How well do you know your product or service?

“Incredibly well, Drew. I know everything about it. In fact, I can spout scores of facts and figures, a virtually endless list of features and benefits. Heck, I live my product every day. I probably know it better than anybody else on planet earth!”

All this is wonderful, of course. A good salesperson should know everything there is to know about his or her product. But where many salespeople fall flat on their faces is in their embarrassing inability to tell me when asked point-blank during my live seminars exactly what’s in it for their buyers. Sure, they can give me some generalities. They can tell me the most obvious reason why someone should fork over her credit card. But not 1 in 10, without my interrogation-like questioning, can tell me the number one reason most people buy their product or service. Can you?

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To drive the point home, I ask my workshop audiences, “Why should I buy a window sign for my new retail business? Tell me the core benefit of doing so.” Here’s how the interaction usually goes:

Audience member: “Well, a sign tells people who you are.”

Me: “Okay, but what’s the benefit of telling people who I am?”

Audience: “So they’ll do business with you.”

Me: “True, but what’s the benefit of people doing business with me?”

Audience: “So you can sell your products, of course!”

Me: “Of course. But what’s the benefit of selling my products?”

Finally, after I’ve pulled a few more teeth, someone finally shouts the following:

Audience: “So you can make money!”

Hallelujah!

You see, the purchase of any product carries with it a deep-seated psychological desire that drives the consumer to want to spend money to acquire it. The fact is that people don’t actually want what you sell.

“Huh?” That’s right. In fact, if people could get the benefit your product delivers without hassling with the physical thing that produces that benefit, you’d be out of business fast. It doesn’t matter what the product is.

Car buyers don’t want metal and leather. House buyers don’t want bricks, cement, and wood. Insurance buyers don’t want a bunch of characters printed on a sheet of paper. Swimming pool buyers don’t want a giant hole filled with chemicalladen water. Thermometer buyers don’t want a glass tube filled with mercury or a liquid crystal display (LCD) panel … a technology that, fascinatingly, began in 1881 by extracting cholesterol from carrots.

All these things—including your products or services—are desired by your customers because of a psychological craving at the end of what is referred to as the means-end chain. They want your stuff because they believe it will fulfill a need they feel they must satisfy.

Consider Joe, a father of four, who wakes up one day and loudly announces to his family, “I’m going to buy a smoke detector for the house today.”

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Everyone should have one, of course, but exactly why do you think Joe wants the detector? What is his number one reason for wanting it? Hint: It’s not because he thinks it’ll make an interesting conversation starter hanging on his ceiling.

“Well, Drew, it’s obvious. He’s buying it to keep his house from burning down.” That’s true, but it’s not why he’s buying it.

“He’s buying it to keep his family safe.” Yes, that’s true, too, but it’s still not why he’s buying it.

In fact, he’s buying the smoke detector because he’s imagining a tortured life should something happen to his wife and kids because he didn’t install one and how the decision to not to purchase one would negatively define him in his role as the father and protector of the household. Joe is concerned about the possibility of not being a good father, husband, and guardian. Sure, he wants to keep everyone safe; that’s a given. But his thoughts about what he should be doing in his role are the factor that is really fueling his desire to spend money today. This emotional driver—the critical core benefit—is at the end of a psychological chain whose root is deeply embedded in Joe’s brain tissue, with the other end connected to the purchase of the product.

Your prospects first think about your product’s attributes (“It takes a nine-volt battery; it looks modern; it’s highly rated”), then its functional consequences (“Sounds an ear-splitting alarm when it detects smoke”), then the psychosocial consequences (“I’ll feel good knowing my family is safe”), and finally the values the product reinforces and satisfies, the drivers that ultimately power the buying decision (“I’m the protector of this family, and a good husband and father keeps his wife and children safe”).

Anything that changes your values changes your behavior.

Louise wants to buy a new car. “A brand new Porsche Cayman will do nicely,” she says. It’s a nice car, ranked the number one luxury sports car on the market today, but that’s not why Louise wants it. She’s not buying it because she likes to drive fast or wants to show off its sleek, seductive lines to her neighbors by parking it in her driveway, outside her empty two-car garage.

