The RIGHT Way To Influence Your Customer (5 Questions You Must Ask)

I never really wanted it, I explained to the Nordstrom sales associate.

I was returning an expensive bag I had bought a few weeks earlier—a gorgeous bag, but not right for me.

I kind of felt pushed into buying it, I added unnecessarily.

(At Nordstrom they rarely ask questions about why you’re returning something.)

But the sales associate empathized with me. I’m sorry that happened, she said.

And I realized that, while I wasn’t upset—my experience around this bag had been the perfect example of poor marketing.

Here’s why.

I had arrived at the store looking for a new bag to replace the one I’d been carrying around for the past two years or so.

And because I already really liked the bag I was carrying—and was NOT shopping for a new one out of ‘this-will-make-me-feel-better-about-myself’ motivation—I was okay with being really picky and waiting until I found the bag that was JUST right for me.

But that day in the Nordstrom handbag department, the sales associate had shadowed me as I picked up each bag, declaring her opinion on each one immediately after I’d slung it over my arm.

That one is too big for your frame.

No… that one isn’t the right one.

THAT is the bag for you. Oh yes, that’s it. You need that bag!

And while I hadn’t really minded her commentary until then (okay, I minded it a little— I prefer peace and quiet when I’m making a purchasing decision), I felt an inner disagreement when she insisted that THIS bag was right for me, and I tried to express it to her.

Me: Yeah, I’m not totally sure thi—


(Okay, I might be exaggerating a teeeeensy bit. But anyway.)

Of course I DID let her talk me into purchasing that bag— and ended up returning it later.

So what went wrong?

The same thing that goes wrong with all ineffective marketing.

I was being sold something I didn’t really want—and didn’t even need.

I was being pushed to decide that THIS was the right thing for me.

Had the sales associate taken the time to understand my wants and needs instead of deciding them for me, chances are good I would have purchased my ‘just right’ bag that day and kept it.

Here were the main issues:

I don’t like bags that can’t easily be slung over my shoulder. This was a ‘throw it over your forearm’ type of bag.

I like bags that- when they are slung over my shoulder- rest somewhere right around my waist. This bag, which did come with an optional (very long) strap, either had to be hoisted over my head and worn cross-body, or would flap annoyingly against my lower half when I walked.

I like bags that are made of light leather and have very few bells and whistles. This bag was made of thick, heavy leather and had details like tassels and heavy hardware that I found annoying after carrying it around for a short while.

Now, I might be a little weird because I can articulate all these things about my handbag preferences— but if the sales associate had taken even a moment to ask me what I like and don’t like in a bag, she would have had a much better chance of helping me discover one that met all my ‘needs’ PLUS had other factors I haven’t even mentioned that make me go, I must have this bag, NOW.

And yes, although sharing this experience with you makes me look like a pushover (hey, I returned the bag eventually!), sometimes aggressive sales and marketing works— temporarily.

And yet— even though it worked on me that day, I didn’t walk away with a satisfied spring in my step.

Instead, I walked away feeling stinky (okay, not LITERALLY) for letting myself be talked into my purchase.

You do NOT want your customer to feel stinky after making a purchase with you.

(Obviously. And you can tweet me on that.)

So how can you avoid this marketing mistake?

You may not be interacting with your customers in a retail environment, but ANY time you’re marketing to them— any time you want to influence a decision— start with the customer’s needs in mind.

In fact, you’re probably NOT working in a retail environment, which gives you a leg up here. You can plan in advance and finely tune your marketing message so that it meets your ideal customer’s needs and wants before she ever lands on your website or social media account.

To do that, you need to address these 5 key areas as they relate to the product or service you’re creating and the problem that it solves (and if your offering doesn’t solve a problem, keep working at it until it does).

Not all of these areas apply equally for every product or service, but all are worth considering, every time: 

  1. FEARS: What is she afraid will happen if she doesn’t solve this problem?

  2. FRUSTRATIONS: What frustrates her about this problem?

  3. NIGHTMARES: What is the worst-case scenario she believes she’ll have on her hands if she doesn’t get this problem solved?

  4. DESIRES: What would she really like to see happen in her life instead of having this problem?

  5. DREAMS: What would be a ‘dream come true’ type of scenario for her instead of having this problem? (Think Cinderella or OMG-I-just-won-the-lottery! scenarios here.)

Grab a pen and paper and go into detail with each of these areas (make a LONG list for each— try to come up with 25 if you can) so that you can be sure you understand the exact problem you’re solving for your prospective customer AND how to communicate it clearly to her.

And then, when you’re posting on social media, writing a blog post, creating a sales page, a video, a free download, or even crafting your offers themselves— use what you’ve come up with to make sure your messaging lines up in these areas.

You might wonder if it’s manipulative to craft marketing messages around your customer’s fears, frustrations, desires, and dreams.

But is it manipulative to help someone make a decision that will solve an important problem or fill a need for her?

(And NO- I’m not encouraging mindless consumerism. I know that YOU, dear reader, have something truly transformational to offer your customers, so I’m not worried you’ll take this message in that way.)

And here’s the truth. We LOVE to buy things that solve problems for us, or that bring us joy, or create more beauty and luxury in our lives.

And yet. . .

We also love to procrastinate and NOT solve our problems or treat ourselves to nice things.

(We humans are a strange species. Every last one of us. More on that in later posts.)

So as a marketer your charge is clear:


It’s your job to help them see that YOU have exactly what they need and want— and also see that they really ought to purchase it NOW so that they can get on with enjoying their lives.

It’s also your job not to deprive yourself of the profits that you totally deserve— and frankly, must make in order to stay in business (and thrive in business).

So if you want to create and keep a cadre of contented customers— while bringing in enough profit to continue creating great products and services— tailor your marketing to their wants and needs.

And if you want to be a smart customer yourself— don’t let yourself be talked into a sale by an aggressive marketer who doesn’t have your needs in mind!

Or just make sure you always shop at Nordstrom. :)

Bye for now, smart marketer!