First of all, yes, all of life is sales. You may not like it and you may think that’s not the way it should be, but it’s the way it is. Whether you’re trying to get a job, get a raise, get a date, get married, get a house, get a loan, get into school or just get on that last flight home, you’re trying to sell something. You want the other person to do something for you in return for whatever it is you’re trying to offer. You need to understand that and get used to it. Even when someone is doing you a “favor” you’re still selling. You’re selling them on the fact that your friendship is important or that one day you’ll return the favor, or maybe you’re just selling them on the fact that if they do what you want you’ll stop bothering them. Doesn’t matter, you’re still selling. Don’t like that fact? Too bad.
Life Is Selling And You’re The Product
So, if all of life is selling then the reason you’re not doing as well as you want is because you’re not a very good salesperson. You’re not that good at getting them to want your product or you have the wrong product. Either way, people aren’t buying what you’re offering. In my professional life I started out as a product manager. That means I’m responsible for everything that will or has happened to my product. I determine what features it will have, when the new version will be released and what the product will look like. It was a fascinating job and one which taught me an incredible amount about selling.
You see, as a product manager, you need to figure out what will make your product sell. That is, why should people buy your product over the competition? Eventually, I found that there are three important truths to selling.
- People buy solutions to their problems
- People want to buy from people who understand them
- People will not buy something that is too revolutionary
Today, I want to talk about the first of these, selling solutions.
What Does That Mean?
Think about your own daily life. What do you go shopping for? What do you actively look for? You’re not just looking for a pair of pants, you’re looking for a pair of pants that will make you look good. You’re not just looking for a car, you’re looking for a car with good gas mileage. You’re not just looking for a life partner, you’re looking for someone to settle down with and have kids. See where I’m going with this? In each of these cases, there’s some kind of need or problem which you’re trying to solve. Understanding that need is the key to making a sale. You can make the most comfortable pair of pants ever but if the problem people are trying to solve when shopping for pants is looks and not comfort, then your comfortable jeans will sit there on the shelf, unsold. The same applies in almost any situation.
If you’re at a bar where college girls come to meet guys then being a 40 year old man looking for a serious relationship is probably not going to get you anywhere (and also, it’s pretty creepy). You have the wrong product and you’re trying to cater to a need which your customer base does not have. If you’re trying to sell a software product to a marketing manager whose main concern is increasing sales then don’t tell him about how great your software is at lowering tech support calls. He doesn’t care because that’s not the problem he’s trying to solve.
In other words, understand what problem it is that your customer is trying to solve and then target your product at that problem.
Multi Problem Solutions
That said, true market genius is in creating a product that solves multiple problems. Do this right, and people may not even realize which problem you’re solving, they’ll just know they MUST have your solution.
Apple and Steve Jobs are superb at this. Did anyone really think they NEEDED a smart phone before the iPhone came out? Sure, having a Blackberry was good for work and having an iPod which played MP3′s was neat, but I wouldn’t say that not having a smart phone was a problem for me. Luckily (or unluckily I suppose, depending on your viewpoint) Jobs recognized several emerging trends and a potential solution to all of them, and his product became immensely popular as a result.
As an aside, people ignore the fact that Jobs does indeed fail sometimes. For example, look up the Apple Newton, that was a miserable failure of a product and a good example of a product that was too far ahead of its time (more on that in a later post when we discuss why people don’t buy things that are too revolutionary). However, Jobs did recognize an intersection of trends that led to an amazing product in the iPhone.
In fact, the iPhone is the end point of three trends:
- Human beings like entertainment – This trend started a million years ago when the first caveman danced in front of a fire. It then evolved into plays, live music and theater. At some point, human beings wanted to bring the entertainment with them instead of going to it, which is how it evolved into radio and then portable radio and then walkmens and then iPods.
- Human beings like to communicate – Again, this is a million year old trend. We started it with screaming I suppose, but it evolved from smoke signals and heliographs into messenger lines, telegraphs, then telephones, then car phones and finally cell phones.
- Organization – As our lives got more and more complicated, we needed help in being organized. First we had secreteries to do this for us then we got leather clad journals to do the trick. Finally, we evolved this need into the personal data organizer (PDA) which was a market ruled by Palm for several years.
Now here comes Jobs. He sees these three trends (along with the growing usage of the internet) and brings them together into a product that’s beautiful and functional. That’s genius!
The Ultimate In Sales
That’s right, the ultimate in sales is recognizing not one but multiple problems that your customer is trying to solve and pitch a solution that solves all of them. That’s a sales pitch that’s very hard to resist and a strategy you can apply to almost anything.
- Want to get a promotion? What problems are your boss / company facing? What is making their lives difficult? What is causing them to lose sleep? If you can figure those out and present yourself as a solution, you’re going to get that promotion.
- Want to get a date? What is your dream girl thinking of? What is she looking for? Does she want a man who will make her feel better about herself? Is she looking for a potential life partner and father for her children? Does she want a casual fling for pure entertainment? Is her ideal man you? Do you want it to be you? Are you willing to change your product (that would be changing yourself) for her? Can you? If you can, go for it, but don’t try to sell her a solution she doesn’t want.
- Want to get a good price for your rental property? What are potential renters looking for? Will they be impressed with the school district? Are they looking for a nice kitchen? Are they male bachelors who care only about price and access to a local bar? (sorry, stereotyping, I know).
In all of these cases, you need to figure out what your client is trying to solve and pitch the appropriate product. Do that and you’ll find your life makes a turn for the better.