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Editor's Note

The Best Way To Get What You Want? Focus On Your Customers' Needs.

Forget your own desires, and lead with the value you can provide.
The Best Way To Get What You Want? Focus On Your Customers' Needs.
Image credit: Nigel Parry
Magazine Contributor
Editor-in-Chief
4 min read

This story appears in the March 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

A curious email rolled into my inbox recently. The subject line was “Write article.” And here was the entire message:

“Hi Jeff. I wanted to write an article, who do I speak with? Thanks.”

Maybe you have some questions. I do! What kind of article does this person want to write? What makes them qualified? Why would I want to publish it? When did my name become Jeff? And that’s just the start.

But let’s focus on the most telling word in this email -- the one that explains what went wrong, and should serve as a warning sign for us all. The word is wanted, as in “I wanted to write an article.” The email writer led with what he wanted, not with what he could provide. And although his email was particularly clumsy, his mistake was very common.

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We are all, at some points, blinded by our own interests. We want something badly, and so, like a starving man who sees everything around him as food, we begin to see the people around us as providers. We expect them to deliver a service, as if they’re hired for a job. We become needy. Demanding!

But here’s the harsh reality: Nobody cares what you or I or anyone else wants. Instead, they care about what we can do for them. Consider how successful transactions take place. An entrepreneur may want an investor’s money, but they don’t say, “I want your money”; they talk about how they can make the investor money. And nobody tells a customer, “I want your purchase”; they tell a customer about how their product or service can make the customer’s life better. 

I wanted to write an article. That’s what the email said. As if my job is to grant wishes. He was so laser-focused on that desire that he failed to sell me on an idea. He offered no value, even though that’s what everyone is looking for.

Related: Every Entrepreneur Has Imposter Syndrome. Here's Why We Need to Talk About It.

Please understand, this isn’t about reaching out to me. It’s about reaching out to anybody. Do I expect us all to be selfless, always giving and never getting? I don’t. We all want things, and we should. But we should also be mindful of the best way to get them. Otherwise, we’re just wasting our and everyone else’s time.

I mean, just imagine if I’d written this column -- the thing you’re reading right now -- about what I really want. “Dear reader, I want you to buy this magazine and follow Entrepreneur on social media. Oh, and follow me, too! And listen to my podcasts!” Do I want those things? Of course. But if I said that, I’d give you no incentive to actually do them. So instead, I pay close attention to what my readers want. I correspond with them and talk to them at events; I take note of what they like and dislike. And then, when it comes time to produce this magazine, I reflect upon what I’ve learned and do my best to deliver value. I’m not saying I do it perfectly. But I know it’s the only path forward.

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That’s the power of value, after all: When you know how to deliver it, you’re in a far better position to receive value for yourself, too. That point was hammered home recently by an entrepreneur friend of mine, whom I shared these thoughts with. He runs a medical company and spends a lot of time fund-raising and building partnerships. “It’s how I approach negotiations,” he says. “You have a much better chance of getting what you want if you focus on what the other person wants. Then you can negotiate from strength, because you already know what’s important to the other party.”

I know it can sound obvious. But in day-to-day interactions, we can slip up -- talking too much about ourselves, pivoting too quickly toward the thing we desire. So here’s my challenge to you (and to myself!), at all times and in all interactions: Be relentless on value. You’ll get what you want by providing what someone else wants first.

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