How a bottle of ketchup can bring you closer to your customer

In today’s Fable Friday you’ll learn how a bottle of ketchup got a company closer to its customers (and made more money)!

In his outstanding book “What the Dog Saw,” Malcolm Gladwell tells this story. Many years ago the H. J. Heinz Co. in Pittsburgh, decided to do some market research on how families used their number one product, ketchup. So they sent researchers into a number of families’ homes to observe.

One of them related, “There was a three-year-old and a six-year-old, and what happened was that the kids asked for ketchup and the Mom brought out a forty-ounce bottle.  The three-year-old went to grab it, and Mom intercepted the bottle and said, “No, you’re not going to do that.”  So she took the bottle away and poured out a little dollop. No doubt you’ve done this with your own kids when they were little. You see the kid trying to pour a glass of milk from a gallon jug and you say, “Whoa! Let me do that. You’ll spill it all over the place.”

For Heinz, that moment was a wake-up call, because a five-year-old uses 60 percent more ketchup than a forty-year-old, and Heinz realized it needed to put the ketchup in a bottle that the child could control.

The researcher commented, “If you’re four, you don’t get to choose what you eat for dinner, in most cases, but the one thing you can control is ketchup. It’s the one part of the food experience that a child can customize and personalize.”

As a result of these observations and conclusions, Heinz introduced the smaller EZ Squirt bottle, made of soft plastic with a conical nozzle.  And in homes where the EZ Squirt is used, ketchup consumption has grown by as much as 12 percent.  Pretty slick, wouldn’t you say?

Now how does this apply to you when you sell?  Salespeople are always worrying, “How do I get this new product out?  How do I expand my relationships with my existing customers?”

Why not do what Heinz did?  You can’t go into people’s homes to do market research of course, but you can do a better job of learning how people 1) Do some task or procedure that your product can do for them more quickly, conveniently, or thoroughly, or 2) Find out how they are using your product now.

A great example of the second case involves software applications.  If you sell software, you should always ask how your customer is using the application now, so you can make useful suggestions on how to optimize the product’s value.  I’ll bet if my tech-savvy son were to ask me to sit down with him and show him how I use my iPhone, he could give me a dozen pointers on features the phone has that I don’t use, either because I don’t know about them or don’t know how to make them work.

Observing usage and asking good questions, whether it’s ketchup, software or any other product is a great way to…

Think Like Your Customer

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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