Products don’t sell, sales people do. Services don’t sell, customer needs do. Products and services don’t sell; salespeople that address customer needs do. If a customer you’ve never hosted before calls your hotel asking to make and pay for a reservation, it’s not that they like your hotel; nor is it that they don’t have options. In fact, they don’t like it and they do have options. They are calling you because they believe you will meet their need. Unearthing this need is the salesperson’s job and the Holy Grail is sales. Doing so greatly increases your chances of repeat sales and referrals.  Not unearthing it leads to hits and runs.  Let’s look at three points.

Customers don’t know what they want

Yes; I’ve said this before and I’ve repeated it. Customers don’t know what they want.  Like patients customers are aware only of the symptom not root cause. They tend to bring you a running nose.  It is your job to unearth that it’s being caused by an infection; this will be after taking their temperature and asking them to say, “Ahhh” so that you can shine a torch down their throat.  Not doing either could end up you prescribing a cough syrup yet the running nose was onset of pneumonia.

And guess who the customer will blame when the pneumonia is fully blown:  you (plural). “That (name of your employer) lied to me; their salespeople are only after a quick sale and commissions.”  And all because you sold them a short course in report writing, because they said, “We want to write better reports”; but what they wanted was written communication skills to improve their technical report writing skills. Now if you only asked them to say, “Ahhh…” before hastily writing the prescription. The customer is not always right but the customer remains king

Customers are not looking for the best product

When products are not selling well, or if you are wondering why your products are not selling despite being the best, don’t be too quick to dismiss them.  Even when the demo shows it’s what they want, customers will still need you to sell to them. Admittedly, there are things that are hard to sell; but still, pause before throwing in the towel. Especially if you have not identified need.  

For example, in their meetings internally, customers will proudly proclaim that they are looking for the best product out there.  For instance, as recruiters, we get told many times that, “We are ready to employ the best talent out there. Money is not a problem.” But when the best out there is found, the decision is made based on, suitability, fit. “Just like the last three, he is competent, and has a good track record. He, however, is not a good fit for us.” Again, need. 

Products that don’t sell

Now this fit could be anything. And many times something that cannot be overtly stated and certainly not documented. You will only be told it, behind closed doors and only after it is felt trust has been earned. For instance, “The real reason we didn’t employ him is because we have had a bad experience with employees from that company he works for.” (Or, being Kenya, people from that region). Identifying this need is what to do when your product doesn’t sell, instead of quickly dispensing of it. However, identifying this need is best done, before you sell. Even if you are marketing expensive, high priced products, or luxury goods, the same logic applies. Products don’t sell, sales people do. 

Products don’t sell; the best is what you present it to be

Customers aren’t looking for the best. They don’t even know what the best is really. And with a plethora of options to choose from it’s a fool’s errand them trying to do so. That’s why they seek out opinions, referrals, bank guarantees, guarantors, testimonials, RFPs when they already know whom they want, etc. It’s faster and significantly reduces risk of failure.  The flip side of this, is engaging a sales person.  That’s why they will call in competing vendors to pitch, say, “Why your tablet?” Now the vendor that comes to share the specs of his tablet will likely come last. Not only is the technical presentation a blur to the non-technical on the panel, it does not address their need.

However, the one that, knowing a tablet is a tablet is a tablet, and so took the time to research why the buyer wants one, and addresses how his tablet meets that need, will quite likely rank higher.  In fact, a shrewd sales person will start his pitch stating just that: “We all know that a tablet is a tablet is a tablet; the question is, is it hardy enough to be used in, and can it address your need to have your 3,000 field offices all across rural East Africa upload their data live?” And just like that he has the buyer’s rapt attention and, in the buyer’s mind, dismissed his competing vendors.


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