress what was in it for the client. What benefits they would be left with after I had finished?

Do you buy a drill because you want to make a hole, or want to make a hole because you bought a drill?

Do you buy a drill because you want to make a hole, or want to make a hole because you bought a drill?

photo by simon caspersen on unsplash

What was drummed into me was the quote from Harvard Business School marketing Professor Theodore Levitt, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!" And I've accepted that ever since.

"After all, it made perfect sense and have quoted it endlessly!"

Then this week, I started to read the funniest marketing book ever. Rory Sutherland's Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas that Don't Make Sense. He quotes one of his fellow workers who challenged this saying, "No you don't. You see an electric drill in a shop and decide to buy it! Then you take it home and wander around your house looking for excuses to drill holes in things!" I'd add a rider to this of, "And then you put it in the garage for the next 10-years alongside all the accessories you bought with it." All justified to your spouse as, "You never know when they'll be needed!"

His point is that people don't make logical decisions. The real reason they choose to buy is buried deep in their unconscious brain, hidden from others and, most importantly, hidden from themselves. What comes into their mind and out of their mouths is a cover up to convince others that their decision was the best and rational.

So, what is the real reason for buying a drill? Well, it depends. For some people Professor Levitt is right; they want to make a specific hole in the wall. Others are looking for a new toy or want a trophy for their garage wall to show off to the neighbours every time they open the door.

Googling images of workshops, I discovered a whole plethora of images for the perfect Man Cave garage. I do not doubt that some of you will come up with an even more left-of-field reason for buying a drill.

So, when you're marketing and selling your version of the drill, don't make an assumption that all your clients want is a hole. Find out what other reasons people may have for buying your products and services.

The hidden unconscious reason likely has more to do with the client's sense of identity and purpose than the first superficial answer they give you. As we know that people buy on emotion, this is the best route to persuade them that you have the solution to their problems.

"If your clients are hiding the real reason from both you and themselves, how can you find out that reason?"

Don't assume the obvious and dig a bit deeper. Ask the questions that you think you already have the answer to and listen to the response. It's likely to be a justification. Sutherland makes the pertinent point to tease out the show stoppers that stop them from buying. An excellent follow-up question is, "What else?" at which point, the real reason often comes out. Swapping anecdotes will often allow people's hidden motives to appear.

Test it out on someone with no agenda on the subject. Encourage them to give apparently crazy answers and counter-intuitive responses. Let the conversation ramble away from the usual. Alternatively, get a business coach to ask you questions that test out your assumptions on the subject.

Follow up with observation or questions of what people do. Look for examples of how people actually use your product and services. Sutherland uses the lovely example of cleaning your teeth. We say we clean our teeth for hygiene reasons, yet few of us clean our teeth after each meal ... unless we're on a hot date of course.

"I have a personal example of this that is
familiar to many coaches!"

When I first set up as a business coach, the MD of a company would hire me ostensibly to help them with a business issue. However, halfway through the first session, they would pour out the real reason, and it was always a personal one and frequently to do with a conflict with another person.

Noticing this, I made the conscious switch to focus on' conflict at work' in marketing my services. However, the result of making this explicit in my marketing was although I got work dealing with disputes in the workplace, this was usually for members of the team rather than for the MD him/herself. That still had to emerge once coaching for the business had commenced.

In summary, to find out why clients really buy your services, keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared to explore the unusual and counter-intuitive responses and examples.

Test it out with thought experiments and get a counterpoint of view from others who don't think like you. Most importantly, don't try to rationalise what people say, as what they say is not what they think, and not what they do most of the time.

Oh, and I strongly recommend reading Sutherland's book if you like to laugh while you learn.

Until next time ...



Would you like to know more?

If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more about why your customers buy from you, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857. Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help you.

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