07/23/2013 05:29 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2013

The One Thing You Need to Sell With Success

In the Billy Crystal movie City Slickers, the character of Curly says that the meaning of life comes down to "just one thing." Curly, played by Jack Palance, serves as a cowboy philosopher helping Billy Crystal find his smile. I am often asked what is the "one thing" that businesses should know to be successful growing their business.

I just completed a whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest, speaking five times in as many days. I had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people focused on growing their business. As I raised topics and engaged the audiences with questions, I uncovered a great distinction between those who were realizing incredible success, and those who were struggling.

Each participant across the five days had a great handle on what their company sold. They knew their features, benefits, and competition. The overachievers had mastered one additional piece of information that eluded those who struggled: The top performers completely understood why clients would select them over other options.

Let me explain the various ways in which clarity on why is so essential.

How Buyers Buy

Consider this:  The CFO is faced with five requests for purchases that total $400,000. But, she only has $180,000 to spend. Which questions might she ask to determine which projects get funded?

I've asked this same question to nearly 1,000 CEOs, CFOs and executives. The primary question is, "Why do we need this?," or alternatively, "What problem does it solve?"  The next question is "What is our likely outcome/result of making this decision?" If you don't know the answers to these questions, don't expect your client to figure it out on their own. Knowing why they need you is at the top of the list.

Maintain Focus

When you understand why people buy, something magical happens. You and your team will focus on identifying those clients with symptoms that warrant an investment in what you sell. This means that instead of talking about your products and services, you'll diagnose their situation to determine if you have a fit. This allows you to be seen as someone adding value, not someone just trying to sell something. Interest without justification leads to wasted time. Remember, if you and your client struggle to explain why they need what you are selling, your contact is likely to get rejected when they take the project to someone for approval. So, understanding the why together is critical.

Establish Confidence

It is difficult to sell something when you doubt its value.  There is a sure-fire way to address this all-too-common issue. When the seller understands why the customer needs their services and appreciates the likely outcome the client would realize from working with them, what do you think happens to discounts and haggling? How does this impact the seller's confidence?

Think logically.  If you are selling a widget, it's easy for a buyer to convince you that it is not worth the price you stated. But, if you understand why the client needs what you have, and appreciate the likely results or outcome, then you can confidently defend your price.


In City Slickers, Billy Crystal's character learns that he needs to discover the one thing that is most important to him.  In this case, I'll make life easier for you. Focus on why people need what you sell, and you may not find the meaning of life, but you'll grow your business with greater velocity and success.

It's Your Turn

When have you seen a focus on why have a dramatic impact either as a seller or as a buyer?