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The sticky truth about what customers really want

Finding myself on a weird trip to the grocery store with my sister, I started comparing several bottles of pancake syrup. Flipping each bottle, I quickly went through a mini-sorting process, taking into account the sugar, calories, and cost of each option. Looking at me, my sister, who is a registered organic dietitian, was quick to point out that none of the bottles I was considering actually contained maple syrup. Like a confused dog, I cocked my head. “It’s a bottle of syrup,” I said, “What do you mean, there’s no maple syrup in there?” He explained that my pancake seasoning was, in fact, completely synthetic. There wasn’t a single drop of maple sap anywhere in those bottles. I felt as dumb as a doorknob and as betrayed as a child who has just discovered that Santa Claus does not exist. All these years I had been pouring lies on my pancakes and enjoying every sweet and deceptive bite. For all these years, I had been choosing my maple syrup with details that, compared to the basics of the product, were insignificant. I’m embarrassed to even consider checking out something that many others already know, that there is a huge difference between maple syrup and pancake syrup.

He had incorrectly assumed that everything he was seeing was comparable. When I approached the syrup shelf, I was concentrating on minute details like calories, sugar content, and price, and I had lost the big picture. Whether you realize it or not, your customers approach your products in the same way. They come to you with equally detailed questions, and you, being the eager-to-please salesperson that you are, quickly respond to each one with military precision. While it’s great that you can answer their questions honestly and satisfactorily, you may be taking the customer away from the important elements of their purchasing decision. Although the client means well, their innocent questions can lead to a sticky mess of insignificant details. They may not know the right questions to ask to get what they want, or they may not know enough about your product to know what to ask. By helping the client refocus on what is really important, both of you can wash your hands of the sap and get back to what the client really cares about.

Go back to basics and build a solid foundation by having the client tell you, in their own words, what they are looking to see, experience, solve, or achieve. Avoid the temptation to tell them all about your product or let them lead the conversation with their well-intentioned but generally misguided questions. If you sell uniforms, skip the details and start with why the company wears uniforms in the first place. If you sell kitchen decor, take a break from the pricing talk and ask for a description of your dream kitchen. If you sell fitness equipment, stop the tech babble and ask what the purpose of your purchase is. You will eventually cover the details, but you will have a solid foundation for knowing your client, their needs, and what details to cover. Unfortunately, some competitors choose to emphasize the small details because they know that their product is not real. By keeping the customer distracted with petty details like price and product specifications, you don’t have to face the fact that your company or product can’t provide what really matters. As a quality and integrity company, it is your right and your responsibility to provide your customers with a streamlined shopping experience that promotes true understanding. Being able to refocus on the basics will separate you from the competition, rather than comparing you to it. It will give your clients the comfortable clarity of knowing their real options and making the right decision.

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