Discovering the Hidden Buying Criteria of Your Customers

What are the criteria our customers use when selecting our product?

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Do you know what your customer’s reasons are for choosing your product over that of your competitor’s? When was the last time you really explored what does, or doesn’t, motivate your customer? What is hidden buying criteria they use?


Just a few years ago a computer’s screen size was one of the key decision factors for a person looking to buy a laptop. At the time, users required pretty minimal portability; the computer simply needed to be easy to move from nightstand to couch. Very few people were circumnavigating the globe with one in their carry-on. Laptops were essentially home or office devices, tethered to a power cord, and used primarily in one space. Users were focused on screen size as one of their key decision criteria. This was fueled by the television industry, which is still driven by the idea that bigger is better. And bigger equaled heavy, unwieldy, and battery-draining.

Change Is Inevitable

Of course, everything in business changes, and people’s feelings about their laptops changed too. As laptops became more portable, they became more important on a personal as well as a professional level. They were no longer simply tools, but instead were morphing into extensions of who the person was as an individual. As laptops began to replace photo albums and CD collections, their owners began wanting them to reflect their tastes. At the same time, the Internet was exploding; Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites created an insatiable need to be online 24/7. The result was that personal technologies were expected to become more mobile.

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Companies that saw this change coming, won. At HP we realized that this fundamental social shift was happening and were able to anticipate it and continue to respond to it as it evolved. We realized that customers were no longer buying computers based purely on its “speeds and feeds” (processor speed, size of hard disk, amount of memory, etc). They actually wanted to go into a retail outlet and touch the machine—literally make a physical connection with it and see if it was “them.” This was a sea change in how companies traditionally sold technology. One of our big competitors at the time made the bet that people wanted to buy their computers online. But this assumption missed a major social shift. The PC had become truly personal, and something that personal had to be bought in person. Think about when a friend asks to borrow your computer. If it’s a desktop, fine, no problem. But your laptop? That’s too personal. Your whole life is on it. And no matter how innocent your life is, you probably don’t feel comfortable sharing it.

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Sparking Points

  • When was the last time you asked a customer—not your marketing department, not your design department—what their criteria is for selecting a product? How do you ask them?
  • Do your customers’ buying habits align with what they claim their buying criteria are? For example, customers who claim to prioritize “green” but won’t pay the premium?
  • Are your criteria the same as your customers’? Are you designing your products to your criteria or your customers’ criteria?
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