Jul 21

Mapping the Mind of the Customer

When we talk about building preference, we are really talking about shifting the prospect’s inner mindset about our product. We have to become mind readers, and then mind changers, in this process. This may seem like a tall order.  How can we know what’s on the prospect’s mind?  (As Eddie Murphy did so well in “Trading Places,” when he just knew that the pork belly buyer was anxious to buy his son the GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip!)  Well, we can’t know what’s truly on the prospect’s mind, but we can make some pretty accurate guesses.

Think about it like this:  If you see a man standing in the cold without a jacket on, you can read his mind. He’s thinking, “I’m cold.”   He might also be thinking, “I’m angry at life,” but that’s beyond our marketing mind reading abilities.    When a prospect is considering your product, there’s more on his or her mind than “I need X type of product.”  What’s on the mind of a prospective Kwikapp buyer?  He needs a photo portal of some kind. That’s a given.  If he didn’t need one, you wouldn’t be interested in talking to him.  But, what’s really on his mind?  Let’s do some mind reading.

Reading the prospects mind is partly dependent on the prospect’s business role.  IT people read one way. Business people are different in certain ways, though a lot of the underlying issues are quite similar.   The mind of the prospect is usually filled with three competing forces, as depicted in the preference pyramid show below.  Let’s break them down and understand how the tug-of-war in the prospects mind can affect the preference process:

  • Needs – What the prospect needs should be fairly simple to pin down, though not always.  Even if the prospect doesn’t know the precise product he needs, he usually understands what he wants the end solution to do.  In this case, it would be a portal that could manage images for an enterprise behind the firewall.
  • Concerns – Working in the opposite direction are concerns about things that can go wrong with the vendor or solution.  Concerns abound, but a few notable ones include the following
  • Will this product work as advertised?
  • Do these people know what they are doing?
  • Is this product good enough?
  • Will the vendor support it the way I need them to?
  • Is the product developed with the right kind of technology? Will it become obsolete?
  • Will the vendor go out of business or get acquired by a company that we don’t like?
  • Will the product cause problems elsewhere in our IT ecosystem, in the form of excess network load, software integration hassles or disruptions in existing processes?
  • Are there hidden costs, such as dependent licenses, that we are not aware of?
  • Will we get “locked in” to this vendor and have a costly problem if we want to change direction down the road.


  • Boundaries – Then pushing back against needs and concerns are boundaries that limit the purchasing options.  Some major boundaries that you will run into:
    • We are a Microsoft/IBM/Oracle/SAP shop. We will never buy a product that is not made by that vendor or certified to work with it.
    • We only host applications on premise. We never use “the cloud.”
    • The solution we choose must work with Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, and so on – we will never choose something that doesn’t work on these platforms.
    • Cost – let’s not forget this one, because it’s pretty basic.  Some of the best solutions are just priced right out of the buyer’s budget.

Now, with this pyramid in mind, think about the product you are taking to market.  How will the buyer perceive your offering given the three competing forces going on in his or her mind?  Will concerns outweigh needs or drive the buyer to an alternative vendor?  Will boundary issues force the buyer out of considering your product or inhibit preference?

What’s the single most important element that can tip the preference thought process in your favor?  Bribery is always a possibility (wink.)  Seriously, though, the number one quality to have in your prospect’s mind is confidence.  Confidence. Let’s say it again: Confidence.    To get yourself preferred in the mind of the prospect, you need to instill confidence in your product.  To illustrate the principle of confidence in the enterprise technology marketing, consider how an IT manager might think about two similar products, one from IBM and the other from a less well known vendor.

Issue affecting preference Perception of IBM Perception of IBM Competitor
Long-term support IBM supports all products for a minimum of five years. Vendor is unclear about length of support
Customization IBM can provide virtually limitless professional services resources for customization. Vendor has a small professional services team that may or may not be able to handle customization demands.
Mainframe integration You have to ask? Vendor has a mainframe plug in.
Scalability The IBM product is built on the WebSphere platform, which has proven scalability The vendor’s product is J2EE based and scales well in theory.


How much more confidence will the IT manager have in the IBM solution?  A lot, probably.  Confidence is one of the reasons why IBM is so successful.  Their track record, culture, and depth of resources instill a great deal of confidence amongst potential buyers.  Thus, we have the classic saying, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”  Of course, they don’t win every deal, but when they lose, it’s likely due to confidence issues flowing in the other direction.  For example, smaller vendors can engender confidence that they will work harder to please the client than a giant like IBM.   Or, the smaller vendor will build confidence that they are giving the client the best value.  In this subject, I am indebted to Donald Cooper, a business thinker whose work has been a source of inspiration for me for many years.

Human Marketing – The Four Currencies

Donald Cooper is a successful entrepreneur and speaker who approaches marketing from the perspective satisfying human needs. He calls it “Human Marketing,” and at its essence, it’s about instilling preference through confidence.   Cooper talks about the “four currencies” that we all use in our lives and business.

  • Money
  • Time
  • Feeling Safe (physically & emotionally safe
  • Feeling Special

In Cooper’s view, people are constantly on the search for more of these four currencies.  Note that money is just one of them.  Money is not the only arbiter of preference.  As Cooper puts it, “People are prepared to spend more money to save time, or to feel more safe, or more special. Think about your own life.  People are even prepared to take time and to spend a lot of money to not feel safe, in order to feel special…which is the only explanation I have for bungee jumping!”

I see Cooper’s theory manifesting itself in many aspects of technology marketing.  IT buyers will spend money on technologies that help them save time (easier to maintain, fewer problems), make them feel safe (in terms of job security and stress), and make them feel special.  Yes, this last one is a bit funny but it’s more true than any of us could imagine.  IT people want to feel special, just like the rest of us. Of course, in the case of enterprise technology, feeling special might come from achieving a level of CPU utilization that no one else thought possible, or some other esoteric but important aspect of IT.

The one underlying factor that drives all of this is confidence.  The buyer will prefer and select the product that engenders confidence that it will enable him or her to accumulate the greatest amount of these four currencies.  Our approach to building preference should therefore be informed by the following ideas:

  • Our product saves you money or helps you make more of it.
  • With our product, you will have more time on your hands to do what you really want to do.
  • You can feel safe (in your job) and secure (You won’t get yelled at) and stress free.
  • Our product will make you feel special, giving you all kinds of unique technology bragging rights.

These four ideas are typically in the subtext of any well crafted messaging for a technology product.  In some cases, the message is overt, though in a lot of cases, it’s implicit. The goal is always the same.  Build preference by instilling confidence that the product will deliver on these four critical currencies.