Understand The Essential ‘Why They Buy’

Close your eyes. Step away from the daily routine. Answer the essential ‘why they buy’ questions. Why does anybody buy what you’re selling? What do they get out of it? What need does it fill? Do you offer identifiable benefits? What are they?

Drills vs. holes

Some 30 years ago Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt said: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” That illustrates the ‘why they buy’ that we all need to understand and remember. iStock_000000331264Small

For examplle, one thing I’ve learned from 30-some years in business plan software is that people want the plan, not the software.

It seems obvious but we quickly forget. You think about features, not benefits.

Benefits not features

For example, think about affordable luxuries like the latte at Starbucks, the lobster dinner, the fancy mustard. Starbucks sells a lot more than a cup of coffee, and Gray Poupon mustard is a lot more than just mustard.  iStock_000000370316Small

Look at hamburgers. McDonald’s and Burger King sell fast and easy and reliable. On Saturdays they’re full of parents with kids between soccer games. It’s not a hamburger, it’s a quick solution to a lunch problem. Then there are the gourmet hamburgers. You can pay 4-5 times what the cheapest hamburgers cost. That’s another affordable luxury.

With high-tech products we’re lured into thinking of features, details, bells and whistles. This is okay for a lot of the market. Some of the market, however, doesn’t buy for features but rather status or prestige or peace of mind or some other intangible. iStock_000001206970Small

This kind of thinking is essential for better planning. It helps you build your strategic positioning. Some people buy for price, some for location, some for ease of use, fast delivery, or because their annoying neighbor said they should.

Why do people buy expensive beautifully-packaged sweet-smelling bath soaps? Most of the time they don’t, but imagine it’s February 14. You plan better when you really dig into the buyers’ real motivation.

Whether you’re planning for a start-up or to grow an existing business, start with buyer motivation. Why do they buy from you? What do you do better, or at least different, from your competition? How can you build that difference into strategy?


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