“No one wants a 1/4″ drill bit. They want a 1/4″ hole.” – Harvard Business School – Theodore Levitt.
Professor Levitt’s very profound statement is a whole semester’s worth of wisdom for marketing students. Too many marketers…….and I’ve been part of this team too many times to count as well……dive right in with solutions without really understanding the problem. Of course, most of us in business have one big problem, that is grow sales. But as marketers, we need to realize that our problem isn’t our customer’s problem. They have their own needs and our job as marketers is to understand their needs even better than they do.
By saying that people don’t want the drill bit, they want the hole, Professor Levitt is trying to get us to reach a little further into the customer’s need states before we push forward trying to provide them solutions. Perhaps there are other ways, better ways, to deliver a 1/4″ hole than the drill bit. Perhaps when the customer is asking for a 1/4″ drill bit, they are using it to do something different than make a hole……I don’t know what that might be…..but it is possible.
Professor Levitt didn’t quite go far enough though. Why does the customer want a 1/4″ hole? I argue that they don’t. The customer really wants whatever project the 1/4″ is going to help build. Maybe hanging a painting or laying a wood floor. When you understand that, it can help you be sure that your tool and marketing are tuned into what the customer needs. For example, and admittedly, I am not a woodworker, someone hanging pictures may want a laser leveler built right into the drill. Maybe laying floor would be easier if there was a stop built into the drill bit so the carpenter doesn’t drill too deeply. Yes, feel free to correct my poor knowledge of wood working in the comment section.
But are we done yet? I say no. One key to understanding the customer is to realize that people don’t make purely intellectual decisions. We make decisions based on emotional triggers. Intellect can be used to inform our emotions and judgements but it is not the final deciding factor. Therefore, why does the woodworker want the project finished? A person who simply has a passion for working with wood may have different needs than a person who is earning a living that requires 1/4″ holes.
The deeper you drill, ok pun intended, into the customer’s needs, the better you can serve them. The better you can serve the customer, the easier it is to grow your sales.