Sales Training:
Understanding Why Customers Buy

by Tom Egelhoff

Several years ago the Frito-Lay Company released some research finding that revealed some surprising facts. Customers could detect differences in potato chip thickness of .008 inch. (That's 8 thousands of an inch)

So why is that important? Their customers rejected the chips if they weren't of the proper thickness. They also know that customers prefer a chip that breaks under approximately four pounds of pressure per square inch.

The Psychology Of The Buyer

"The human being is a wanting animal and rarely reaches a state of complete satisfaction except for a short time. As one desire is satisfied, another pops up to take its place. When this is satisfied, still another comes into the foreground and so on. It is a characteristic of human beings throughout their whole lives that they are practically always desiring something."

Psychologist - Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 3rd.Ed., New York Harper & Row, 1970, pg 7

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What Do Buyers Want?

Answer that one correctly and you can step directly into Bill Gates league. Since the beginning of time sellers have agonized over this question. Here are a few of the most popular things buyers are looking for:

  • Security - Monetary gain, freedom from financial worry.

  • Self-Preservation - Safety and health-for-self and family.

  • Convenience - Comfort, more desirable use of time.

  • Avoidance of Worry - Ease of mind, confidence.

  • Recognition From Others - Social status, respect-ability, the wish to be admired.

  • Self-Improvement - Spiritual development, hunger for knowledge, intellectual stimulation.

If your product or service can provide one or more of the above for a customer, chances are you will make a sale.

Notice anything about the above list? How many of the six items listed are based on emotion and how many are based on logic? If you answered all six are based on emotion, you would be correct.

Everyone of the above items, except for self-preservation, is not a genuine need but something to make us FEEL more comfortable.

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The More Different We Are the More We Are the Same

To me, the most amazing thing about SmallTownMarketing.Com, the web site, is the amount of traffic I receive from countries around the world. The site has received visitors from 70 countries and the list has been steadily increasing.

Each country has its religious beliefs, culture and traditions but when it comes down to commerce, the exchange of goods and services for something of value, it seems to be the same the world over.

In my guest book (Number #18) is a Bulgarian business owner that visits this site for the free articles that, he feels, help his business. I am sorry to admit that I am ignorant of the cultures, traditions and history of Bulgaria, but I am pleased to find that many business practices are the same no matter the country.

This means that increased commerce between countries could make wars unprofitable. Many people would not want to shoot potential customers from the other army.

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Self-Image: The Window To The Wallet

Each of us has three self-images.

1.) The real us - This is how we present ourselves to us, almost no one see this image in its full state,
2.) How we would like to be - The "in an ideal world", I'd be thinner, taller, better looking, etc.
3.) How we believe others see us - Perhaps a more correct way of saying this is, "It's only a matter of time until they find out I'm not qualified for this job."

Does it seem possible that our self-image might affect our buying decisions? Of course. A large part of the world economy is based on image. Clothing, cosmetics, health and fitness just to name a few.

A large portion of families in the United States work more than one job. Both husband and wife work. Not because they have to, they don't want to give up two cars, vacations, nice clothes and all the trappings of the American dream.

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Buyers Don't Look At Reality When Making A Decision

Does that sound like a strange statement? We are not driven by reality but rather our own perception of reality. It's true and let me try and prove it for you.

In the 1980's Coke changed its formula to be sweeter to compete with Pepsi. They had changed the formula several times before. The problem was they told us about it this time.

Coke received 60,000 calls per day from pleading customers to save the Coke they've grown to live.

Did Coke give up the cause? No. They did something even dumber than telling us they changed the formula. They decided they would prove to us WE were wrong. The new Coke was better tasting.

They held taste tests around the country. 250,000 people took part. 1% of the total US population tried New Coke. And what did the taste tests show?

1. New Coke
2. Pepsi
3. Old Coke

We loved New Coke. New Coke beat out both old Coke and Pepsi. No Contest! The management of Coke was ecstatic. They had made the right decision after all. Then the sales figures came in. And what did they show?

1. Old Coke
2. Pepsi
3. New Coke

Even though we knew it tasted better, we proved it to ourselves, we would not admit it was better. New Coke was a dismal failure. You know the rest of the story. They tried to keep both on the market for a short time and New Coke died a natural death.

Killed, not by reality, but by the perception of reality. Bury it next to the McDLT, The Arch Deluxe and hot aerosol shaving cream.

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The Decision Making Process

So, how do customers make buying decisions? CEO's of major Fortune 500 companies would like you to believe that customers identify their problem, seek out product information, weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and select the best product that meets their needs for the price requested. Ain't logic great?

Or they buy the box with the bright colors.

As I write this article, I have Lynyrd Skynyrd's Greatest Hits playing in the CD player. Am I a big fan? Do I love this CD? No. I bought it because it has two songs on it I do like. Two of 13 songs. Was that logical? Did I fit the CEO profile outlined above?

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The Last Word On Buying Decisions

The point is, no one really knows how the customer decides. Some may be logical. Some are emotional. You have to ask. Why did you purchase this product? Communicate with customers and get feedback. Follow-up after the purchase and sew the seeds for future sales.

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