Your Customers Don’t Care About You

by Dan Walsh

Stop talking about yourself and start talking about them.

Humans are selfish. All lifeforms are selfish. This isn’t a condemnation, but an observation. We have to be selfish in order to survive. Higher level organisms develop group mentalities or morals which confuse the matter a bit: bees, ants, wolves, dolphins, humans, etc. But the simple truth is that everyone is selfish to an extent, and we’re most often selfish with our time and attention. If you’re trying to start a new business, launch a Kickstarter campaign, bring in new clients, get a promotion, or sell a book, it is vital to think about your selfish customers. What’s in it for them?

Take a look at your marketing materials. Your website, your emails, your Kickstarter video or your resume. Are you talking about you, or about them?

Human Needs

We all have needs that must be fulfilled. My two favorite models for thinking about the needs of others are McClelland’s Theory of Human Motivation and Maslow’s Hierarchy.

McClelland says that all humans desire some mix of achievement, affiliation, or power. Usually one of the three is dominant.


Maslow says we all want to satisfy physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization needs – and roughly in that order.


What fundamental need is your product helping your customer fulfill?

If you’re trying to land a client, are you helping them achieve power?

If you’re shilling a fancy bike light on Kickstarter, then aren’t you actually selling safety and esteem? “Don’t get hit by a car, and look cool while doing it!”

Features, Not Benefits

If you look at your marketing materials and see a bunch of numbers or industry jargon, then you’re talking about features, not benefits. No one cares about your features. Features talk about you. Remember, no one cares about you but you. You need to care about me, your customer. How does your feature make my life better?

Why should I care?

What’s in it for me?

How does it fulfill something from McClelland or Maslow? Don’t explain the thought process, just give me the payoff.

Copywriting 101 says to “focus on the benefits of your product instead of the features. This is common advice and I completely agree with it. But what usually gets lost in the soundbite is that writing benefits instead of features is a neat little trick to automatically refocus attention on the customer, instead of the business. It’s a framework for getting out of your own head, and getting into the head of your customer.

Be careful though, sometimes we think we’re selling benefits, but we’re still only talking features. It’s easy to translate the “1000 lumen” feature of that bike light into “visible from over a mile away!” and think we nailed the benefit. But we didn’t. What does that actually mean?

It means I’m safer and won’t end up in the hospital. Don’t tell me how bright your bike light is. Show me how much more visible (safer) I become. Don’t tell me it has 32 LEDs, show me how it transforms my bike into a can’t-miss Tron light cycle!

If your benefit becomes an emotion, then you got it.

Selling Yourself

You are a product, whether you realize it or not. You must sell your ideas to your boss, sell your experience to new clients, and sell your overall value to potential friends and mates. Every social interaction is a sale, and because humans are social creatures they happen many times per day.

What fundamental need are you fulfilling for those around you?

Every person in your life is a customer. Do you want them to buy you? Do  you want them to like you? Do you want them to accept your ideas? Then you need to know how you fulfill some missing part of them.

Yes, your friends care about you. Your spouse cares about you too. Even your dog cares about you. But they never would have become attached to you if you didn’t provide some benefit in the first place. Did you make them laugh? Show them love? Feed and play fetch with them? How did you make their life better?

What are your benefits?

A six-figure paycheck isn’t a benefit, it’s a feature. Your impressive-sounding title is industry jargon. That first-class trip to Spain is a stat. It’s also bragging, and nobody likes that for the same reason that features don’t sell products.

People Will Tell You What They Need

You just have to listen.

After you listen, you need to determine if your product can fulfill that need – if you can fulfill that need.

The best sales are honest sales. If I want a blue sports car and you only sell red SUVs, then we’re not a good fit. Don’t try to swindle me into buying something I don’t actually want.

Not everyone needs or wants what you’re offering. If I don’t ride a bike then I don’t want your bike light. That’s ok. Move on. Find the people that want what you have to give.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re selling yourself or a product, you need to offer what your customer wants to buy. Not what you want to sell.