The fact is—and Louise knows this well—she wants this hot-looking, supremely responsive sports car because at age 70 she wants to feel young again. She wants to relive the carefree days of her youth when she cruised the open and winding roads of Pennsylvania’s farm country in her father’s 1966 Ford Mustang with its growling 4.7-liter Windsor “HiPo” engine and gleaming candy apple red body. Oh, how she felt so free and easy back in’66! Just 22 years young, fresh-faced, she had not a care in the world. Yeah, that’s exactly how she wants to feel again. After trillions of synapses fired deep within her brain, including a less thoroughly examined review of her current finances, she came to the conclusion, “Yeah, I want the Porsche.”

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That’s called consumer cause and effect. The cause is the deep-seated thought of satisfying an important emotional desire that’s often psychologically linked to survival. The effect is whipping out the MasterCard.

How well do you know your prospects? Exactly why do they want your product? No, I’m not talking about the first reason they’ll give. I’m interested instead in the core reason. The private reason that’s buried under all the superficial reasons. The one that nags at him when he’s alone in bed before falling asleep (like Joe and the smoke detector). The reason that motivates her to justify spending more than she can afford (like Louise and the Porsche). I’m looking for the final link in their meansend chain, the one that’s so strong that it supports all the others and without which the others would quickly disappear.

As I write these words, a tiny nagging voice in my heads says, “Drew, you need a haircut.” But it’s not because my hair is too long. That’s the factor that has my brain creating justifications for getting it cut. It’s not because my wife says it’s starting to look sloppy, though that might be the case. It’s also not because it’s more difficult each day to make it look reasonably presentable (that is definitely the case). The real, driving reason I want to get my hair cut—the last link in my means-end chain —is that I’m concerned with the impression I make in public and how others will perceive me as I walk around with hair that looks like I slept in Calspan University’s hypersonic LENS-X wind tunnel.

If you nonchalantly ask me, “Drew, why a haircut?” I’ll gladly tell you all the other links in the chain: the length, my wife, the manageability, and so on. You’ll have to work a lot harder to hear my final-link justification. Why? Because it’s more personal. Verbalizing it might reveal my insecurities; in that case I could be displaying weakness of some sort, which since childhood we’re taught to keep hidden. Perhaps it would be too crass a showing of my vanity or expose me to criticism that I might find hurtful. It’s a lot easier just to say, “Look how long it is. Of course it needs to be cut.”

Enough about my hair. Back to your prospects. Typically what they’ll say they want is far from the brain end of the means-end chain. As with my haircut justifications, you’re more likely to hear some superficial reason they want your product, something that won’t reveal things they might consider too personal., Most likely it will be something that, if revealed, they feel might leave them vulnerable to sales techniques that exploit their weakness.

Louise thinks the Porsche will make her feel and perhaps look younger, but that’s far too personal—and perhaps embarrassing—a thing for her to mention to some sales guy: “That’s my reason, and it’s nobody else’s business! All the sales guy needs to know is whether I’m qualified to buy it.”

As the salesperson, your goal is to sell your product or service. Using the meansend chain, you do it by shifting the consumer’s focus to your product’s ultimate value or benefit. I call it the benefit of the benefit.

To activate the means-end chain mindset, your presentation should always represent what you know to be your product’s number one consumer benefit. In this way your prospect is less likely to critically analyze the pros and cons of the actual product and will base her purchase decision on the ultimate benefit that she’ll enjoy.

Even though your prospect may not reveal his or her final link justification, you can get the next best thing. You can learn what’s just a link or two away.

For example, if you sell shovels, understand that people don’t want a long pole with a flat piece of attached metal. They want holes so that they can plant beautiful trees and colorful flowers and make their homes look more attractive and impressive to the neighbors.

If you sell microwave ovens, people don’t want the big, space-gobbling electric box with the spinning glass plate and a ridiculous number of buttons. They want to be able to cook and eat quickly so that they have more time for other things.

Keep in mind that no matter what you sell, it’s not the product itself that people want. They’re buying the bottom-line benefit. If people could get the benefit that your product or service provides without having to deal with your product, they’d do it in a heartbeat.

If they could snap their fingers and instantly have a clean and sanitized house, do you think they’d bother calling you to clean their home? If they could learn to defend themselves like Bruce Lee by waving a magic wand over their heads, how many would sign up for your martial arts lessons? If they could experience the thrill of high-speed driving without having to buy your sports car, do you think they’d be filling out the car-loan paperwork?

