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[Review] Why Customers Really Buy

How do you find out what truly makes your customers tick? Can you understand what your customer REALLY wants through surveys, focus groups, and structured interviews?

The answer, according to Linda Goodman and Michelle Helin, is “No”. Debunking traditional research predicated on the above yardsticks, the authors of “Why Customers Really Buy: Uncovering the Emotional Triggers That Drive Sales” claim that true insight can only be achieved through conducting emotional-trigger research.

These seek to answer the following questions:

1) What factors influence the decision-making process
2) What causes specific actions or inspires strongly held convictions
3) What values and beliefs exist within a particular customer group
4) How the values and beliefs of a particular customer group connect, or fail to connect, with internally held opinions

Using a range of case studies from their own practice, the authors demonstrate that provocative open-ended questions, insightful listening, one-on-one conversations, and hour-long sessions may be more effective in drawing forth deep, emotionally-rooted responses.  By investigating the experiences, feelings, needs, beliefs, values, patterns of behavior, narratives and passions of one’s stakeholders, emotional-trigger research helps to discern the truth – as opposed to the facts – behind the answers given.

In “digging for the truth”, the book urges us to only use methods such as surveys, focus groups or structured interviews (i.e. with a set of fixed questions) when we want very specific and targeted responses. This could be in validating objective data, comparing benchmarks, or getting specific feedback on a product feature.

Emotional-trigger research, on the other hand, involves a more open-ended interview technique which encourages customers to speak in narratives.  Obviously, you can’t just get a student or temp to conduct such studies as they require hard-edged business experience to unearth the true feelings of interviewees, dissect complex issues, and develop deep probing insights that can help in generating real solutions. One also needs to also be able to dig beneath superficial “politically correct” responses to explore how one’s customers feel about a particular situation.

The main part of the book is centered around 12 case studies, ranging from selling private label tires to customers, recruiting top graduates to a manufacturing company, a mid-sized moving company competing against a national giant, to a specialty marketing agency determining why its customers are defecting. They include key lessons (sort of like quotable quotes) which cover different aspects of customer/stakeholder relations, namely:

Sales

1) The context in which information is received drives opinions and actions.
2) Focus on what the customer wants, not what you want them to want.
3) One company’s problem is another company’s opportunity.
4) Market your company as more than a job. Market it as a balance life experience.

Marketing

1) Regardless of how you segment them, customers are self-defining.
2) Don’t be intimidated. Bigger isn’t always better.
3) If the competition threatens your market share, redefine your market.
4) Humanising the pitch touches the heart and opens the wallet.
5) Control your message before your competition does it for you.

Customer Relationships

1) Personal dynamics do not equal a solid business relationship.
2) Trust is not an expendable commodity.
3) Even when you don’t have to, act like a partner.

Overall, the book does provide an important point about how companies should go beyond superficial “numbers driven” research to truly understand the emotions and motivations behind customer actions.  By embracing the tools of ethnographic research and going deep, emotional-trigger research allows one to gain a better understanding of one’s customers.  The question would then shift from “How can we sell more of our product or service?” to “What product or service does my customer want or need?”


Walter is a corporate professional with more than 15 years of experience in marketing, public relations, social media, events management, strategic planning and corporate development. He blogs at Cooler Insights.

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