Sell More by Selling Differently

LEGO sells great toys all over the world, and they know that their customers “use” their products for different reasons. On any given day, in fact, three ten-year-old boys might buy the same exact set of LEGO blocks in the same store for the same price, but for three completely different reasons:
•Constructing. The first boy just enjoys figuring out the diagrams that come with LEGO blocks and then putting things together exactly as specified.
•Role playing. The second boy gets the most fun from putting a toy together and then pretending he’s the spaceship captain or the race car driver for the toy he just built.
•Creating. The third boy wouldn’t dream of putting together something that someone else had already put in a diagram! He wants to see what else he could build that might be completely different.

If LEGO knew which boy was which, think of what else the company could sell them. For the “constructor” they could offer extra diagrams for more toys you could put together from the same set of blocks, or diagrams of things you could construct from multiple sets. For the role player, they could sell costumes, accessories, story books and videos. And for the creator they could offer imaginative challenges – pictures of other possible uses for the blocks, but without the blueprints, for instance.

We all know that when we sell to a customer we need to do it in such a way as to appeal to the customer’s motivation, or need, but it’s easy to forget that customers are all different, and their needs are often quite different as well.

In previous posts I’ve talked a lot about the different values of your customers. The 80-20 rule, which suggests that 20% of your customers probably generate up to 80% of your profit, also implies that half your profit will likely come from just the top 1% of your customers. I discussed how to profile five different types of customers, based on the combination of their “Actual Value” and their “Growth Potential,” and I suggested that different profiles call for different business objectives (retention, cost reduction, etc.).

But in order to achieve your objective with any particular type of customer you have to change that customer’s behavior, right? That’s the goal of all marketing – getting customers to do something they wouldn’t otherwise have done, without the marketing. And how do you do that? How do you change a customer’s behavior?

By appealing to the customer’s own individual needs, that’s how. By showing the customer how a behavior change can better satisfy whatever motivation is driving him.

The problem is that customer needs are multi-dimensional. They aren’t denominated in dollars and cents, like customer value. And the only practical way to act on different customers’ different needs is to simplify things by categorizing your customers into needs-based groups (like LEGO’s constructors, role players and creators).

When I was a business development executive for an advertising agency, I used to categorize a prospective client in terms of whether I thought they were a “make me rich” or “make me famous” kind of person. This distinction is hardly exact, but I did win business with it.

To sell more in your own business, you need to begin to categorize your customers in terms of how they use your product, or what they use it for, or what is driving them to buy your product, and how you can better meet that need. Here are a few “thought starters” from other business categories you might find useful in thinking about how your own customers are different:

In the commercial real estate business, your customers might be
•Active deal makers (interested mostly in speed and flexibility), or
•Buy-and-hold investors (interested in cost containment and operational efficiency), or
•Operators (interested in synergies, combinations, and ways to improve a property’s value).

If you were a truck-and-tire dealership, you might have customers that are
•Big fleet owners (they want consistency and convenience, and treat speed and cost as interchangeable), or
•Mom-and-pop operators (they value friendliness and trust, and they want to make “deals”), or
•Specialty vehicle firms (tank trucks, refrigerated vehicles, flatbeds, etc.)

If you operate a florist business, your consumer customers might be
•Well-meaning but overwhelmed (they need advice), or
•Big-hearted benefactors (more impulsive and indulgent), or
•Practical and self-sufficient (sometimes they forget dates), or
•Slow but sentimental (they want something imaginative and memorable), or
•Last-minute and lavish (they often forget dates, need help, happy to spend)

Note that all these distinctions are inherently artificial and approximate. They are not exact, and they never could be exact, because customers are individuals, and not categories. But they are useful generalizations. This kind of exercise is a valuable step toward treating each customer more and more individually.

Now: How would you categorize YOUR company’s business or consumer customers in terms of their different needs?

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