Stop Selling Your Product

Tuesday, October 06, 2015
rosscraig

Sometimes the digital marketing industry does what every industry does, it gets carried away with its own importance. We believe that “the world is different now” and that the newest app or platform is a “game changer”. The thing is, all we’re trying to do is to make people buy a product or service. Catapult a 16th century fruit and veg seller into the modern world and tell him that’s what we do… and he’s probably going to get it. Products might change but the constant is people; people who still have the same basic core needs and emotions that we’ve all had for thousands of years.

My parents had an ironmongers shop (and what’s more old school than that?) in Fife, which I worked in off and on for around ten years (School job, student job and then finding that they were among the few full-time employers who’d accommodate me nipping off to do a stand-up comedy gig in Aberdeen or attend a TV writers meeting in Glasgow). Every day I saw people making decisions to buy or not buy.

In the digital world it could be tempting to bin those observations now that, “the world is different” and the, “game has changed”. I think they remain relevant though. See what you think.

You can’t just sell on price

My parents’ shop was frequently described as being “like an Aladdin’s Cave” by customers. On the positive side, this meant that it was filled with all manner of potential treasures. On the negative side it meant that the display system was akin to that of a group of medieval bandits piling one haul of booty on top of the other. As such, sometimes, the customers needed a little bit of assistance in finding what they were looking for.

One day, a customer came in looking to buy a small gardening trowel. Looking for a more petite one than the ones we had clearly on display, she asked my dad. After much rummaging, he found an older item of stock that fitted the bill. The price had come off it.

“How much is it?” enquired the customer.

“Tell you what, just make it a pound”, said my dad, keen to move on some old stock and provide a bargain in the process.

“Oh!” said the lady seeking a trowel, her face curling in disgust. “I think I wanted to spend a bit more than that!”

Lesson: Making things cheaper doesn’t always sell. People need to believe they’re getting something that’s of worth.

You can’t just sell on quality

A lady came in looking to buy a saw for her husband. It was as part of his birthday present so she wanted, “a good one”. This was no problem to me. I led her over to a particular saw, indicated it and told her that this was the saw that all the shop’s tradesmen customers bought.

“But he is a tradesman! He uses those saws every day! So I want to get him a good one that’s not just an everyday one!”

The thing is… tradesmen use the best quality products, because that’s what’s most cost effective for them to do. They know from their own experience and that of their colleagues which item provides the most usage to a professional standard, when compared against the eventual cost of replacing it. Hence, it’s the best quality product.

In this debate though, quality wasn’t defined in the product, quality was defined in the mind of the customer. She’d asked for the best quality saw, I’d shown her the best quality saw but that didn’t register.

Lesson: Quality exists in the mind of the customer as much as in the standard of the product.

You can’t just sell on range

The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears seems to tell us that if you’re given a choice of three things, there will always be a middle option that’s just perfect. That’s what I imagined would be the case when a customer came in to ask for a glass cutter that a relative had asked them to buy while they were in town.

I produced the three glass cutters we stocked (same company, three different durability levels in ascending prices) and laid them on the counter. Paralysed with panic (and before mobile phones were de rigeur) they decided that they’d better not buy any of them, in case they bought “the wrong one”.

If I’d just produced one of those glass cutters and put it in front of them, they’d have bought it quite happily. Instead, I made it less simple. I gave them a choice, I gave them the potential to be wrong and they didn’t buy anything.

Lesson: People face choices in every aspect of their life. Offer them simplicity.

What can you sell on?

You have to sell based on the customer, not based on your product or service. The customer has an idea of what they need or what they want and that may very well be your product.

However, what they want or need is unlikely to be the same as your own view of your product. You’ve created that based on what would sell to you.

These days, with search and social insights, it’s easier than ever to know and understand your existing market and your potential market. You don’t have to fall into the trap of just speaking about your view of your product or service, you can speak to your market.

But speaking to them isn’t enough, you have to make the buying process as simple as possible. People have enough decisions to make these days. Don’t give them another one.