They don’t want your product any more than they want to hand over their money to you to buy it. Your product is no more than a benefit-delivery vehicle. It’s a necessary evil that people tolerate purchasing in order to enjoy the benefits that it delivers so that they can feel a certain way about what it does for them and how those benefits affect their values.

“Oh, Drew, how could you say such a thing? My product is a necessary evil? They tolerate buying it? This shows that you know nothing about my product!”

Such thinking suggests that the physical materials your product is made of are what give consumers joy in owning it. It suggests that inherent in the plastic, metal, paper—or in whatever other forms your goods physically exist—there’s some magical quality that excites people enough to part with their money.

It’s not the fear of death that causes Susan to want to buy your .357 Magnum for self-protection. Instead, she actually enjoys lugging around over two pounds of cumbersome metal on her hip—it’s the physical weight of the thing that excites her. It’s not that it makes her feel confident and equipped to protect her toddlers Bobby and Sarah from “Twisted” Billy Creppson, the recently released, 298-pound psycho down the block who drools out his car window every time he dives by. Nah. It’s that bright polish on the barrel, the sheer thrill of dissolving the fouled powder and metal in the gun’s bore and action after firing off a few practice rounds, and the pungent smell of Hoppe’s No. 9 Nitro Solvent. It’s also the ever-rising cost of buying ammo and living with the paranoia that little Bobby and Sarah will one day accidentally get heir hands on the weapon and, well, we don’t even want to think about it. Those are the real reasons Susan and other people buy guns—er, right?

You don’t sell guns but high-end commercial laser printers? Okay, but remember that your business owner customer Tom isn’t primarily interested in creating impressive documents and reports that influence his prospects to spend money so that he can pay himself and his employees and feed his family. Certainly not … that’s silly! It’s the ability to change the sometimes messy toner cartridges, refill the every-emptying paper trays, pull jammed and snarled copies from the tight rubber rollers, and occasionally call the 800 number on the sticker for a repair guy when the whole thing goes kablooey. That’s what gets Tom excited. If he could snap his fingers and magically have 100 copies of his latest annual report beautifully printed, perfectly collated, and neatly spiral-bound, surely Tom wouldn’t do that, would he? Nah! Why? He’d miss out on messing with all the metal, plastic, rubber, and chemicals you sold him.

I’m obviously being facetious to prove my point. Stop thinking that it’s your product that people are in love with or should crave. It’s not. It’s what your product or service can do for them. Your buyers want to satisfy eight deeply affecting hardwired desires—the LifeForce—and they believe that satisfaction can be brought about one way or another through ownership and/or use of your product. As we discussed, those eight powerful desires are responsible for more sales than are all other human wants combined.

That’s why today’s most successful salespeople focus on the product’s benefits and not the delivery mechanism—the product itself. Do otherwise and you’re like a pizza shop that sends a driver out to your customer’s home who leaves the pizza in the car, knocks on the door, and instead of handing over the pie talks for 30 minutes about the car in which he drove up. “Pizza? Never mind! Check out my car over there. I just had the transmission rebuilt, and look at that new chrome tailpipe. Boy, listen to that baby purr. Three-hundred and forty horsepower, would you believe? And what about that wicked tree-shaped air freshener? Oh, baby, it’s hot!” He’s trying to satisfy the customer by talking about the delivery mechanism rather than simply handing her the pizza.

Argh … talk about the wrong focus! Your customers couldn’t care less about the jalopy. Instead, they want to sink their teeth into that crisp, coal-oven-baked crust, the freshly sliced pepperoni, the perfectly spiced homemade sauce, and that creamyfresh, homemade buffalo-milk cheese. Get it?

What’s the benefit of the benefit of your product? It’s something you can determine yourself. However, the only way to be sure you’re tugging on the primary link of your prospects’ means-end chain is to persistently inquire why they want your product. It’ll probably take a little digging before you uncover anything more than the most obvious, superficial, and least motivating of their reasons.

Some of your prospects will just blurt it out: “Hey, I’m scared out of my mind that some punk will break into my house one night while everybody’s sleeping, and because I’ve done nothing about it, a tragedy will take place. It’s my job to protect my family, and until today I’ve done nothing to secure my home. My family considers me to be their protector. I’ve been lucky so far. I need to get on the ball with this before it’s too late.”

