What you sell and what people buy are often two different things…

If you’ve studied any tertiary marketing course, you’re probably familiar with Theodore Levitt’s famous consumer insight about power drills.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

Marketers and their agencies are often guilty of not understanding the reasons why people behave the way they do. They don’t take time to talk with their customers. This lack of real communication has increased in recent years alongside the growth of marketing automation. We’ve stopped talking, we’re only computing, and lost a layer of human involvement along the way.

As I’ve written before, you’ll be surprised what you learn if you just talk with your customers.

This lack of knowledge about what motivates customers was laid bare at a tourism marketing conference in New Zealand, at which I spoke some time ago. I met Jeanette Kelly – a women who has spent years working in the hospitality industry, running her own business as well as working for others. Jeanette presented a wonderful piece of research conducted by the University of Waikato.

The accommodation and marketing managers of various hotels, motels, guest houses and the like, were asked what they thought were the most important factors influencing accommodation choices. They said, in order of priority:

  1. Staffing and accommodation service
  2. Room rate
  3. Location
  4. Facilities
  5. Marketing and Sales programmes
  6. Seasonal tourism
  7. Competition from other properties
  8. Supply and demand
  9. Events taking place in the area
  10. The general state of the national economy
  11. The state of the property

Guess what the customers listed as the most important factors influencing their accommodation choices, in order of priority?

  1. Cleanliness of the room
  2. Quality of the bath towels and wash cloths
  3. Quality of staff service
  4. Friendliness of staff service
  5. Comfort of mattress and pillow
  6. Quietness of room
  7. Well maintained furnishings
  8. On-premise car parking
  9. Overall facilities
  10. Level of security

In case you’re wondering ‘room prices’ came 17th on the list of priorities for customers. And what were the marketers smoking to believe customers care about marketing and sales programmes?

More importantly, as you can see in this case, what customers want to buy and what marketers are trying to sell, are poles apart.

So take some time to really talk with your customers and understand what motivates them. You could be pleasantly surprised by what you learn. Who knows, you might find they’re looking to buy something other than what you’re selling, or even be willing to pay more?

Have to go now. My bride says she has a surprise for me. Why is she carrying a drill?


Let’s connect: https://www.linkedin.com/in/malcolmauld/


  1. Another great one Malcolm.

    I had a similar conversation at an event (B2B) with the organiser .. just last week. Typically he was asking me to sign up and commit for the event next year … considering I had just told him that we’d had some very good conversations and the event seemed good.

    I politely reminded him that we weren’t in the event attending (and paying for) business. We were in the business of selling X … and id rather have one reasonable conversation and sell one item than ten amazing conversations and sell nothing.

    True to form .. sign up docs were in my email waiting for me 🙂

    Back to your article. Clients want solutions to their problems, needs or wants.

    As fascinating as it might be who cares how their computer works when they have a deadline to meet.

  2. Malcolm,

    As usual, well said and very appropriate in today’s “hands off” approach to customers.

    Marketing through the assumption of knowledge of customer wishes is chronic.

    Some marketer’s singular focus on the mathematics tied to the outcomes, leave them devoid of the very ability to deliver the outcomes they are chasing.

    Don’t be afraid, have that chat with your customers guys!


  3. Truth told Mal! Although As you know, I am a 66 year old Dinosaur, but I am also a data analytics geek and I have designed and run automated marketing systems…

    BUT, I always use data analytics with caution. If the analysis indicates an unusual or illogical customer trend, I will talk to the customers in order to understand WHY they have behaved in that way.

    Without that human insight, my automated marketing system could produce some confused and inappropriate messages and offers…

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