About 30 years ago, before I started selling my life one hour at a time, I was visiting with a lawyer I know. In the middle of our conversation, the phone rang, he answered, said about 10 words and hung up. Then he filled out a time sheet to bill the client for 15 minutes of his time.
I chided him for charging anyone for what amounted to less than a dozen words of advice. He stared at me for a second and asked, “What do you think we sell around here?”
I’ve been thinking about that question—What Do You Think We Sell Around Here?—as I work with clients and contribute to LinkedIn discussion groups and pontificate on the challenges of life. The answer to the question isn’t always obvious.
That’s because there’s always a buyer on the other end of the transaction. And whatever the product or service or features presented by the seller, it’s really the buyer who decides what we’re selling around here.
When I ask people what Domino’s sells, most answer: pizza. But Domino’s customers don’t really buy pizza; they buy delivery. And not just delivery, but consistently rapid delivery. I can’t think of anyone who buys from Domino’s because it’s their favorite pizza. However, if it’s 8:30 p.m. and you suddenly realize there’s green slime growing on the cold cuts in the refrigerator and you want to eat quickly, you call Domino’s.
Similarly, Fedex doesn’t sell delivery, but rather the assurance of timely delivery. McDonald’s sells predictability, while Disneyland sells memories. Rolex sells status, which can be very expensive, but at least they give you a free watch with every order.
Frequently, there’s a significant gap between the things we think we’re selling and the value perceived by our audience. In business, that gap can be measured in lost sales, unprofitable product lines, high customer turnover and, in the worst of cases, collapse. In personal relationships, the result is hurt feelings, estrangement and, in the worst of cases, hatred.
Whether you’re delivering pizzas or courting investors, organizing a charity walk or proposing marriage, you’re always selling something.
And it’s always a buyer’s market.