Why Buying is Different from Selling
The following is adapted from Demand-Side Sales 101.
In your economics class, you probably heard different definitions of supply and demand that centered on fluctuating prices, and the relationship between the two depended on each other. Supply goes up, the price decreases. Demand goes up, the price increases.
But when it comes to buying and selling products and services, supply and demand are two completely different perspectives. Buying is very different from selling. Selling is clearly a supply-side perspective — you have a product and need to get rid of it by selling it to people — while buying sits on the demand-side. People need a product or service to make progress in their lives, and they search for it until they find it.
Let’s go a little deeper into these concepts so we can fully understand what a salesperson is supposed to be saying, and asking, when interacting with a customer. And we’ll find out why demand-side selling is a better strategy.
Supply Side vs. Demand Side
The supply-side perspective focuses on the product or service and its features and benefits. Your sales and marketing strategy centers on finding ways to sell the product and figuring out to whom you’re going to sell it.
Customers are usually a demographic — not a real person but an ideal group to buy your product, and you search everywhere for that demographic, hoping that they will see your product, get excited, and buy it. You change and add features based on whether you think customers will respond better to it.
However, with supply-side, you never look at how the product will fit in people’s lives and how they will make their lives better. You see only your product and how you can make as much money as possible. As a result, the pressure is on the sales group to push the product and turn a profit. Customers are fish in the water waiting to take the bait.
On the other hand, the demand-side perspective tries to understand how people buy things. You design your product and your sales and marketing strategy around trying to meet the buyer’s needs and looking at the situation through their eyes. We as salespeople are simply filling a demand issue because there’s a gap in what people need and what people are selling. Filling that gap is the roadmap to success.
It’s not an “If you build it, they will come” model. Most people don’t think about your product or service if it doesn’t address a problem they have. When people have a problem that needs solving, they search for a solution, which creates demand.
Once you understand this concept and develop your product or service to fill that solution, you can help people buy and make progress in their lives.
Case Study: Casper Fills a Need
Take, for instance, the mattress company Casper. Instead of thinking about their product’s features and benefits and asking, “What’s the demand for mattresses?” Casper asked, “How many people struggle to sleep at night?” They looked at how people experienced insomnia at night, tossing and turning and feeling uncomfortable on their traditional mattresses.
Their ads featured soft bunnies and kittens crawling across their mattresses, tugging at the sheets. “We asked these creatures of comfort what it’s like to sleep on a Casper,” the narrator says. “Some things just don’t need words.” The ad closes with the animals sleeping like angels. What’s not in the ad? Anything about the features and benefits of a Casper.
Casper looked at the relationship between businesses and customers from the customers’ viewpoint (demand-side selling). It understood why people buy mattresses and recognized the anxieties that got in the way. Their product features — better design, simple options, and buying from and delivering to the home — was the icing on the cake.
And it’s working. Casper now has 3.2 percent of the U.S. market share for mattresses — ranking seventh. They’ve sold to over one million customers, with $400 million in sales. The company is valued at $1 billion.
It’s Not All Economic Theory
Supply- vs. demand-side selling is really a simple concept. It’s not about inventory or about price fluctuations or learning graphs. It’s all a matter of how you listen to a customer and then try to fit a product or service to to meet their needs.
Demand-side selling puts salespeople on a personal, more detailed level and gives them a better chance of making the sell. Perhaps if we had all gone to the Harvard Business School, we could have heard Professor Theodore Levitt. say,, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
That’s listening to a real problem, not selling a product. And that’s the way it should be.
For more advice on supply- and demand-selling, you can find Demand-Side Sales 101 on Amazon.
Bob Moesta is a teacher, builder, entrepreneur, and co-founder at The Re-Wired Group, a design firm in Detroit, Michigan. Bob has developed & launched over 3,500 products and sold everything from design services, software, and houses to consumer electronics, and investment services. He’s an adjunct lecturer at Kellogg School at Northwestern University, lectures on innovation at Harvard and MIT, and enjoys mentoring at incubators. Greg Engle is a co-founder at the Re-Wired Group. Since the beginning of his career, helping people make progress has been part of Greg’s DNA. He’s worked in everything from food services and retailing, to construction, software, and now consulting services. Greg’s a native Detroiter and enjoys volunteering in the community, especially in local ice hockey leagues.