Rule #1 of small business – sell them what they want

Possibly the most important thing to understand about business is that unless customers want what you have to offer and are willing to pay you money for it, you are going to go broke. Sadly, the world is full of businesses with “great” ideas where the phones don’t ring, the orders don’t flow, the cash never comes, the bills add up, and then the doors close.

Successful small-business owners understand that no matter how good or how brilliant a product or service is, if people don’t want to pay for it then what you have is a hobby and not a business. In short, the essence of business success can be summed up to be “sell them what they want”.

There is a very famous quote by Henry Ford which says something along the lines of (depending where you read it) “If I’d given the people what they wanted I would have given them faster horses”. Henry Ford of course is famous for making automobiles available for the common folk through his implementation of the production line.

Which leads to the question, why didn’t Henry Ford sell them horses if that’s what they wanted and not automobiles? Which is a fair question, however, we need to dig a little deeper because often what your customers say they want isn’t really what they want. And what they want isn’t really what they need. Let me explain.

At the time cars hadn’t been around long enough to be common place. They were an item for the elite and chosen few, so people probably weren’t sitting around talking to their friends about how much they wanted one. However, they probably weren’t talking about how they wanted faster horses either and heading down to their local horse dealership to buy the latest, faster model.

The genius of Henry Ford was that he understood what people really wanted – a faster, more convenient mode of personal transport – so gave them what they needed: the automobile. If he was able to, he could have sold them teleporters or time machines. I would!

In business you need to be really good at finding out what it is your customers want. And then give them what they need to satisfy that want. And here’s the thing, it’s not about the product or service but what it can do for them. It’s about solving their problem. The majority of people only wanted a car once they understood the benefit having one and how it solved their problem.

It comes down to knowing your market, their frustrations and desires. And it also means asking the right questions, taking time to listen to what your customers are really trying to tell you. Making suggestions and learning from the response.

In the case of Henry Ford, people wanted a more convenient way to travel. What they needed was the automobile. So, sell them what they want but give them what they need.

Nigel Collin, Business Coach and author of “Game of Inches”

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