“He’s just the type of guy who buys ebooks”. That was my thought when I interviewed a guy who had bought two ebooks. Yes, two ebooks that he bought at the same time.
The goal of these purchase interviews is always the same: digging through the purchase story for causality. What mix of emotions, reason, attractions, urgencies and deliberation caused the buyer to make the decision to buy that product? What caused the buyer to inch closer to the purchase at every step? What caused the buyer to choose this product, and not that other alternative? Found causality? You’ve got what you need to understand the job for which the product was hired.
Tell Me About Those Books
He bought these two ebooks while in bed, on a Saturday morning, just before heading downstairs to join the rest of the family for breakfast.
Why two ebooks? Why not just one? What had brought him to this moment?
It was the end of June, and the school year had just ended. As one of the people working at the school board on the strategic direction of its teaching approach, he was entering the summer months. He could now take time to reflect and work on longer-term projects.
“Tell me about the books you bought”. Both books were about leadership. Breakthrough Leadership and Digital Leadership.
“When did you first think about buying these books?” He had heard of these books a while back, around February.
“What happened in February?” It turned out not much, he had just heard of the books from a colleague posting about them on Twitter.
Some Context Becomes Apparent
In May, however, there was a conference call, where some changes were announced at the school board. Our buyer was going to get a role change, one that would ask him to provide more coaching assistance to school principals. That spurred him to get busy preparing for the role change. “I have to start to get ready for this”.
So we now know there’s some context around the purchase. Some causality is becoming apparent. There’s a role change, there’s some career advancement.
We still don’t know why he bought those two ebooks (why not books about coaching?), and why he bought them at the beginning of the summer. And why did he buy ebooks in the first place? Why not physical books?
At this point, there were no concrete plans about his new role, just a vague direction. He knew there would be a training session on coaching at some point, but nothing concrete. He wasn’t even in the business of buying books at this point either. No rush.
But at the end of June, those plans became concrete: in October, there’s going to be a training session on coaching. There’s now a sense of urgency. The next Saturday, he buys those ebooks. The job-to-be-done for these books is getting clearer: career advancement.
“They were really expensive ebooks”, he tells me.
Curious! Ebooks? Expensive? Ebooks are generally much cheaper than physical books. “Oh, one of them was $19.72, and the other one was $16.54.” Still! For the price of 6 coffees, you’re debating whether these books are worth the price for your career advancement? I had to dig deeper, because clearly there was something missing.
“Okay so tell me about that Saturday morning, walk me through the scene… you get up, then what? Was it sunny outside?”. I ask those questions to rev up his memory recall, to bring him back in the moment to get more granular details.
He took out his iPad, and opened up his Kindle app and there was listed all the book samples he had downloaded. “See, that’s what I do. When I hear about an interesting book, I go out and immediately download the book sample, but I end up having so many downloaded”.
It’s at this point I realize the bit about the price! Usually, a high price is the main point of anxiety about a product. But in the case of books, the price is so cheap, and in the case of ebooks, the price is even cheaper.
Although he was telling me the price was his main anxiety about the purchase, there was another anxiety below the surface.
What were these books competing with anyway?
“Do you read a lot of eBooks?” He told me that he collects all these books samples, but he doesn’t read most of them. That’s because he’s got so many interests, so many ideas about his work, so many topics he’s interested in as a father. His work keeps him super busy, and he knows he should spend more time with his family. Just now, he’s in bed, at the start of the summer months, on a Saturday, thinking about work while his kids are fixing breakfast and planning their day.
Voilà! All of these book samples, they’re all competing with time with his family. Books take time to read! That’s the main anxiety about books for him. Not the price!
So why buy these ebooks? And why buy two of them and not just one? Well he quickly skimmed the sample for one of them, and bought it. And then he bought the second one minutes later.
The Full Picture
In the end, he hired these two ebooks for a very specific job. “I need to get ready for this coaching training in October. I want to know my stuff before the training session.” He hired those two ebooks so that he could make sure he would take the time to be an expert on those two topics ahead of the training session. YouTube videos and articles on the subject couldn’t keep him accountable. Buying books, though, were a way of him committing to the task. Having those two fully-downloaded books on his Kindle app home screen would spur his motivation to get ready.
I have no clue whether he read those books in the end. But we know the job for which he hired those ebooks now. We know because of the context of the purchase, and we know because of the Saturday morning pressure and we know because of his other book samples on his iPad that were all competing for his attention.
He hired those two books for extra accountability on his journey through this new career change.
For those of us who are in the business of writing books, what can we learn from this story? The price isn’t even the main anxiety for a book. Its length is. Want to make a book that sells? Make it serve a specific job, and make it a quick read.
Is your book competing with other books? It’s probably competing with other subjects more than with other books on the same subject. It’s probably competing with time with kids, with YouTube videos and articles on the web from the same author.
What will your book be hired to do? Your book might very well get hired as a guarantee, as a grappling hook for making progress.
If you have a product for which you have a wide audience (like ebooks), purchase interviews like these help understand some typical life situations that drove the purchase. These stories make for concrete material to help you sharpen your story and your marketing. Reach out to tell me about your product and we can plan out some interviews with your recent buyers.