Legendary Harvard Business School marketing professor, Theodore Levitt, coined the phrase “People don’t want to buy a drill and a quarter-inch bit. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

In his book, This is Marketing, Seth Godin takes the professor’s famous quote to the next level. They’re not buying drills or drill bits, they’re buying holes. Good sales and marketing people understand this. The drill and quarter inch bit isn’t the solution, the hole is. But this is only the first level of what some call “solution selling”.  In his book Seth Godin describes how there is much more to the “solution”. He uses an example of putting up a shelf, I’ll use an example of hanging a picture.

Yes, your potential customer wants to drill a hole, but why?  What’s it for?  Maybe the hole is to put in a screw in the wall to hang a picture.  Maybe they want this picture in a certain location because it will always remind them of the wonderful family vacation they had.  Maybe the picture tells the world, anyone who sees it anyway, how proud they are of their daughter for graduating university.  Or maybe it’s just about surrounding themselves with beautiful things.

So they are not buying a drill or a drill bit or a hole. They are buying a way to tell the world something or a way to always remember some great experience. The drill, drill bit and hole are not what they are buying.  They could be buying pride, safety, joy, confidence, peace of mind or respect.  They could be buying a lot of different things, so much more than a hole.

Products and their features and benefits are only a starting point. Great marketing and sales people know this and work hard to try understand the much deeper levels of the “solution”.  They go beyond the drill, the drill bit and the hole.

So solution selling isn’t about selling them a drill, a drill bit or even a hole. Or a screw to go with the hole for that matter. That’s just the beginning of the conversation, there is so much more.

Would love to hear your comments on this.

Joe Pops

July 2019