How to Boost Sales by Understanding Your Customer More Fully

Recently the rental car company National got my business. They even lured me away from a competitor.

How? By understanding me at a deeper level than their competitor did.

Let me explain. I rent a car pretty frequently. And the company I’d been using was, frankly, getting on my nerves. When I get off a plane, I don’t feel like making small talk. But the staff at my (now former) rental car company had a policy of chit-chatting with their customers. They even used a script. “In town for business or pleasure?” “How’s the weather where you came from? On and on it went. I started to feel like I’d arrived in Westworld and met a malfunctioning host.

But one day, I saw this commercial for National, another rental car company.

The line that caught my attention: “I don’t have to talk to any humans unless I want to. And I don’t.”

I immediately changed rental car companies and have been thrilled ever since.

That’s because National didn’t just offer to solve my surface-level problem — being in a city without a car. They also offered to solve a deeper problem I had: I wanted a fast, hassle-free rental experience that respected my time and personal space.

Internal Problems vs. External Problems

In the StoryBrand framework, we make this distinction by describing the “external problems” customers have (those surface issues) versus the “internal problems” (the deeper, more personal fears or frustrations they experience).

You see it all the time in movies. It’s what makes a good character. In Moneyball, the external problem is that Brad Pitt’s character has got to win baseball games. But his internal problem was why you kept watching, even if you don’t give a hoot about baseball: he failed in his playing career and questioned whether or not he could redeem himself as a general manager. Ultimately, he was asking a question we all ask from time to time: Do I have what it takes?

Companies tend to sell solutions to EXTERNAL problems, but people buy solutions to INTERNAL problems.

Here’s what all this means for your business.

Most business leaders know exactly what external problem they solve. But we neglect a principle that is costing us thousands and potentially millions of dollars. The principle is this:

Companies tend to sell solutions to EXTERNAL problems, but people buy solutions to INTERNAL problems.

If we can identify that internal frustration, put it into words, and offer to resolve it, something special happens. We bond with our customers. They feel understood. They engage with the rest of our message in a more meaningful way.

But before we can identify that internal frustration, we need to understand it.

To help, we’ve put together a list of 18 questions you can ask to get inside your prospective customers’ heads, so to speak, and dial in those internal frustrations they feel.

18 Questions to Help You Understand Your Customers Better

1. What tasks does your customer dread doing as it relates to your industry?
2. What are your customer’s dreams for their family?
3. What confuses your customer as it relates to your industry?
4. What keeps your customer up at night?
5. What makes your customer feel cool?
6. What makes your customer upset or angry?
7. What kind of friends does your customer seek out?
8. How would your customer’s life look different if they had more leisure time?
9. What does your customer do for fun?
10. What would your customer do if they suddenly doubled their income?
11. What regrets does your customer have (as it relates to your industry)?
12. What makes your customer feel embarrassed or self-conscious?
13. What makes your customer feel nostalgic?
14. What kind of rewards does your customer prefer?
15. How does your customer relieve stress or relax?
16. How does your customer want their friends to perceive them?
17. How does your customer indulge?
18. What makes your customer nervous as it relates to your industry?

How to Use This List of Questions

1. Sit down in a quiet place and silence any distractions. You want to be able to do deep, focused work.

2. Consider each question. It may be a guess, or you may find yourself thinking of specific customer responses, either from your experience in the business or from survey data you’ve studied.

3. Skip any questions that don’t feel relevant to your business. The idea is simply to understand and develop empathy for the internal struggles your customers may feel.

4. Review your answers and see what internal problems stand out. What you discover can then inspire your next email campaign, a meaningful tweak on your website, or even a whole new product or service offering.

Example Answers to Inspire You

Here is how we answered some of these questions for our StoryBrand Live Workshop product.

What tasks does your customer dread doing as it relates to your industry?

Example: Our prospective customer might dread writing marketing copy because it makes them feel insecure. Is this any good? Is this going to work?

What are your customer’s dreams for their family?

Example: Our typical customer wants to provide opportunities for their family to thrive without having to sacrifice being present and available with their loved ones.

What confuses your customer as it relates to your industry?

Example: They’re confused by their own business. As their company has grown over the years, they’ve lost perspective on how to describe what they do.

What keeps your customer up at night?

Example: Sales numbers that don’t meet projections or expectations. They might be wondering what they’re doing wrong or if they have what it takes to keep going.

Just from these four questions, we’ve identified four internal struggles:

• Do I have what it takes to create effective marketing for my business?
• Can I provide for my family well while still being fully present in their lives?
• It shouldn’t be this hard to describe what I do to someone. Sheesh, how frustrating.
• Do I have the skills to hit these sales numbers and grow the business?

As you answer these questions for your business, I know you’ll uncover fascinating insights about your customers’ internal problems. And when you have those dialed in, you’ve got a much easier path to making a sale.

What questions did I miss? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

Get Marketing Help from StoryBrand Experts

Join us in Nashville for the StoryBrand Workshop and learn how to clarify your message so your customers will listen. Our entire team will bring the best of StoryBrand marketing advice to your business. Work alongside StoryBrand experts and other like-minded business leaders to solve your marketing problems and grow your revenue.


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