Buying the Invisible

photo credit: Pawel Kadysz

photo credit: Pawel Kadysz

Ok so, about a week ago it was Black Friday. Followed by Small Business Saturday, and then of course there was Cyber Monday and I don’t know what’s next – Adopt a Pet Thursday? And oh, is today something? If so I’ve lost track. At any rate, my head is spinning with all these crazy themed days. What are they all about anyway? – They’re about selling us stuff of course! My inbox is overrun. My junk folder alone has over 2000 emails from sites alerting me to their latest and greatest sales deadline or promotion. And it doesn’t stop there. I turn on the TV only to see a never-ending stream of commercials for gadgets, appliances, autos, pharmaceuticals, financial planning and more. The funny thing here is that for all the time, money and energy spent by these companies to convince us of the need to buy their product or service, if you listen to their pitch very few of them seem to have a handle on what they’re really in the business of selling. And by the way, the same goes for professional services. I recently met with an attorney who, during our introductory meeting spent a lot of time and effort conveying her expertise. I now know more than I ever thought I would about this person’s education, accreditation, client list and work experience. Now, while that’s all helpful, is what I’m really buying her expertise?

And one more thing. What about the products we buy? Take something as a simple as a cup of coffee for instance. Most coffee shop owners think they’re in the business of selling coffee. They may proudly advertise that they have a wider variety of flavors then I can find anywhere else. They may have the very best roasting process in the business and after all this they may be particularly pleased to share that they’re also able to offer me the most affordable cup of coffee in the area. And then, you know what? After hearing all this, and maybe even agreeing with their assertions I’ll probably still go to Starbucks for my next cup of coffee.

You know why? Because Starbucks realizes something the other coffee shops don’t. Starbucks isn’t the business of selling coffee; they’re selling something invisible. What they’re selling is an experience. And while I may not be fully conscious of it in the wee hours of the morning when I make that purchase, I guess I prefer the Starbucks experience and that’s why I keep going back. I’m there for more than just the coffee. I like the music, the cheery customer service (even if they have a tendency to mistakenly write Jeanann or Jennie on the side of my cup), I like the comfy club chairs and the fact that I know what I’m getting every time I walk into a Starbucks – regardless of the location.

By the way, the same holds true for that attorney I met. While I’m glad to hear she has a lot of expertise the reality is that I don’t know enough about her industry to really evaluate it critically. – This is in part why I need her services! You see for me (and I presume most people) this professional’s expertise is assumed. What I’m really looking to hire is someone who is competent, who will take the time to walk me through the process, who will return my phone calls and emails promptly, that sort of thing. In a nutshell, I’m looking for someone who makes me feel valued. – I’m buying an experience.

So where am I going with all this? It’s this. I think too few businesses realize that it’s not the product or service itself that we’re after. What we’re buying is the way it makes us feel. That’s not necessarily something we can see or touch. We’re buying an experience.

This means if you’re in the business of selling something, or even if you’re not exactly “selling” but you find that you spend a lot of your day trying to persuade, convince or cajole people to do something then make sure you remember, those people are buying into the experience!

This much I know.


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