If you’re not so fortunate as to have a prospective buyer who spills his or her guts to you about the core reason he or she is interested in your product after you try digging for it, the information you will get from that digging will get you a lot closer than the typical salesperson gets with superficial questioning: “Uh, how soon you looking to buy? What are you driving/using/leasing/buying/eating/operating now? What features are you looking for?

This kind of “don’t ripple the pond” questioning (“I don’t want to put off the guy by asking personal questions”) is bound to get you little more than lightly considered data with profoundly insignificant power to help you steer, tailor, and influence the outcome of the sale.

“But Drew, I still close sales without knowing my prospects’ core desires.” The answer to that is twofold: (1) How do you know that your buyers didn’t express their core desire? and (2) What about the prospects who didn’t buy? How many of them could you have closed if you’d tapped into their hardwired desires?

There’s a simple way to determine whether you’ve reached their ultimate core desire. Simply match the reasons they’re giving you with the LifeForce-8. When you hit a match … bingo … you’re on the right path. A few more “why” questions to dig deeper and you can usually tell when you’ve hit the sweet spot. This occurs when your prospect reveals information that’s quite personal or exposes vulnerabilities.

For example, if you’re selling BMWs and your prospect, Jill, tells you that she simply wants a car that’s more comfortable than her current ride, you could stop right there, right? No. Comfort certainly appears on the LF8 list, but it’s a superficial answer that perhaps your not-as-sales-savvy coworker might be satisfied with while he proceeds to show Jill the wonderfully soft merino leather with massaging rearseat option.

You, in contrast, develop a good enough rapport by asking smart questions, guided by the LF8. Aha! Jill reveals that her ex-husband took the “good” car and left her driving something that makes her feel like a loser. After you hear about her messy breakup, you learn that although comfort is important, it’s more of a status issue for Jill. She wants a new toy to bolster her shattered self-esteem. And what better toy than a new BMW 760Li sedan with all the options?

Now we’ve got a fast track to run on with significantly more power than trying to focus on comfort alone. We can work wonders with ego. Now we’re talking about LifeForce-8, number six (to be superior, to win, to keep up with the Joneses), along with spillover motivations into LF8, number 8 (social approval) and LF8, number 1 (enjoyment of life). Heck, throw LF8, number five (comfortable living conditions) into the mix while you’re at it.

Do you see how this opens up a giant box of influential sales possibilities? Now you can actually speak to the desires that affect Jill the most while your coworker’s banging his head against the wall talking mainly about the soft seats and smooth ride and not pitching to Jill on the multiple fronts that are her hottest hot buttons.

The following short script demonstrates how to get to the heart of prospective buyers’ psychological need for your product by delivering a line of questioning designed to elicit core desires that are consistent with the LifeForce-8.

SALESPERSON [after rapport building]: “What’s the number one reason you’re looking to buy today, Jim?”

JIM: “I need reliable transportation because I’m tired of driving my old hunk of junk that keeps breaking down.” [The desire for dependability is learned. Continue probing for the LifeForce-8.]

SALESPERSON: “Yep, constant breakdowns are incredibly frustrating. This new Avalon is widely considered one of the most reliable cars on the road. But we have others for much less money that are equally reliable. What about this car do you like?

JIM: “It’s beautiful; this new design is gorgeous.” [Learned want 7: expression of beauty and style. Continue probing for the LifeForce-8.]

SALESMAN: “Yeah, the new design is incredibly sharp.” [Ratify the prospect’s statement by pointing out some particularly beautiful features and continue probing for at least one LF8 desire.] “Would you say that style is more important than overall performance?”

JIM: “I don’t need a race car. I need a car that makes a good impression on my customers and makes me feel good when I’m driving.” [LF8, number 6 (to be superior) and LF8, number 8 (social approval) uncovered. Once they have been revealed, drill down on the LF8 desires for more content and focus your presentation on these expressed desires, incorporating them into every detail or looping back to them frequently.]

Remember that your buyer’s LF8 desires are the ones most powerfully nagging him or her to buy, the ones your customer needs to satisfy. Don’t be distracted by the red herring nine learned desires that many salespeople quickly grab and run with. They’re typically just the icing on the cake, additional layers of desire that mask the real core reasons for buying.

For example, the learned desire for the expression of beauty and style masks the core desire for LF8, number 4 (sexual companionship). The learned desire for dependability and quality (e.g., for a carbon monoxide detector), masks the core desire for LF8, number 3 (freedom from fear, pain, and danger). Get it?