Your Customers Aren’t Really Buying What You Are Selling.

I read a post on LinkedIn a while back, I don’t remember who wrote it (if you are reading this and you would like me to credit you, please let me know) but it said: “your customer buys the hole, not the drill”. This really struck a chord with me because understanding this concept impacts so much of what you do as a marketer and a business owner.


Here's why your customer isn't really buying what you are selling and what to do about it.


Zia Reddy | Customer Development

So, what are they actually buying?

For example, people don’t buy coffee, they buy something to feed into the lifestyle they want to create. People don’t buy clothes, they buy status symbols. Ready-made meals aren’t about the food, it’s about the convenience; the time they save on cooking.


This concept feeds into the idea that your product or service and everything about it (from sales to after-sales service and even the customer coming back for more) solves a problem and you need to figure out what that problem is.


I know what the problem is, now what?

What’s interesting, though, is that you could be completely wrong about the problem that you think you are solving. Now, before you close the tab and decide to never read anything I write again, let me say this - it’s okay to be wrong, you just need to do something about it.


You may be asking, "why should I bother?" If you could be wrong about the problem you think you are solving, why bother figuring out the problem in the first place? Because understanding your customer's problem is an iterative process.


How is this an iterative process?

An iterative process is somewhat of a repetitious cyclical process where you come up with an idea, test your idea, evaluate your findings, and make tweaks to your idea. Each iteration aims to improve on the one that came before. Now, the concept of an iterative process is generally used in the design and development of products and systems, but for the purposes of understanding the customer problem, approaching it from an iterative point of view involves a lot of conversations with your customers.


Here's what that would look like for you.


  1. You start off by hypothesising your problem. For example, you can say that you believe that your ready-made meals are addressing the fact that your customers don’t have enough time to cook a meal at home after work.

  2. You then talk to your customers. This is where you test your hypothesis. This can be through surveys, actual live customer interviews (either face-to-face or on the phone), or through focus groups; whichever one you find works best for you.

  3. You then evaluate your findings. For example, you could have found that the fact that your customers don’t have time to cook is not the most important problem that you solve, it could be the balanced nutritional contents of the food. You could also find that people are buying your products because they want the added benefit more than the actual product. An example of this is the Tazos that used to come in packets of crisps years ago. Or how Amazon was founded with the idea of being an online bookstore. For ready-made meals, it could be the packaging in which the meals come works really well as food storage containers.

  4. You then take the information you learn during your testing phase, tweak your marketing message and positioning, see the impact that the change has, and do it all over again.


The cycle also doesn’t have to be continuous. There can be gaps between the different steps. Maybe you find that your updated messaging works and your product positioning is on point, so you stick with that for a while.


It’s important to remember, though, that your customers’ needs change as a result of external and internal influences. So, you have to go through the process whenever your data tells you it’s necessary.


In conclusion

Figure out what the actual problem is that you are solving by talking to your existing customers. Use this information to adapt your messaging, positioning, and maybe even the direction that your business is going in. Because remember, people don’t buy drills, they buy holes.