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What’s On Your Customer’s Mind?

It’s easier to persuade people to buy what they want than what you want them to want. So ask yourself these seven questions.

Jerome Kern wrote: “When you’re in love, smoke gets in your eyes.” Too often I meet founders or CEOs who are so in love with their vision that they don’t take the time to consider what their customers really want. The CEOs aggressively market their product or service, without thinking about what’s really on their customers’ minds.

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Customers either consciously or unconsciously ask themselves seven questions before they commit to buying a product or service. If you can put yourself in their place, and answer these seven questions, you’re much more likely to have them buy your product or service.

1. What can you DO for me? Robbie Bogue, the late president of Los Angeles-based Marketing Excellence, said, “People don’t care what you know or even what you can do, until they know what you can get done for them.” Starbucks gourmet coffee shops know how important it is to get something done for people — in their case it’s giving people a breather from their stressful lives that they would not normally take for themselves. Having a cozy nook to grab a cup of coffee, read a newspaper, surf the Web and perhaps even have a conversation is an ideal setting to help people gear up on the way to work and gear down on the way home. Requiring too much brain space, focus, and follow-through to derive the benefits of your service or product is not going to fly in a too-busy-to-relax world. You better be able to explain quickly, simply, and clearly the benefits of your product or service.

2. Why is that IMPORTANT to me? Your customers are looking for something they want to buy rather than something you want them to buy. You love your product or service, but if what you’re offering is of no value to your customer, who cares? Certainly your customer doesn’t. If he or she doesn’t care about power in a hybrid and is only concerned about MPG, they’re not going to be impressed or buy a Lexus R400H, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, or Honda Accord Hybrid. In this climate of increased customer savvy, a hard sell is just not going to cut it. Find out what your customers want and need most, then build that and sell it to them.

3. Is that MORE than I’m getting now? Whether people own up to it or not, everybody wants more. If Domino’s Pizza offered a “one for the price of two” special for people who want to diet rather than a “two for the price of one” special, how many customers would order that pizza? At first glance, wanting more appears to be a rather crude and offensive quality, but it is not just about greed. It is just as often a cushion against times in life when people have less. Having more offers some protection against having less later. Getting more from life also gives people the feeling that they are smart rather than naive.

4. Is that BETTER than I’m getting now? With increased education and sophistication, quantity no longer makes up for lagging quality. Even people who desire quantity seek out quality in many products and services. Credit for much of Lexus and Infiniti cars’ success is due to transforming the service and repair experience from the bane of a car owner’s life into one of the pleasures of driving one of these cars.

5. Is that SOONER than I’m getting it now? Time is money. That’s just a fact. That is why email is the fastest growing use of the Internet compared to all the wondrous things that cyberspace offers. If Federal Express had not started delivering on weekends for those customers who “work on weekends,” they’d have to give away weekend customers to the U.S. Postal Service.

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6. Does it COST LESS than I am spending now? Cost is an issue in your customer’s mind. Years ago, buying wholesale instead of retail was considered declassé. Today buying retail is a sign of foolishness. Why else would you see so many upscale cars (and presumably well-to-do customers) in the parking lots at Costco? If cost consciousness were not a concern to customers, why would companies use the word “sale” so frequently in their advertising?

7. Is that LESS RISKY than what I am doing now? The thrill of an adrenaline rush is only exceeded by the terror of an adrenaline crash. As much as we like the thrills in life, the potential spills scare us more. Would you move all your money to a new start-up financial services firm, with no track record, but with the greatest investment ideas since sliced bread? I don’t think so. (Besides, even sliced bread is no longer the best thing if you’ve noticed the increasing popularity of baguettes, croissants, and French roles.)

If you don’t make the effort to consider what customers want from you, why should they go to the expense of purchasing your product or service? How successful can you hope to be if you’re offering something that doesn’t do anything for them, isn’t important to them, is less than what they’re getting now, is of lower quality to what they have now, takes longer than it’s taking now, costs more than they’re spending now, and requires more risk than they’re taking now?

Your customers are not fools. If you don’t take your customer’s expectations into consideration, you’re only fooling yourself.

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