Understand why people should NOT buy your products

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Doug Kessler

30. 10. 2019 | 7 min read

Understand why people should NOT buy your products

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As a marketer, you may have noticed a disturbing fact: most marketing doesn’t work.

It doesn’t move the dial at all. It just sprays some random people (including a few genuine prospects) with a light dusting of words and pictures… then dissolves into the shrill, ceaseless cacophony that is our modern, media-saturated game-show of a life.


If democracy is the worst system of government except for all the others, then marketing is the worst way to try to generate revenue except for all the others.

But WHY is so much marketing so consistently ineffective? Maybe it’s because of this:

Most marketing is ineffective because most marketers focus on the exact opposite of the things they should focus on.

They focus on all the reasons a prospect should change what they’re doing and buy their thing.

They focus on benefits and proof points and USPs and product features.

They invest countless hours creating and distilling the deck that holds their Message Framework.

They hold off-site meetings so everyone can “buy in” to it.

They “socialize” it with their executive stakeholders (“Change bullet point three in column eight from ‘More efficient’ to ‘More productive’”).

And when everyone’s happy with version 8.3, it’s carted off to market, loaded on to our increasingly sophisticated catapults and lofted over the walls that buyers construct to keep marketers out.

And nothing happens.

[Cue tumbleweed stage right.]

So what’s going wrong?

Maybe it’s this:

Instead of studying why a prospect should change their ways and buy our clearly superior widgets we should be studying this:

All the reasons that a prospect should NOT change their ways.

All the hugely compelling, perfectly valid and very real arguments against changing their world to make a space for your little miracle.

All the reasons to—God forbid—choose a competitor’s product over yours.

All the forces that act on buyers to ensure they keep doing what they’ve always done.

These forces may be hidden, but they’re very real. And they’re acting on your prospects every day to block your marketing messages.

But you never see them mentioned in marketing plans.
And they rarely come up during those off-site meetings.

If forced, we can muster up a few reasons that an ignorant prospect may not chose to invest in our products (“They think it’s hard to deploy but they’re wrong.”).

But what about all the really strong reasons that might lead a smart, enlightened professional with a clear understanding of their own situation to not embrace your so-called ‘solution’.

Once you start looking, you find there are lots and lots of these why-not-to-buy reasons—some rational, some irrational, but all hugely compelling. (Far more so than our self-serving survey results).

Reasons not to buy: an example

You sell a cool app that makes it really, really easy for everyone in a big company to submit expense reports and get them approved.

Your Message Framework focuses on how the app makes life easier for every employee and for the administrators and managers who have to process all those expense claims.

You’ve identified three Benefit Pillars: Efficiency, Transparency and, what the hell, Joy.

You stack the Support Points under each Pillar (good luck with Joy).

You get your stakeholders to approve the whole shebang (after eleven soul-destroying rounds of revision).

You’re good to go.


Now it gets interesting.

Now let’s click to the next page of the deck. The one that isn’t there but should be. The one with all the Reasons Not To Buy.

Because now you start to see what you’re really up against when you ask people to change.

20 really good reasons to not buy your thing

For our made-up expense reporting app, they might look like this:

1) “What we have now is not great but it kinda works and there are plenty of other things around here that patently do NOT work, so I want to focus on those, thanks.” (Priority)

2) “No one is complaining. Well, George is complaining but George complains about everything.” (Inertia)

3) “To even learn about this new thing will take time and time is the one thing I do not have.” (Perceived value)

4) “If I do manage to find the time and actually actually like what I see, I will have to ask other people to give me their time to check it out and they don’t have any time either.” (Social risk)

5) “I could skip that part and just install the app and make everyone use it but they would whine and say mean things about me behind—and sometimes in front of—my back.” (More social risk)

6) “It sounds good but may not be good for our company. We’re different.” (Fear of company misfit)

7) “The marketing makes a strong case (except the Joy part) but marketing often does and the thing turns out to be shit.”  (Trust)

8) “No one else here cares about this problem so if I solve it, no one will throw rose petals in my path. I have never hidden the fact that I am in it for the petals.”  (Lack of upside)

9) “I’m not sure that this stupid app will work on all my stupid people’s stupid smartphones.”  (Fear of incompatibility)

10) “Even if it does work on their stupid smartphones, it probably won’t integrate with the really stupid HR system my stupid boss bought when I was on vacation.” (Fear of stack misfit)

11) “It costs money. My budget has many things in it but money is not one of them.”  (Perceived value)

