How an early 20th century psychologist can help you sell

People don’t buy drills. They buy holes in things.

This simple example is a critically important lesson for every business owner.

Your customer isn’t buying your product. They are buying the benefit they derive from it.

This is why so many business owners have such a hard time selling. They’re trying to sell features to people who want to buy benefits.

Selling features is a losing game

Your customers are not buying from you because of features.  If you’re selling on features, you’re saying my stuff is the same as everyone else’s. When you do that, you’re selling on the promise you’ll be $1 cheaper and deliver 1 day faster than the other guy.

That’s a race to the bottom you don’t want to win.

Does being the low cost provider work for some companies? Yes, it does. But not for you.

You simply won’t be able to sell a product cheaper than Amazon or deliver a service cheaper than a company operating out of India or the Philippines.

You must sell benefits.

Gone are the days when customers only had two options for their products. No matter what you sell, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other businesses that sell something similar. And in the age of the Internet, all those competitors are literally one click away.

So, you need to deeply understand what your customer really wants and what benefits they’re getting from your product. Then, you need to structure your product to deliver on those benefits in a way they can’t get anywhere else.

All benefits aren’t created equal

Here’s the thing. Some benefits are more powerful than others. The higher level benefit you can deliver, the more powerful the attraction people will feel to your product.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows us how to identify higher level benefits. As we go through the levels, think about what benefits your product delivers at each level.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The base level of Maslow’s hierarchy is physiological needs. These are the most basic needs people have for food, water, shelter, etc. If the main benefit you deliver is at this level, you are likely to be viewed as a commodity.

The second level is safety. An obvious example of a safety-level benefit is any home security system. They promise the core benefit of keeping you safe. Another example of how a service might promise a safety benefit is an accounting firm promising you won’t have trouble with the IRS if they prepare your taxes.

Level three in the hierarchy is belongingness and love. An obvious example of benefits at this level are promises by dating apps to find you a partner, soulmate, date, hook-up, etc., depending on which app you’re using. Many brands promise benefits at this level by making their customers part of a tribe who all use the product. Sports teams selling merchandise with the team logo is an example of this. Wearing the jersey identifies you as a member of the team’s tribe.

Level four in Maslow’s hierarchy is esteem. This level is about fulfilling needs for prestige and a feeling of accomplishment. Luxury brands will often promise benefits at this level by telling customers that they have a higher status by virtue of using the product. This is also the level where most benefits from training or education are found.

Finally, level five needs are about self-actualization. At this level, your benefits are delivering a sense of fulfillment and well-being. Many spiritual or artistic offerings will talk about benefits at this level.

Your turn

So, what benefits of your products did you identify at each level?

How can you leverage higher level needs when talking about the benefits your product delivers?

It isn’t easy work to identify the high level needs and talk about how your product satisfies them in a compelling way. But it is critically important work to do.

Feeling stuck trying to identify the needs or the benefits? Schedule a breakthrough session. We work with business owners every day to help them get clear about who their ideal customer is and how to best meet their needs.

about the author

Ed Erickson

Ed Erickson is the CEO of Pitch Perfect Digital, a digital marketing agency serving coaches, consultants, and other service providers. 

For more information, visit his website (

Subscribe to get the latest updates