Marketing 101: Sell the Sizzle, not the Steak

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Previous: Think Your Customers Love Your Products? Think Again.

Two teenagers knock on your door. It’s late autumn, just before the snow will start to fly.

The first teenager says: “Hi, I shovel snow. For $10, I’ll shovel your driveway every time it snows.”

Sounds like a fair deal, you think to yourself.

Then the second teenager speaks up. “Hi, I’m offering you peace of mind. For $10, I’ll make sure that you’ll never have to worry about getting stuck in your driveway after a snowstorm.”

Which of these young entrepreneurs would you hire? I’m betting the second one. But why?

Each was offering to deliver the same service in return for $10.

However, in selling their services to you, the first teenager focused on himself — in this case, what he did (or would do).

On the other hand, the second teenager focused on you, and what you wanted — a life with one less thing to worry about.

The difference is subtle yet powerful. As I outlined in a previous article, your customers don’t really care about your products or services. Rather, when engaging with your business in a potential sale, what they really want to know from you is “What’s in it for me?”

It is critical,therefore, that you recognize the difference between your product or service, and what you are actually selling to your customers. Your product or service is just a means to your customers’ ends — an outcome, or state of being, that they desire. In marketing terms, it’s called ’Sell the sizzle, not the steak”.

To do this, you have to put yourselves in the shoes of your customer. For example, if you are selling to other businesses, you have to know that their focus is on running their business, and the needs they have center around ensuring business runs successfully. If you are selling to consumers, then their focus is on raising their kids, managing a household, maintaining their health, and so on. They want happiness, satisfaction, peace of mind, and more. What neither are focused on is your product. So keep in mind, when discussing a potential sale with your customers, what they really want to know is “What’s in it for me?”

Successful business owners understand this. For example, a good friend of mine has owned a home health care business for many years. She and her employees provide in-home care for elderly people who need assistance with daily living activities.

If you ask her what she sells to her clients, you might think that she would tell you about things such as bathing & personal hygiene, grocery shopping, meal preparation, light housekeeping, and more.

But that’s not what she would tell you because she understands that that’s not what her company actually sells. You see, she understands who her clients are — middle-aged adults who are concerned about the well being of their elderly parents, and are possibly providing the care themselves.

She also clearly understands what they are seeking:

  • Peace of mind, knowing that their parent(s) are safe, well cared for, and happy because they are able to remain living in their own homes rather than in assisted living centers.

That is what my friend would tell you she sells — desired outcomes, not services. Her services are just a means to deliver those outcomes. Because she takes this focus, her company gets many referrals from existing clients.

A company like hers is said to follow a market orientation. This is a business philosophy whereby the focus of the company is placed on identifying the needs and wants of customers, and creating or tailoring products and services to meet them. This type of company is outwardly focused, or oriented to the needs of the market.

For example, because my friend talks with her customers regularly about the issues and needs their parent(s) have on a daily basis, she was able to determine that many of them had trouble meeting various appointments they had scheduled. So she added non-medical transportation to the list of services she provides to fill that need. However, what she sells remained the same.

This is in contrast to a company that follows a product orientation. This business philosophy is present within a company that focuses on designing (what it hopes are) innovative new products and services, and attempts to convince the market that it needs them. This type of company is inwardly focused, or oriented to developing products, and typically displays strong engineering and product development skills.

And it contrasts further to a company that follows a sales orientation, where a company focuses primarily on maximizing sales as fast as possible. Of course all companies seek to maximize sales, but a sales oriented company does not seek to understand and satisfy market needs and wants. It simply tries to sell as many products or services as possible in any way possible.

In general, market oriented companies are more successful than product and sales oriented companies, although some successful companies (i.e. Apple) take a hybrid approach. Becoming a market oriented company takes time and focused effort — you have to hire talented people, and continuously train them on customer service. Moreso, you have to instill a culture throughout the company where everyone understands that their job is marketing, regardless of what organizational department they work in. If someone in your organization says “I’m not in marketing, that’s not my job”, then more work is needed to instill a market oriented philosophy.

So, the next time you talk to your customers, make sure you understand what you are selling (outcomes) and what you aren’t selling (products) — because your customers surely know.

More Marketing 101 articles:

Kevin Larsen is a software Product Marketing Manager and an Adjunct Instructor in Marketing, Software Engineering, and Computer Science courses. Follow me on LinkedIn.

Product Marketing Manager | Adjunct University Instructor l Financial Coach

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