Jim Nielsen’s Blog Verified ($10/year for the domain)
Theme: This feature requires JavaScript as well as the default site fidelity (see below).

Controls the level of style and functionality of the site, a lower fidelity meaning less bandwidth, battery, and CPU usage. Learn more.

Book Notes: “Demand Side Sales” by Bob Moesta

Based on a recommendation from Jason Fried on the Signal Vs. Noise blog, I recently read Bob Moesta and Greg Engle’s new book: Demand Side Sales: Stop Selling and Help Your Customers Make Progress.

The introduction to the book is really great. You can actually read it online in what is essentially Jason’s recommendation for the book.

Book Overview

Design your go-to market strategy around the buyer's worldview, not the product. (45)

This book, to me, is all about taking a different perspective on sales and product that focuses on understanding the struggling moments of humans and then helping them discover how they can overcome those struggles. As simple as it may sound, it’s about understanding product and sales through the buyer’s eyes.

[nobody had taught me] to look at sales this way—through the buyer’s eyes. They were all about building a persona of an ideal, imagined customer. And, in my experience, the imagined customer had little in common with reality. (29)

Customers buy on their terms. You don’t convince them to do anything; they convince themselves. So it's about discovering what causes people to pull new things into their lives. It's about flipping the lens from pushing a product and its features to creating pull for a solution in people’s lives.

The product does not create demand. However well-meaning your aspirations, they are not enough to sell your product and cause people to make the necessary tradeoffs. People want to be their definition of best, not yours. It's about fitting your product into their life by understanding the progress they are trying to make. (206)

If there’s no struggle in peoples’ lives, there’s no demand. It’s important to step back from the economic theory of supply and demand (where you are defining demand through your product) and instead see demand as coming from the tension and struggle in peoples’ lives. This tension, this struggling moment, is “the seed” for all new sales. When you come to see the world from this view, you then feel better about “sales” because you don't have to convince anyone to buy anything. Sales and product turn into serving and helping others because you now see the world through their eyes and not the eyes of your product. This allows you to speak the way the customer thinks, and that makes selling easy because it’s no longer selling, it’s helping someone. Sales and product become about them and their lives and not about you and your product.

A few more quotes I liked that relate to this overarching theme of the book.

nobody wants to be sold to, but everybody wants to buy. (37)

You cannot design the way your customer makes progress; you need to understand their definition of progress and design your process around it. (61)

Circumstance is a big part of understanding causation. [A customer’s] circumstance is a reference point for their progress, without understanding their starting place you cannot design their progress. (63)

Most real growth does not come from stealing a small segment of customers from your competitors. It comes from truly understanding the problem your customer is trying to solve and focusing on helping them. (151)

When brand equity became more valuable than cashflow, marketers took the lead. It's a fundamental power shift that's relegated salespeople to order takers, not helping to generate demand. Marketers are expected to create demand, and sales is to follow the leads generated. It's a flawed approach that sets salespeople up to fail. Demand is only generated by a customer's struggling moment. If there is no struggle, there is no demand. (193)

Quotes on Building Product

Related quotes that were woven throughout the book which speak to the idea of viewing your product through the customer’s eyes.

Companies get sucked into thinking about the features the customer wants, as opposed to the outcomes they're seeking. (57)

“People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” — Theodore Levitt (59)

Feature creep, or incremental innovation, does very little to help move the product. It is more about “keeping up with the Joneses” than creating something the consumer can value. This is a supply-side push of technology. (60)

You end up over-engineering the product, until people don’t even understand what they are buying. (152)

Think progress! What’s the progress your customer is trying to make? Now, enable them to do THAT. It’s the progress that matters, not your features and benefits. (173)

What Drives People

The authors outline the four forces that drive someone to make progress (i.e. buy something new). Using the example of needing a new mattress:

  1. The push of the situation (constantly getting a bad night's sleep)
  2. The magnetism of the new solution (friend buys a new mattress and raves about it, you start to see the appeal and a pull towards progress)
  3. The anxiety of the new solution (will a new mattress even help? Can I find one that does?)
  4. The hobbit of the present (current mattress sucks, but at least I'm used to it—devil I know is better than the one I don't)

1 and 2 must be stronger than 3 and 4 before a purchase will be made. Unfortunately, as product people, we too often focus on 1 and 2 (what's the next big feature we’ll bolt on to our product that people will love?) and we ignore everything else.

What we are taught in business school is to addd more features, but the forces work as a system and sometimes more features is not better because it causes more anxiety. (69)

Defining Tradeoffs

There’s a section on making tradeoffs that I thought was really insightful. I quote it at length (emphasis mine):

The traditional notion of a tradeoff is a set of “compromises.” But in the setting of sales, that’s not how we would define a tradeoff. We think of tradeoffs as, “I can have it this way; I can have it that way; or I can not have it at all.” It’s choosing the best way to make progress, as opposed to just a compromise.

For instance, people either want thick crust pizza or thin crust pizza. If you averaged those results, you’d get medium-thick crust pizza—nobody wants that. Using the average does not work! By forcing people to choose think or thin, you make it easier for them to decide. They like one or the other; it’s easy for them to eliminate one from these two very different options.

