What you “Do and what you “Sell” are Never the Same Thing

So, what are you selling?

I’m reminded daily that a key element of the human condition is profoundly illustrated by the statement, “Well, enough about me, How about you—What do you think of me?” No matter what we want to think, the most interesting thing to anyone is themselves and their lives, so why try to compete?

“What you do”, is all about you, but “what you’re selling” has to be completely about your prospect and what they’re really buying, which is likely different from what you think it is. Yet, in both sales and networking conversations I hear sales and business development professionals always talking about “what they do,” and I see the other person politely pretending to be interested.

The classic example of this principle of “do” and “sell” is life insurance. Insurance companies assess risk, create insurance policies, deliver them, and service them. That’s what they do. But we all know that they’re selling “peace of mind,” because that’s what the client is really buying. So, what does your company do, and what are you selling?

What you “do” is typically a description of your offering and the mechanics behind how you are able to deliver it. But is it your offering that your client is really buying? A conventional sales adage is, “Nobody buys a drill bit; they’re buying a hole.” This notion suggests we shouldn’t be so focused on the virtues of our awesome drill bit, but more on the wonderful holes it creates. Although this logic is a step in the right direction, it’s still wrong. The real problem is that nobody buys a hole either. The hole is the objective outcome of the drill bit, but like the drill bit, the hole has little intrinsic value. The real question is why do they want the hole? That’s where you’ll find its true value and motivation to buy.

Focusing on the hole is the same as telling your prospective client or customer that your offering will make them more efficient or effective, save them money, or make them money. These are objective outcomes of your offering. However, like the hole and drill bit, the money you’ll save them or make for them also has very little intrinsic value. The real value of money is in what it buys, and what it buys can be different for every person. The question is why does each of your prospects want the money, which is defined by what it buys for them.

If your buyer has no need for the objective outcome of your offering, then they may not be a qualified prospect, but if they do, needing the objective outcome of your offering is not their strongest buying motive. If your prospective buyer is a human being, then their strongest and most powerful motivation to purchase your stuff is based on its perceived emotional, psychological, political, or social value to them personally. The reason someone wants the “hole” is to receive the benefits of their completed project which will be experienced in terms like comfort, convenience, satisfaction, achievement, or empowerment; gratitude for helping out another; respect and praise for their power tool prowess, etc. Likewise, your client is primarily driven by the desire to win more respect and praise; experience more confidence, comfort, security, and convenience; or feel less stress, uncertainty and risk.

To appeal to your prospect’s true buying motivation, you must first determine what about you and your offerings helps your customer/client achieve more of these emotional and psychological rewards and embed them in your messaging. Second, when meeting with any prospect, figure out which of these emotional and psychological drivers are most dominant in them. Remember that the same money buys something different for everyone. What is this particular prospect really wanting to buy?

So, what are you selling? You should be selling more of whatever a prospect wants most. Find out what that is, and position yourself as a path to getting more of it. Stop telling people what you do, and start understanding what they really want. Then, use your offering to sell that. If your sales and marketing approach isn’t focused on that, get a new one.

Happy selling!


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