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Let’s play 20 questions

I was in a meeting with a potential client the other day, discussing a new piece of marketing literature. The aim was to produce a sales tool for their distributors’ telemarketing staff.

We started discussing possible content and the potential client said, “We want to include a section on handling objections.” I asked them what the typical objections to buying their service were. There was a silence.

It transpired that they had no idea why people might not want to buy their product. In fact, they weren’t altogether sure why people *did* buy their products. Back to the drawing board. And that set me thinking about my own career in marketing, including six years actually directing a marketing department.

Who built your copy platform?

I realised that it was only when I started meeting and speaking to customers that I truly began to understand what motivated them to buy our products. I used to write copy back then, too. And believe me, it became a lot easier once I could hear those voices telling me not just why they did buy, but why they might not.

If you don’t know, ask.

So here are some questions you might want to ask your customers, before you start that next piece of copy. (Or write the brief for someone like me.)

  1. What does your job entail?
  2. How is your performance measured?
  3. What kinds of decisions do you have to make and how often?
  4. When you make those decisions, what sort of information do you need first?
  5. What do you do with that information?
  6. Is there one thing that would make your life easier right now?
  7. What is it?
  8. Would you consider buying that thing from us?
  9. If not, why not?
  10. When you are considering buying a product like ours, what are you looking for?
  11. And what are you not looking for?
  12. Is price important? (You’d be surprised how often the answer is “no”.)
  13. When you’re using one of our products, what do you get out of it?
  14. Is there anything you’d change about it?
  15. What’s the most important thing you need to know before deciding to buy?
  16. What else do you want to know about our product?
  17. When considering buying one of these products, whose opinion would make you feel more secure in your decision?
  18. Are there things you buy from other suppliers that you’d consider buying from us?
  19. Have you ever been close to buying one of our products and then changed your mind?
  20. If so, what made you put your credit card away?

Yes, I know, it’s impractical to listen to enough customers to form a meaningful opinion. But even listening to one can provide that missing insight into buyer psychology that could open up a new way of selling. And I really do mean listening to people, not just commissioning research.

Market research is very useful, don’t get me wrong. But many marketers use it as a form of displacement activity. They could be out listening to customers themselves, but instead they sit down and start writing again – this time a brief for a market research agency.

This month’s message

Don’t just assume you know why people buy your products. Find out. And do it in person: there’s no substitute for sitting with a customer in their office (or a restaurant) and just chatting. One hour spent with a customer is worth a whole year’s study of the four Ps.

Categories: Customers and Maslen on Marketing.

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