What customers want Featured

9:44am EDT July 22, 2002
In an otherwise forgettable movie named “Return to Eden,” Rosie O’Donnell plays an undercover detective pursued by an amorous young admirer.

At one point, he pleads, “Just tell me what you want. I can do everything for you!” To this, O’Donnell replies, “If you really want to please me, go paint my house!”

How many times have you been pursued by sales reps or presented with marketing campaigns claiming to offer a total solution? And how many times has a total solution been what you really needed?

Too often, businesses assume their prospects want it all at once. Here are common examples of total solution providers pushing their whole product line at the same time:

  • Telecommunications companies that offer phone, cellular, e-mail, pager and voice mail services.

  • Banks that advertise checking, credit cards, investments and mortgages.

  • Internet service companies that promote strategy, design, hosting and fulfillment services.

The fatal flaw of offering everything

Besides the fact that it is very difficult to present many products all at once, it usually doesn’t work for the customer. Customers want to test a company’s ability to deliver one product at a time. In other words, they want to date before going steady.

Customers also have specific needs. There is almost always a product or service they would choose to try before others. If forced to “take it all or leave it,” a customer may buy a total solution. But at the first sign of disappointment, remorse will overflow.

Does this mean, then, that it is foolish to offer customers a variety of products to meet their individual needs? No. Instead, try this three-step process:

1. Understand your customers’ typical buying patterns.

Analyze what your customers buy from you. That will help you determine which products or services are the first ones they buy, the ones that encourage return purchases, the impulse purchases that don’t lead to more and the ones that existing customers buy.

An example is telephone companies, which promote long distance deals to attract first-time buyers, friends and family deals to lock them into a long-term relationship, telephone equipment as impulse purchases or personal 800 numbers to existing customers.

2. Offer your products and services in the right order for your customers.

Sequence and stage your products and services. Offer conversion products that turn prospects into first-time buyers, then offer reorder products which prompt first-time buyers to become regular customers. Finally, offer logical products that cause first-time buyers to expand their relationships with a vendor.

When I served as a product manager for the Bank of Boston, we offered CDs to attract prospects with funds to invest, created rollover programs to encourage CD customers to reorder our product and advertised checking products to build long term relationships with CD buyers.

3. Market your products and services in the right order for your customers.

Create sales and marketing programs that offer products and services in the correct order and to prospects and customers who are ready to buy them. Here are some recent examples:

  • Sprint Telecommunications offered a hotline pre-selling Rolling Stones tickets to anyone willing to switch over its long distance.

  • Progressive Insurance does a magnificent job of telling its less attractive customers that their policies would cost less if they switched to the competition.

  • Amazon.com provides topical newsletters to customers based on their previous purchase history, correctly assuming they can be upsold or cross-sold.

It is possible to offer a wide range of products and services to customers without overwhelming them, but the effort must be organized and presented in a systematic process based on how and when customers buy.

Do not try to sell products and services on your schedule. Instead, understand your customers’ behavior and adapt your company’s approach accordingly. In other words, perhaps Rosie O’Donnell’s overzealous admirer should have taken her advice, and first painted her house!

Andy Birol (abirol@pacerassociates.com) is president of PACER Associates Inc., a Solon-based consulting firm that works with companies to focus on their best ways to find, keep and grow customers. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or www.pacerassociates.com.