Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” He said it before Apple came out with the iPhone, but you can bet that attitude was part of the thinking that went into the first “smartphone.” Before that, who could have told you that he or she wanted a phone that was also a camera and a personal digital assistant?
Long before Jobs was born, Henry Ford — one of the first auto makers — was onto the same thing when he said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
Whether you’re talking about phones or cars or fishing tackle, trying to figure out what people want is a challenge and often the difference between success and failure in business. Part of selling is knowing your customer, but how can you know what your customer wants if your customer doesn’t know?
This is not a riddle or a rhetorical question. There’s no mystical answer offering an “Aha!” moment, but coming up with some sort of response is necessary if you’re going to have a plan for success.
Maybe we’re going about things backwards. Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions. Maybe giving the people what they want is less about asking them what they want and more about identifying their problems, learning what hasn’t worked for them and coming up with alternatives that solve those problems.
There’s an old adage about a man who walks into a hardware store and says he wants to buy a shovel. He plans to use the shovel to dig a hole. Another way of looking at this would be to say that the man doesn’t actually want a shovel — he wants a hole. The shovel is just a means to an end … and quite possibly not the best means. But we can’t know this until we know what he wants to accomplish and what he’s tried in the past.
Maybe he needs a small hole and a trowel is the best tool for the job. Maybe he needs a big hole that requires a backhoe.
Maybe instead of asking how we can help a retail customer, we should ask that customer what he’s hoping to accomplish and whether he’s meeting that goal. If he’s failed, we need to find out what he tried, why it fell short and what he doesn’t like about it.
We’re not likely to sell him something he already has or something similar to what he used to fail. Better to know these things up front so we can get to the core of his problem and sell him a solution.
This doesn’t have to be difficult. Just different.
Is the customer looking for a new reel to replace a broken model or to try a new technique? Is he buying a new crankbait because he likes the color or because he’s struggling to catch fish in that depth range? Does he need a new PFD because the other blew out of the boat while he was trailering or because he’s gained 25 pounds?
Until you know the nature of the hole he wants to dig, it’s tough to identify the right tool or to present it in the right way.