the one question HR misses

We all have one question hammering away at the front of our skulls whenever we’re faced with something new or different. You’re asking yourself the question right now as you decide whether to continue reading or not. It’s a simple and straight-forward question that HR often misses: What’s In It For Me?

Phrased that way, it sounds crass and selfish, yet we are all seeking to figure out how we will benefit. We want to know what pleasure we’ll gain or what pain we’ll avoid. We want to know What’s In It For Me?

Sales and Marketing 101 tells us to focus on the benefits, not the product or service. The customer can plainly see the product, so we need to help them understand all that they will gain. They know the tangibles, so what are the intangibles?

A car’s just a box with wheels, good for hauling people and stuff from point A to B. Yet car ads focus on the unmeasurable intangibles of cool, intelligent, adventurous, unique, practical, sporty, sexy, thrilling, rugged, safe, ecogreen, patriotic, etc. etc. A house is nothing more than some walls and a roof, but we know that. Real estate ads show happy, safe, secure kids, and proud responsible parents; they show lifestyle, status, and image; and the American Dream (with a capital “D”).

There is not a single human alive who wants to diet. Yet, at any given time there are millions and millions of people dieting, buying diet books, watching diet shows, reading diet blogs, spending money on diet plans. Why? Because of what we think it will get us; because of what’s in it for us. My absolute all-time favorite diet book title is: 6 Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends. I know nothing about the book but love the title because it’s so eye catching. There are a lot of reasons to diet, but forget dieting for health, physical performance, longevity, or fighting disease because this book knows its audience and its audience loooooves the ideas of being skinnier than their friends. The title immediately lets them know What’s In It For Me.

This is where HR can learn big from sales and marketing. HR tends to announce new programs and services by talking about the program and service. It seems reasonable, but even the most hack salesperson knows you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. HR forgets to sell at all. We think just putting it out in the world is enough. We don’t mention the benefits, we don’t help people understand why they should care, we don’t show them What’s In It For Me?. And then we’re surprised when the response is a collective yawn from the organization. We’re shocked that people aren’t using it – that they keep using the products or systems they are familiar with rather than the new ones they’d have to learn. We’re appalled that people don’t appreciate all our hard work and efforts on their behalf. We wail, They just don’t understand! [sob!]

The best products and services in the world are irrelevant and worthless if people don’t know about them or use them. I wonder how much adoption rates will jump when we learn human psychology from sales and marketing and answer one simple question for our customers.

What’s In It For Me?


  1. What a wonderful phrase: “You don’t sell the steak. You sell the sizzle.” With your permission Broc, I might be borrowing that one, especially on my next South African trip. They know a thing or two about steaks down there!

    You’re absolutely right. Selling isn’t just a job for the sales dept. It’s a game that everybody can, and should, get to play!


    1. Hi Peter, glad you enjoyed. The steak/sizzle line isn’t mine – I heard it a while back from a real estate investor and it stuck with me. We do all need to sell the benefits of our work and why others should care – HR in particularly is often guilty of: 1) creating without the end user in mind so there are no benefits to sell; and 2) creating great stuff but then foisting it on the world without communicating why it’s great (and then wondering why no one else is excited).


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