Is it a question you have ever explored?

If you’ve ever watched the video ‘Start With Why‘ authored by Simon Sinek,  he identifies one of the truths at the core of sales.  Why you sell is far more important than the how and the what.

There is an old marketing adage – don’t sell drills, sell holes.  Focusing not on your product/service, but on what your product/service does given this is what your client purchases.

But is this right?  Does it go far enough?  Is your customer buying a drill? A hole? Or something else?

If you’re in retail and a customer comes in to your store, selects a drill and walks to your counter, pays and leaves – you’ve made a sale.  But who did the selling?  You had no control over this sale and, therefore, no control over the outcome.  Sure, you obtained your customers money, but can be you assured they will be happy when they get the drill home?  Can you be assured they’ll come back?  You had a transaction with that client, but not a relationship.  You sold them something, but didn’t sell them.

If, instead, that same customer engages with one of your staff members and asks about which is the best to drill through 1” ply – you would hope your staff member has the product knowledge to guide them to the correct drill and, if well trained, also suggest the right drill bits, safety equipment and other essentials.  Again, you’ve made a sale and, in this instance, your customer this time leaves with some knowledge the drill and bits will work properly and, ideally, you’ve increase your sale value through additional products.  You also have the comfort in knowing what you’ve sold is ‘fit for purpose’ don’t you?  It will drill a fantastic hole – exactly what the client needed.

Sure, it will drill the hole in 1” ply – but what was your customer’s real purpose?  Why were they drilling the hole?

Now – what if you staff member approaches your customer in the power tool aisle and simply asks ‘you looking to build something this weekend?’.  That same customer will probably say to your staff member that their  daughter has been pestering them to finally build the Wendy House they promised.  They need a new drill.

This is the reason that customer is standing in your business.  Not because they want a drill.  Not because they want to drill a hole.  Not simply because they want to build a Wendy House.  But because they want to see the joy on their daughters face once it’s complete and their relief at having honoured a promise.

Your staff member can now really help your customer.   They will ask if they have plans.  They will advise them they may not need that drill as you can pre-cut and pre-drill all the timber off the plans so it will fit perfectly.  They may just need a spanner – do they have one?  Have they thought about weather protection as they will want it to last and be safe?  What about the foundations so it’s stable?  All manner of advice can be given to improve the outcome for your customer and, importantly, their daughter.  It is no longer a transaction, it has become a relationship.  Your staff member is now invested in your clients outcome.

But, here is the truth.  Your staff member has to want to ask the question.    They have to be driven by the desire to help your clients, not sell products.  You can’t train this intent – your sales person has to find it.

The adage of ‘don’t sell drills, sell holes’ is correct though only goes part of the way to the truth of why we should be selling.  In today’s era of readily available information on our products and services – clients can quickly assess what ‘drill’ they need to make their ‘hole’.  Where sales people need to focus is not just the hole rather than the drill, but the reason they need the hole in the first place.  Your clients purpose.  The problem or opportunity that is keeping them awake at night – helping them solve this is what sales is about.

Success could easily be seen in the first example as the client has purchased a drill from you – you made a sale.  But, extrapolate this out.   Let’s assume that drill wasn’t fit for purpose, that it didn’t have enough torque to drill the hole they needed.  Now, you could assume it isn’t your fault because the client made their own decision and purchased without your consultation.  But is this fair?  You had the opportunity to help them when they walked in to your store.  You even hire staff to be on the floor to help clients. Ask yourself whether you had the obligation to help them.  That customer buying the wrong drill was your fault, not theirs.  And it can quickly become your problem.

Even if the drill was perfect for the task – do you have any enduring relationship with the customer?  Do they feel better for having purchased the drill from you?  Do they feel you and your staff contributed to the successful outcome of their project simply because you sold them a drill.

In this example, the purpose was to build a Wendy house, not to drill holes or buy a drill.  Knowing this, you can radically change your clients experience with you and your store.  By not taking the time to understand this, you simply sell a drill.  Taking orders isn’t selling, it simple making sales.

Your clients will always have a purpose behind their interactions with you.  However, they won’t always freely tell you what these are.  It isn’t your client’s responsibility to tell you – you are the professional sales person.  It is your purpose to find out theirs and help them achieve it.

The simple rule of selling, its purpose, is easy – Help. Your. Clients.

It isn’t about achieving quotas, commission hurdles, product penetration ratios, minimum margin thresholds.  Clients don’t care about these things.  They care about their challenges and their opportunities and what you are doing to help them mitigate them and realise them respectively.

Seth Godin referred to it very succinctly

‘Don’t Find Customers For Your Products, Find Products For Your Customers’

Start with your customers and work to your solutions, not the other way around.  Selling isn’t about Drills.  It isn’t about Holes, nor even Wendy House’s.  It is about daughter’s smiling.  This is why your client is buying from you.

Helping them achieve it is selling by purpose.

This is why you sell.

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