Sell Dreams, not Products (or Services)

John Tabita
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There’s a saying in sales that goes like this: “Nobody who bought a drill actually wanted a drill. They wanted a hole.”

But here’s what I always wondered: Why do they want the hole?

The title of this article comes from a little ebook called, Innovate the Steve Jobs Way: 7 Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success. In it, the author makes the point that…

Nobody cares about your company or product. They care about themselves, their dreams, and their goals. Help them achieve their aspirations, and you’ll win them over the Steve Jobs way.

Notwithstanding the book’s subtitle, this is neither insane nor different. Zig Ziglar once said something very similar:

You can get anything you want in life by helping others get what they want.

One of my sales managers once told me that the more your prospect talks about the future … and relates his dreams, aspirations, hopes and desires to your product or service, the more likely he’ll be to buy your product or service.

So let’s get back to the drill vs. hole analogy. You could also say that nobody who bought a website actually wanted a website. They wanted to …

  • Sell a product or service
  • Promote their business or organization
  • Generate leads

But again I ask why do they want to sell a product, generate a lead, or promote their business? What do your clients really want?

In a previous article, I said that people buy because of the emotions associated with the product’s benefits, and not the product or benefits themselves. Here’s what I mean:

  • People who buy cameras are actually buying memories.
  • Men and women who buy perfume and cologne are actually buying attractiveness and sex appeal.
  • The dad buying a baseball bat for his son in little league is really buying home runs.

And the person buying that drill may, in reality, be buying family photos hung on the walls of his home.

As designers and developers, we get quite caught up in the technical aspects of the thing we’re producing. Coming from a print design background, I had to learn that the website I was designing was not a work of art—it was my client’s business tool. We can become overly concerned about having XHTML/CSS validating, standards-compliant websites and forget to take a step back and look at the big picture. That website may be one small piece of the puzzle that allows your client’s business to succeed and enable him to send his children to college, earn that promotion, or retire early. Are you asking the right questions to go beyond “features and benefits” and get to the heart of what your clients really want? If not, why not?

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  • Adam Messinger

    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it well:

    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

  • Billy

    Reminds me of the saying “Don’t sell the sausage sell the sizzle.”.