Empowerment: Focusing on What You Help Your Customers Accomplish

By Drake Pusey, Founder & Principal Strategist at Volition Project

In my experience, sales guys love their mantras. Things like “99% sold equals 0% sold” and “Always be closing.” Some are silly, some are trite, and some are plain misguided. But the best proverb I ever heard from a sales guy was this:

“A man doesn’t buy a drill because he wants a drill – he buys a drill because he wants a hole.”

It’s true. And it reflects the idea behind an elevated level of marketing communications, where instead of focusing on the features, you focus on the benefits.

While most people have heard this advice before, marketers in some categories still fall into the trap of fixating on what they do, what they make, what it does…in other words, talking about themselves. 

There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Their company makes or does something that is really cool. It’s difficult, it’s complicated, it’s leading-edge. It’s hard to explain, or it’s exciting to explain, or they’re just darned proud of it.

  2. They suffer from “the curse of knowledge”. Because they know their product and their space so intimately, they understand how much of a marvel their product is. They know how high the technical barriers were that they overcame. They know the tiny ways their product is better than the competition. 

The problem is, their customers either won’t understand it, or they won’t care. 

This is especially true in healthcare, a category involving a lot of esoteric knowledge, and an imbalance between what the provider knows and what the patient knows. Get technical, and the patient can’t follow. Dumb it down to “We’ll make you healthy,” and you’ve descended to the tablestakes level, leaving customers unimpressed.

Connecting with customers

What customers truly understand and care about are their own problems. And what they really want to buy from you – what they would buy from you if they could buy anything – is help in solving those problems. So explain how you do that.

This is easier in some categories than others: instead of just showing the camera, show the pictures; instead of just showing the pickup truck, show the cargo. But in healthcare, it gets more complicated. What are your customers buying? Health? That’s so personal – there is no universal vision of health. And the health problems we face are almost infinitely varied. How are you going to connect with each patient or caregiver on that level?

Know your customer like you know your sister.

You know what she cares about, what bothers her, and what she wants. You know where you agree, and where you disagree. You know what it takes for her to calm down. And you know she’s keeping secrets from you – and that’s ok.

If you were going to help your sister, you could explain – with compassion and clarity – how you would do that and what you could accomplish together.

Can you do that for your customer?

In a one-on-one setting, just ask:

  • What challenges are you facing? 
  • What hurts? 
  • What do you wish you could do again? 
  • What bothers you on a daily basis? 
  • What are you afraid of losing in the long term?

To get a categorical understanding, ask a lot more people the same questions, individually, and let the trends emerge. No insight is too small. You might explore conundrums like the following:

  • How can we help a single parent take less time away from work when her child is sick?
  • What can we help different types of surgery patients achieve in the first 6 weeks of recovery?
  • How can we help a patient find the cheapest medications today?
  • What would make an intimidating type of checkup less scary?
  • What daily challenges are faced by a caregiver for a given chronic condition, and how can we help?
  • What would help an anxious patient sleep better at night?

Healthcare providers that make the effort to understand their patients and caregivers at this level will be able to develop new services, or improve existing services, that empower their customers to accomplish what they need to achieve. And in the meantime, they’ll be able to explain how their existing services benefit their customers in more tangible, personal ways.

Remember: Empowerment means helping others accomplish things that only they can accomplish.

It’s important to keep in mind that we’re not trying to solve every problem ourselves. That’s impossible. We’re making it possible for customers to solve the problems they want to solve – in ways that are acceptable to them. Because some problems cannot be solved by outsiders – patients need to do it themselves. They know their problems intimately, they face the barriers personally, and nobody can force them to do anything they don’t want to do. What we can do is give them the tools, eliminate barriers, and reinforce their fortitude. Like a vaccine, you can help your patients address the challenges they face today, and are likely to face again tomorrow.


Drake Pusey founded Volition Project in 2014 and serves as its Principal Strategist to help empower people through brands that care. He uses his fluency in information architecture and frameworks to uncover the strategic alignments that create opportunities for clients. Drake is a Harvard Paulson School of Engineering Expert-in-Residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab, and empowers the residents of his town as a Human Rights Commissioner.


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