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You may not be selling what you think you are. To put it another way, your customers may be buying something else from you than you think you are selling. As business owners, we often miss this subtle difference, and that can have a great impact on our sales.

What I mean by this is that we often fail to remember that we are not selling a product or service; we are selling a solution to a problem, providing value by helping our customers with something that will make their lives easier. To use a classic example, you think you are selling drills, when your customers actually are buying holes.

Why is this important? Simply because you will sell more if you present what you are selling as a solution to the potential customer’s problem, than a series of features. I once read an interview with Kirsti Paakkanen, the former CEO of the successful Finnish company Marimekko, and she summed up the philosophy behind this idea beautifully: “When you’re starting a business, don’t think about how you’re going to make money, think about how you’re going to provide value. If you can figure that out, money will start coming in through doors and windows.”

Are you selling the same thing your customers are buying?

John Jantsch, author of the excellent “Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide“- book suggests that you make a “case statement” for cutting through the marketing hype and getting to the real reasons why your prospects should trade their money for what you have to offer, and that it should address the following:

  • a statement of a challenge, frustration, or problem that your target market experiences
  • an image of what life is like when the problem is solved
  • how they got here in the first place
  • a path for them to follow
  • a directed call to action

(John Jantsch, Duct Tape Marketing: the world’s most practical small business marketing guide, 2006, Thomas Nelson Inc.)

Tell your customers how you are different and what benefits there are to doing business with you. The idea is not to focus on what you do, but how you do it. It is so easy to get caught in the trap of seeing things through your own eyes as a business owner, and rant on about what you do. The fact is that your prospects are not interested in you; they are interested in themselves and their problems. So tell them clearly how you solve them and how much happier they will be after that. Use that in all your sales pitches and marketing communication.

Let me give you an example to illustrate the above. You are selling courses to students to help them get accepted into a university or school and have to pass a test to do so. You could market your great instructors and how experienced they are, or how affordable your courses are and how many years you have been in business. What you should focus on instead is that your courses will get your students accepted into the school or university with much higher probability. Prove it by showing the statistics. Interview students who took your course and were accepted into a university. Your prospects main concern is to be accepted, and that is what you should sell.

You need to be very careful with one thing, though; see to it that what you claim holds true, and you deliver on your promise. Do not write marketing material that make claims that you cannot deliver on. In the above example, if you find that your courses do not actually improve the probability of acceptance to the university in question, you should improve the quality so that they do, or start thinking about doing something else.

What you can do right now: ask some of your best customers why they buy from you and what problem you actually solve for them. Figure out how you differ from the competition and what value you provide from your customers point of view. Write down a case statement as suggested by John Jantsch above, and go through your current marketing material with that in mind. You may find that you have a lot of rewriting to do.