I like the Old Sales Cliche Thats Says ‘no One Has Ever Needed a Quarter-inch Drill Bit. What They Needed was a Quarter-inch Hole’

This is another Question and Answer I posted on my LinkedIn account.

I am a subscriber at, LinkedIn, which is self described on their website as; ‘…an online network of more than 16 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries.’

With LinkedIn’s service I have reconnected and kept in touch with old colleagues, met potential employers, learned from many combined years of professional service, and used my network as a sounding board for my own questions and ideals.

The excerpts below are answers to just one of the many questions I have asked of my group of contacts.

Business Owner

The saying goes to the heart of what good salesmanship is about. Are you offering your customer a product or a solution to his problem? If you only sell a product, then you will lose out the next time if your competitor has a cheaper or faster or whatever product. But if you sell a solution, your customer will come to you time and again. In my financial services business, for example, people will come to me looking to refinance a mortgage and ask what the rate will be. But what they really want is a solution that will get them out of debt. The rate doesn’t mean anything unless it’s attached to a specific program to achieve their goals.


Senior Developer

I think there is a lot of truth in the saying.

As a software developer, I have seen firsthand (many times) how technology companies build products that people simply have no need for, and then wonder why they fail to sell. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that customers are customers because they have a problem which they need to solve, and your product helps them to solve it. With the exception of vanity technology (mostly cell phones and mp3 players), people don’t *want* to spend money unless they need to.

Business Owner

I think that what John is trying to illustrate is the fact that customers buy features not benefits.

For example, I go to buy a new car. I say to the salesman ( or woman) ‘Hello fine person, I need a car with air conditioning!) What I really want is a car that makes me feel cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather. ie, the feature is the air con, the benefit is the feel good factor, the ‘what’s in it for me’.

To clarify what John is saying…. the customer asks fo a quarter inch drill bit. What they really want is a drill that has a bit that can dill a quarter inch hole!

When selling anything, always ask yourself to any statement…so what? What’s in it for me? When you reach a dead end…. you have your benefits!

Leadership Trainer and (Mental) Coach

A story about this is how Philips exported their male shaving systems to China. The chinese usually do not have much facial hair.Still, Philips exported their shaving machines and the Chinese liked them. It was a cool thing to have. And when they started using it, their facial hair started to row and the need to shave was there.

PS: you refer to a salespitch of one of the drill manufacturers that say they don’t sell drills. They sell holes in the wall.

Sales Director

It plays into an idiom of mine. You can’t prescribe before you diagnose.

Your product isn’t necessary unless you know what the customer needs.

Principal, Consulting

I have always liked this sales cliche. And for the most part it is true. However when you think of things like the “pet rock”, and other relatively useless items that were the rage at one point, then you have to think that “ideas” are what are for sales. Yes, some are based on need. However if it was simply need, then Wal-Mart might be the only store. Yet, Neimans will put out their annual Christmas catalog that will have many useless, luxurious products, that will be purchased. If have a quarter-inch hole, it is likely my neighbor wants a bigger hole, or a fuzzy hole, or a colorful hole!

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