Why You Needed A Pet Rock in 1975 (Understanding CLient Need)

Every sales training session in existence today has some component dedicated to helping you to understand client need (or more accurately the need of the potential client).

Obviously in your professional services firm, a potential client’s need must align with your expertise, in order for there to be a legitimate sales opportunity.

What often gets missed – especially by enthusiastic new consulting professionals early in their career – is the potential client’s recognition of their need.

Just because a consultant sees a need to give advice doesn’t mean the potential client recognizes a need to seek advice. And if the consultant sees the need and the potential client does not, then there is no need.

Full stop.

So if the potential client does not see a need for your services (but you do) is the sales opportunity lost?

Rene Jamieson, lecturer at a college I attended years ago put it nicely (I am paraphrasing here):

“You cannot manufacture consumer demand. You can only help a customer to discover an existing need they did not realize they already have.”

This is an interesting statement because I frequently hear marketing folks speaking about “creating demand” which is not possible. Uncovering an existing demand is.

When discussing this a while back one of my colleagues responded by saying “Cal what about the pet rock phenomenon back in the 70’s? That had to be a classic example of manufactured demand. No-one NEEDS a pet rock.”

I disagreed and pointed out that the pet rock was the solution delivered to meet an already existing demand: the need for novelty and entertainment. The pet rock simply gave consumers an opportunity to act upon that need.

(Do you think you could ever convince a stranger to buy a rock as a pet? I don’t think so.)

The absurdity of the pet rock made it a media sensation meaning the solution was heavily advertised around North America essentially for free. Everbody wanted one.

The phenomenon lasted about a year and then pretty much vanished once the pet rock concept got tired and was no longer a viable solution to satisfy the need for novelty.

So how does this relate to selling professional services?

Persuading or convincing is attempting to manufacture demand and – again – unfortunately I hear the professional services community use those words frequently.

Persuading and convincing is trying to talk someone into something that they don’t want to do. Can you think of a worse way to start a consulting engagement of any kind? Persuading is all about the self-interest of the seller and a one-way road to a sleazy sales person reputation.

Goodbye trust.

Inspiring, however, is helping someone to realize something on their own. The difference between inspiring and persuading is substantial. Inspiring is an advocacy role and positions the seller as a valuable resource.

Hello “trusted advisor”.

Fortunately, expertise of any kind inspires people and luckily you are in the expertise business.

When you share your expertise in a speech, an article, a drawing, or a discussion, you goal is to inspire a potential client to see the possibilities that they could not see before.

And when they do, they will often recognize their need for your help to achieve those possibilities.

You have inspired them for your mutual benefit, and positioned yourself for a long and profitable relationship.

And deservedly so.

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The Consultant with Pink Hair

"This should be required reading for consultants AND their clients - especially the part about RFPs." - Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching

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