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Like vs Want vs Need vs Must Have... The Universal Sales Challenge

"They loved it. It's in the bag."
(Business buyers are usually polite and often complementary even if they have no intention to buy)

"It's getting loads of 'likes' on Facebook. This is a winner."
(People are often keen to demonstrate to others how they feel about things. But this is different from deciding to buy where many other considerations need to be satisfied)

"The majority of people we asked said they'd buy one."
(But would they when you ask them to pay?)

It's so easy to confuse 'like' with 'need'. People and businesses rarely spend money on things they just like. What they are far more likely to spend money on are things they need, especially things they can't do without. Businesses need to measure propensities to buy their products far more carefully than superficial reactions might indicate. They also need to consider WHY their products might be purchased, as well as WHEN and HOW, not just IF.

Whilst the measurement of appeal can be expressed in a linear way, like the graph below. In reality it's far from being obviously linear. I recently watched a trailer for a custom car TV show. The owner of the workshop stated "We don't sell what people need, we sell what people want". He's of course absolutely on target as far as something as useless as a custom car. They look incredible. They sound amazing. And they make their owners feel great. But no-one needs them, or any form of art and entertainment for that matter. But still people queue up to buy them. In this example, WANT and NEED are transposed in terms of purchase appeal. In effect creating something that people don't need, but might want actually creates a need that can't be justified in rational terms, but fulfils a need nonetheless to be different, distinctive, frivolous (and therefore appear wealthy) and to have fun. We therefore have to be careful about defining the word need.

Management theory students will be aware of Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs2.svg

The original hierarchy states that a lower level must be completely satisfied and fulfilled before moving onto a higher pursuit. However, today scholars prefer to think of these levels as continuously overlapping each other. This means that the lower levels may take precedence back over the other levels at any point in time. So when considering how much a product or service is 'needed' by a prospect, it's useful to consider at which of Mazlow's priority levels it sits, and therefore the lower the better. 

Needing that custom car sits right at the top of this pyramid for most people. But if the prospect didn't have any other form of transport, and a car was considered a necessity, then it might lie right at the bottom of the pyramid, but with aspects of it fulfilling some if not all of the higher need levels. In which case, its appeal depends on what other choices the prospect has as well as practicality and of course, affordability.

So sentiment of target customers is one measure. The other vital measure is how engaged the targets are with the product. Where are they along the appreciation and experience scale?

The sale process for most businesses, especially online services, can be expressed like this:

The Y-axis indicates to what extent the prospective customer has adopted the product. How involved are they with it? How much have they tried using it? Are they so happy with it that they will recommend it to others?

The X-axis looks similar but defines how much they really need it and therefore their propensity to do the hardest thing in business - part with money.

For every product and prospect combination, there is a point that's applicable on this graph. For example there are people who might define their need for the product as 'must have', but actually have little idea about it. Perhaps they've tried it and now want it, but not so much that they'll make an effort to buy it unless it's made extremely easy to acquire it, but only at low cost and risk.

The further you can push prospects up the Y-axis, the more accurate will be their assessment of whether they really need it or not. But even if you can get people right to the top of the Y-axis, it still doesn't mean that you've persuaded them they 'must have it'. Your product, for example, might be free to try. In which case getting people to the top of Y-axis probably isn't too hard, even if they only 'like' your product.

So maximum appeal is the objective for as many prospects as you can find for a given product at a given point in time - and you might not get there unless you've managed to push them up the engagement ladder. Equally you won't be able to push them up the engagement ladder unless you've managed to persuade them that it'll be worth their while to make the effort.

Marketing is about increasing Appeal. Making sure products are Must Haves and prospects recognising how much they need them. Selling is about helping them achieve this by developing their journey along the Engagement path.


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