Need vs. want

I have heard it said many times that people do not buy what they need. They buy what they want.

OK, there are exceptions. People need food so they buy food. But even here, they buy not what’s good for them (what they need) but what they like (what they want).

Years ago when I was reading everything I could on selling, sales guru Joe Gerrard was my hero. Joe recounted many examples of how people will buy what they want long before they will spend money on what they need. As I read these, I came to realize that I was not one of those selling necessities like food that people had to buy whether or not they wanted to. I was selling chairs, coffee tables, bookcases, kitchen cabinets, decorative paneling and expensive chessboards.

None of these would qualify as a necessity. They are discretionary items that most people could easily live without. If Mrs. Jones did not want new cabinets, she was not going to buy new cabinets no matter how hard I tried to sell them to her.

I soon learned not to waste my time trying to close a sale with someone who did not want what I was offering. Once Mrs. Jones saw her friends’ new cabinets and wanted them for her own kitchen, I had a good chance of making a sale. But until that then, I had to bide my time.



  • David, I teach this to every budding ” I wanna be a full time woodworker” that comes by my shop to learn marketing. If you build an object that people need, even if it is on the high end side of the price spectrum for that object, you will have a better chance of actually making the sale. I am asked all the time what kind of market is there for high end wooden canoes. My reply is always the same: Almost no one in this country can say with any honesty that they NEED a canoe. In that small group I can’t think of anyone that could actually claim they NEED a wooden canoe. And if there is anyone left who still is in the need category, I can’t imagine that they would NEED one as expensive as I build them. So it comes down to want.

    On the other hand, I teach my students that pretty much everyone NEEDS a table, chair, door, etc… Now all you have to do is convince them to “upgrade” from commercially mass produced to high end custom built. That is a lot easier to accomplish than trying to convince someone that they need an object when they really just WANT it.

    Having made that argument however, I did have a client once who countered this line of thinking by replying that owning an art piece or surrounding ones self with art pieces is actually part of the “hierarchy of needs” even if not on par with air, food, water, shelter etc… Who was I to argue my own point; he proceeded to commission several pieces which in turn allowed me to pursue my own “hierarchy of needs”!

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