The basic tenet of successful selling is to uncover a customer need and then find a way to fill that need.  Salespeople sometimes forget to find the need and rush straight to selling products or services.  Then, they wonder why people don’t buy what they’re selling.

Clayton Christensen is a Harvard professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma.  He says people buy products for one simple reason:  To do a job.  “When we have a job to do, we have to find something to get the job done,” said Christensen.  “The causal mechanism that causes us to buy a product or service is that there’s a job that needs to be done.”

It can be a complex problem or simple things we might not initially see as problems.

Would You Hire A Milkshake?

Christensen gives this example.  He was invited by McDonald’s to improve sales of milkshakes.  He thought “I wonder if there’s a job people have that a milkshake would do the job?” he told Inc.  His team starting digging into the data and realized that a large number of milkshakes were purchased by guys traveling by themselves early in the morning.  The team stopped buyers and asked what would make them “hire a milkshake” at 6:30 in the morning.

What they found was this:  customers buying milkshakes in the morning were facing a long (and potentially boring) drive.  The milkshake’s “job” was to keep the customer fed (and occupied) during the drive

The insight his team found was that milkshakes weren’t just competing against offerings from other fast food outlets, but against doughnuts, bagels, bananas, and candy bars. These options didn’t get the job done, however.  They were consumed too quickly (or left behind sticky hands).

How different would you frame a marketing message knowing this?

Find A Need.  Fill A Need.

If finding a need and filling a need is so basic, why aren’t we all doing it?

I find that the longer people have been in the business, the more they take shortcuts.  They usually know what to do, but often forget to do it.

Sales guru Jim Doyle puts it this way:

“When major league baseball teams started spring training a month ago, they practiced the basics. Who covers first on a ground ball to the right side of the infield? Where does the cut-off man stand? These are the exact same things my son‘s Little League® team practiced when he was a 10-year-old just learning baseball.”

Understand.  Believe.  Trust.

Before you can sell something, three things have to happen:

  1. Customers must understand they have a need
  2. You must have a product they believe will fill that need
  3. They must trust you (and your company) can deliver

Notice that none of these three items are about the actual products or services?  It’s about what the customer understands and believes.  Your job as a salesperson is to sell them on your products ability to fulfill a need they have and trust that you can deliver on what you say.

Understanding, believability, and trust.

Doing these basics well doesn’t guarantee you a sale, but taking shortcuts on one of these basics likely will cost you one.