They’re Not Buying What You Think They’re Buying.

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When we make a purchase, it’s typically in one of two categories:

We buy products.  Products are items that you can possess, touch, and feel.

We buy services.  Services are intangible benefits typically gained through the actions of others.

This is about as far as most people go in thinking about what they buy or sell.  Today I’d like you to go deeper.

I’d like you to change the way you look at commerce.

To be sure, you are conducting commercial activity.  Money is changing hands and things are flowing to and fro, but you’re not really interested in owning any of those things specifically for their existence, or even for the utility of the item.

At the most basic level, you are not buying goods and services.

You are buying the feelings they create inside you.

A man buys a Porsche 911 Convertible on his 50th birthday.  Why?

Is it because his Lexus isn’t a capable form of transport?  Is it lacking in luxury and refinement?  Hardly.

He’s buying the Porsche to evoke a certain feeling.

2 young mothers walk into Starbucks and buy a Blonde coffee and a white chocolate mocha. They drink them while sitting together on a bench while their children play in the courtyard of an outdoor mall.

They could have made coffee at home for less than 25% of the cost and brought it with them.

Why spend more than 4x as much?

They’re buying the coffee to evoke a feeling.

Starbucks is a beautiful example of consumers buying feelings, not products.

The sprawling coffee empire exists today because of Howard Schulz’s recognition that Americans were craving a “3rd place” in their lives outside of the 2 spheres of home and work.   He felt they needed a place to go recharge and regroup.  A 10 minute vacation from the rest of life. Coffeehouses just happened to be the perfect conduit to get that done.

If it was all about the life changing experience of the coffee itself, they could just sell everything by mail order and be done with it.

You’re not buying the coffee from Starbucks.  Like that mother and her friend, you can make coffee at home for less.  Heck, you can make the very same coffee at home for less.

You’re buying the feelings you get by being in that atmosphere: standing in that line, or sitting for a few minutes and working on your laptop.  You’re buying the opportunity to walk into work with the white cup with the mermaid logo and feel good that you indulged yourself in a small luxury of life.

How does your company go about generating positive feelings in its customer base?  How much thought have they put into controlling the quality of the customer experience?

In Harry Beckwith’s book, Selling the Invisible, he states that there are really only a few places your company interacts with a customer.   A few examples could be: salesperson, receptionist, business card, website, and customer service representative.  Is every single one of those contact points engineered to be (repeatedly) remarkable?

It doesn’t matter how complex your business model is.  There are usually fewer than 10 areas that you can have an interaction with a customer.  That’s few enough places to make sure you have completely mastered your ability to affect the experience in a positive way.   Why do so many companies forget to design this competitive advantage opportunity?

It’s because they’re focused on the product or service itself.  They lose sight of the experience.

This is your opportunity to capitalize.

Remember that nothing exists in a vacuum.  You can’t just assume your protocols are satisfactory or even excellent.  You’re being compared to every competitor in your space, and even other companies in OTHER industries the customer may deal with.

Talk about pressure!

For those companies that are willing to accept this reality and go to work designing a distinctive, delightful experience; one where the customers can’t get a better feeling from a competitor, the opportunity exists to build the most admired brands and companies in the world.

People that sell services tend to have an easier time to making this leap to feelings.  After all, lots of service based businesses require direct personal interactions with the customer.   You come away with a feeling, good or bad.

Sellers of product have a harder time designing a better “feelings experience” because it’s so easy to focus on the items being sold.   They forget (or some just fail to realize) that HOW you sell a product is MORE important than the product itself.

This is especially true in commoditized industries.  If I can buy your product from someone other than you, you need to come up with some very good reasons I shouldn’t do that.

For some companies, it’s a blow to their ego to think that the product isn’t the focal point.

For a stellar example of this phenomenon, I highly recommend you read Pour your Heart into It by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

In the book he tells the story of his eventual disagreement and departure from Starbucks when the original founders clashed with Howard a few years after they recruited him to the company because they began to have a culture crisis.

After a very successful pilot program, the founders decided they did not want to serve coffee drinks.  They only wanted to sell the beans, not “get into the restaurant business.”  They wanted the focus of the company to be on the quality of the coffee.  They wanted the focus to be on the product itself. 

Howard recognized the larger opportunity available by focusing on the feelings he could generate in their already loyal customer base.

Their disagreement was so strong that Howard eventually left the company and started his own brand of coffeehouse, a new chain called “il giornale.”

The story comes full circle a few years later as the Starbucks founders decided to sell off their Starbucks brand to focus on their new line, Peet’s Coffee and Tea.

Howard was able to buy the Starbucks brand and its existing stores for $3.8 Million. That was a pretty good investment considering they now have a market cap of $65B as of this writing.

Starbucks now has more than 21,000 stores and employs more than 150,000 partners worldwide.  Howard’s Schultz’s vision of catering to his customer’s feelings has worked out even better than he dreamed.

Howard now has a personal net worth of 2.4 billion because he realized he sold feelings.

What would happen to your business if you realized it too?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.