A tradeoff in the setting of sales is more about helping people make better decisions than compromises. When tradeoffs are framed well it becomes easy to make decisions. When they are not framed well people can’t decide and they do nothing. Tradeoffs are the key to helping people buy. (76)

Then there’s this sentence which helps encapsulate this idea of framing tradeoffs:

People need to reject something before they can buy something else. (75)

On Interviewing People

Chapter four revolved around tips for interviewing people and coming to understand their perspective. I thought a number of the tips were very good and very applicative to user testing, but also just understanding and communicating with humans in general.

Context Creates Meaning

The irrational can become rational with context. If someone said “I bought pizza because I like pizza” don’t accept that as an answer. “‘Like’ is not a cause, it is an excuse for not knowing why.” (103)

Dig deeper. Ask what they mean by saying they like pizza. People like steak too. Why wasn’t that a choice? What you’ll end up with is likely more context to the situation, i.e. “I bought pizza because our team won the big game and we wanted to go out to celebrate.” In this light, the context has as much meaning as the product itself.

Contrast Creates Value

Example: somebody did a virtual doctor visit. You could ask them, “Why did you do it virtually?” But the problem with that is:

Without giving [people] contrast, they often can’t figure out why they did what they did. Ask people to tell you what [something] is not. Most people can eliminate or tell you what [something] is not easier than they can tell you what [something] is. (104)

A better question: “Why do it virtually? Why not just get into your car and drive to the doctor?”

Unpack Vague Words

Everything is relative. What you’re trying to do is figure out the point of view of the person you are interviewing. If they say something worked fast, ask more.

One person’s definition of the word fast may be entirely different than another’s. There’s no healthy, only healthier than...There’s no fast, only faster than... (104)

Dig deeper on those answers. Unpack the vague words and to better understand context and get contrast for yourself. You may very well end up with an answer that’s much more clear about what “fast” means, i.e. “it worked fast, in under two minutes. The last time I did it, it took 5 minutes!”

To illustrate this example in business even further, the author gives this scenario:

Kale chips are healthy but wanting to be healthy and eating kale chips are not synonymous. When you start to unpack it, you realize it's just got to be healthier than Doritos and Cheetos—something like SunChips. I can build a $400 million product based off that, but I can't build a $400 million kale chip business because they suck. So, with unpacking it's never healthy, fast, or easy. It's always healthier, faster, easier than the reference points. You need that reference point. (214)

On Prototyping

The authors talk about prototyping, not in the traditional software/design sense, but it’s broad enough that I think it applies perfectly to the software/design sense of the word.

Prototyping is a form of pretending. It helps you create contrast between options which leads to decision making and progress. As mentioned earlier, you often need to reject one thing in order to understand and approve of another.

Prototyping allows you to pick apart the pieces and understand what parts are the most desirable so you can build an ideal solution. It's about giving [distinction to your options]. (215)

By framing contrasting solutions, you begin to understand both the tradeoffs and design requirements. This is prototyping.

Prototyping is about building contrast to create meaning. This is not about building real options. It’s about showing things that are different enough so that you can have a deeper conversation. It’s fact-finding and scenario building before you’ve found the solution...Understanding [what you don’t want] helps shape the design requirements. (216)

Questions and Struggle in People’s Lives

Why does it seem things happen at the worst time? The reality: until there’s a struggling moment, an accumulation of events, people don’t buy. Things will always happen at the worst time because it’s the struggle that causes change. (150)

Things happen at a bad time because you are aware that they are happening. If you weren’t aware, you wouldn’t think it was bad timing. You have to have that space opened in your mind to become increasingly aware of the struggle. Otherwise it’s not a struggle and therefore the timing isn’t really that bad. Here’s a quote from Clayton Christensen that was in the book and relates to this idea:

Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven't asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question—you have to want to know—in order to open up the space for the answer to fit. (47)

Example: my computer monitor only works as expected sometimes. It’s annoying, but I’ve gotten used to it. Sometimes it flickers and if I finagle with the cord that connects to my laptop enough, it’ll start working. Researching a new monitor, making a decision to buy one, saving the money, etc., these are all impediments to me doing something about the situation. The fact is, I struggle with it but not enough to overcome the friction required to do something about it. Then one day, I have a big important meeting, and my monitor goes out. My usual finagling with the cord does nothing to fix the problem. “This damn thing won’t work!! And right in the middle of a meeting, of course!” It feels like it’s happening at the worst moment, but that is in large part not entirely true. It’s been happening at lots of other moments for a long time. It’s only my awareness of my ongoing struggle that makes me feel like the timing is terrible. It’s the catalyst moment that will propel me to overcoming the friction fixing the problem.

The author gives a similar example in the book of going into a mattress store and saying, “I’d like to buy a new mattress.” To which a salesperson could respond, “Ok great. How long have you not been sleeping well?” It’s understanding what has driven someone from doing nothing to doing something.

Data Correlation

Personally, I just love quotes about the often misleading nature and interpretation of “data”:

Marketers...work at a very high, abstract, Marco level. They have an ideal or imagined customer, created through the triangulation of data, such as: customer age, zip code, income level, etc. If you think about it, age and income level are not the real reason someone buys a car, but that’s how marketing works—data correlation.

Sales is more complicated because it’s micro-level. In sales you deal directly with the real customer. Great salespeople deal in causation not correlation.(176)


I quite enjoyed this book. It’s one of those books that helps you stop and think for a moment about the routine ways we fall into thinking about the world and acting in it. Plus it was a short book and an easy read. I finished it in a couple of days (while in the middle of another book—I have a bad habit that way). If anything in this post resonated with you, I’m sure you’d enjoy this book.