Are You Selling What Your Customer is Buying?

selling vs buying

Don’t confuse your customer with what you’re selling versus what they’re buying. What do we mean? Your customer is buying a solution to a problem. Is that what you’re selling?

The Wrong Message is One of the Root Problems of Most Marketing

In our experience there are a number of reasons why marketing is unsuccessful. Two of the easiest to spot and fix are:

1) Wrong Audience 

Your marketing messages are running against an audience that doesn’t need your product or service, or

2) Unclear marketing message 

If you’ve targeted the right audience, then there’s a good chance your marketing efforts are failing at describing how you solve the customer’s problem.

In this article we're talking about the wrong marketing message and the wrong approach.


Failing to Address the Customer's Problems

One easily fixable marketing message problem that we often see with B2B marketing is messaging that focuses on product or service features and fails to address the customers’ problems.

Marketing communications and sales information should be aimed at simplifying the decision-making process for customers. It should start to do this by focusing on what your customer is trying to do, and the benefits of your product or service.

Features versus Benefits – Know the Difference

Many non-marketers confuse features with benefits. The seasoned marketer knows the difference and when to use each.


A feature is something that your service “is” or “does”. A benefit is something that your service “means” to the client.

Features are characteristics of your product or service hat describe its appearance, components, and capabilities.


To translate a feature into a benefit, ask the question, “so what?” If a feature of your service is providing 24/7 help desk support, ask “so what?” The benefit is that 24/7 help desk support provides peace of mind to make sure your problems are solved anytime of the day.

Go through this exercise for all of your features. You’ll find that many of your benefits begin to overlap. This is okay and to be expected.

There is a place for features in B2B marketing. Technical buyers will want to know your features, but before you can get them there you need to communicate the benefits to them to get their attention. 

Charles Revson, one of the founders of Revlon, the cosmetics giant, was famously quoted as saying, "In the factory we make cosmetics. But in the drugstore we're selling hope."
Problems Solutions

Lead with benefits, follow-up with features as proof-points

Your marketing should lead with stating the customers problem, and the benefits of how you solve the problem. Your product features are proof-points that you should use to support your benefits.

We’re big fans of the marketing hourglass concept in the Duct Tape Marketing System.

Features should be used at the Trust or Consideration stage to back up your value proposition and your benefits.

Features are the, “reason to believe” that your benefits are true.

What happens if you have too many benefits and your messaging is starting to get cluttered? You need to understand which benefits are important to the customer and in which order.

Understanding the Customers' Problems - Pains, Gains, and Jobs-to-be-done

One of our favourite tools to understand which benefits are important to customers is the Jobs-to-be-done framework, popularized by Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School.

This theory is based on the notion that people buy products and services to get a “job” done. Think of a job as any problem your customer is trying to solve or get done and can be a function or activity.

From the customer’s perspective successfully completing the job may involve some type of gain they are looking for, or it may mean less pain for the customer.

  • The job can have a social or emotional aspect to it. 
  • The job that your customer is trying to get done usually doesn’t change much over time.
  • People want products and services that will help them get a job done better and/or more cheaply.
  • Better could be done faster, more conveniently, with less effort, with better results.
  • People seek out products and services that enable them to get the entire job done on a single platform

Marketing success comes from understanding what the job is, and what would constitute a gain or a pain from the customer’s perspective.

  1. What is the customer trying to achieve?
  2. Why is the customer trying to achieve that goal?
  3. How will the customer be impacted if she cannot achieve the goal?
  4. How will the customer be impacted if they are successful in reaching their goal?
  5. What did the customer use or do before your product or service to reach this goal?
  6. What must you deliver for the customer to reach this goal?

What does your product or service actually do for the customer? While not intended to be a literal question, it can be helpful to start by listing out product benefits while throttling any discussion of features.

By addressing the customers' goals for what they need to get done you move your messaging and positioning from trying to sell your product or your company to presenting the solution that the customer wants to buy.
Problem Solved

Accounting Industry Examples

We run across examples of this regularly in accounting industry marketing. Here are some common ones.

What You're Selling

what the customer is buying

Tax Returns

Saving money on taxes

Maximizing tax refunds

Filing on deadline to avoid penalties

Business Advisory Services

Knowing which expenses can be deducted

Managing cash flow

Budget forecasting to understand what they can afford to do


Peace of mind to know that payroll has been submitted properly, that staff will be paid, and that there will be no issues at year end

Fractional CFO

A qualified and competent business advisor for their finances, at a lower cost

These are just a few of the examples that we see regularly in the accounting, tax, and bookkeeping industry. 


Successful marketers know that marketing is problem solving on behalf of the customer. The customer has a problem, and they want to buy a solution to that problem. Don’t worry about trying to sell yourself. Be the  solution that the customer is buying.

TIP:  If you're not sure where to start, complete our complimentary Marketing Strategy Assessment. 

This tool, specifically designed for accounting firm marketing, will provide a good starting point for what you should consider working on.

Plus, you'll get a free 20+ page book of recommendations just for you. 

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Your Marketing

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Are You Selling What Your Customer is Buying?
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Are You Selling What Your Customer is Buying?
Successful marketers know that the customer is buying a solution to a problem they have. Are you providing that solution for the customer to buy? or are you too busy trying to sell your product features and your company?
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