12) “I was intrigued by this app but I went to their website and came away more confused than when I went in.”  (Confusion)

13) “I checked and there are 39 other expense management apps out there and they all look similar and say similar things and I just can’t be buggered to compare them but if I don’t try to compare them I may one day regret it when my jerk of a cousin tells me about the expense management app he bought for his company and how it’s so, so much better than the one I, in my laziness, bought for mine.”  (Selection paralysis) (And fear of regret)

14) “I hate this job and I’m not particularly motivated to do it well.”  (Motivation)

15) “I love this job but the expenses admin part of it is not the part that makes me love this job and probably never will be.” (Interest)

16) “Holding back people’s expenses is the only leverage I have for getting them to fill out their time sheets. If I make expenses easier, I will be powerless.”  (Status threat)

17) “I’d prefer it if people did not incur expenses at all. If it’s a pain in the arse to get reimbursed, maybe they’ll think twice before buying that pencil or panini.”  (Fear of unwanted outcomes)

18) “If we give them the app for expenses they’ll want an app for vacation requests and one for ‘idea sharing’ and one for… it won’t end well.” (Fear of setting a dangerous precedent)

19) “When the app crashes, who are they gonna call? That’s right. They’re gonna call me. If there’s anything I hate more than ‘our people’ it’s taking calls from them.”  (Fear of overhead)

20) “Remember that time I once used my initiative to advocate for and deploy that really obviously great thing and not only did I not get thanked for it but actually got abuse for it? No? Well, I do.” (Twisted bitterness)

We could go on and on here (some might say we already have). But I think even you, simple reader, get the point:

There may be three pillar-like reasons to buy your stuff but there are WAY more reasons to NOT buy your stuff and most of them are, to your prospects, far more real, credible, acute, evidence-based and visceral than yours ever will be.

Yeah, I know: ouch.

It’s one of those disillusioning thoughts that turn out to be far more beneficial than the illusions they obliterate.

Because, the thing is:

If our marketing strategies only consider all the reasons people should buy our stuff and ignore all the reasons people should not… our marketing will suck.

If we build tidy, stackable marketing frameworks that only consider our mighty, magnetic Pillars… we are marketing to ourselves and this is a form of institutionalized masturbation (but without the climax).

But if we really work hard to identify and understand all of the reasons people should not buy our stuff, our marketing can start to address these reasons. To overcome the obstacles. To remove the barriers, one by one.

Until the smartest, easiest and most obvious thing to do is to just buy the goddamn app.

Moral of the story:

Stop being so positive.

Put down the Kool-Aid.

Respect the people whose money you’re trying to earn.

And list all the reasons they may have to not buy your stuff.

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  • B2B marketing strategy

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  1. Jennie Lane

    PacSci EMc

    October 31st, 2019

    Wow, this hits home. Really. Cover the bases with what’s wrong with buying from us and take them down one by one.

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 1st, 2019

      Thanks, Jennie!
      I’m developing an allergy to Polyanna-Positive marketing!

  2. Bulgan Batbold

    Hebei Chunchao Biological Technology Co.,Ltd

    November 6th, 2019

    Thank you, marketing is most important thing right now and got to master on it.

  3. Konstantin

    Freelance b2b software copywriter

    November 7th, 2019

    This way you also get to write way more bullet points and other stuff, right? If so, I like it! Hmmm… but will the prospect care to read thru all of this?

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 7th, 2019

      Not sure I’d want to expose all these to the audience — but it’s important to understand them — if nothing more than as an anti-dote to Kool-Aid!

  4. Bhaskar Sarma

    Pixels & Clicks

    November 11th, 2019

    Addressing objections is one of the pillars of direct response copywriting, and old school long-form sales letters did this all the time before launching into hosannas on the product.

    In Chapter 2 of Scientific Advertising titled “Just Salesmanship” Claude Hopkins writes:

    ” There is one simple way to answer many advertising questions. Ask yourself, “Would it help a salesman sell the goods?” “Would it help me sell them if I met a buyer in person?”

    A fair answer to those questions avoids countless mistakes. But when one tries to show off, or does things merely to please oneself, one is unlikely to strike a chord,…”

    There, plain as day that even back in 1920s people weren’t impressed by self-serving claptrap.

    If only more marketers picked up these classics and imbibed these principles we would see much less tomfoolery and better results from marketing campaigns.

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 12th, 2019

      Love it. We all need more Claude Hopkins. He’d be great at digital marketing!

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