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28 May 14

What Your Clients Will Always Buy

“Position what you do as a solution to a need.”

It’s a classic marketing principle – but business owners like you and me often get stuck with it. “But people don’t really need what I’m offering”, we’ll say. “This isn’t like a house, or food, or medicine. This is jewelry, a nice massage, coaching, home design, a yoga retreat.”

At face value, these aren’t “needs” in the same way as food and shelter. So, how do you communicate that people should buy what you’re selling if you don’t think they really need it?

What we really need

A yoga retreat does, of course, meet needs: to feel safe, to feel connected, to feel healthy.

Coaching does, of course, meet needs: to feel fulfilled, to feel empowered, to feel happy.

But let’s take this concept of needs a step further – into one of the most powerful mindsets you can hold as you market your product or service:

We all have the need to tell a story.

What story will your client tell themselves?On each of our human journeys, we are the hero of our own story. We tell this story to ourselves every day, through the choices we make. We tell this story to others every day, through the choices they see us making.

And every time we buy something, we are telling a chapter of that story.

Don’t take my word for it; play with this. Next time you buy something – whether it’s a DVD, a sandwich at your local deli, or a holiday – consider: What story were you telling – to yourself and others – about who you are? About what’s important to you, what you’re committed to, what this stage of your journey is about. You might be fascinated by your findings!

Example #1: A training course

I just signed up for a month-long group exploration of Byron Katie’s The Work, facilitated by Grace Bell. As I clicked that PayPal button, here was the story I told:

I’m someone who believes in learning from experts. It’s important to me to meet new people and not do this alone. I have money to invest in my personal development. I’m committed to a radical sense of peace, on a daily basis. This stage of my journey is about dropping any stress and putting kindness, compassion and sanity above all else.

Do I need this training course? Not in order to survive, no. But for my story – about who I am and where I’m going – to survive? Yes; this’ll do the job.

And so you can see why it made sense for me to click that PayPal button. That click wasn’t about “buying”. It was about telling that story.

Example #2: A bike

Daniel James PatersonThis marketing mindset applies to products as well as services. Daniel, one of my beloved team, is a passionate cyclist; his record is 112 miles in one day (Cambridge to London… and back again!) His self-customised mountain bike is relatively inexpensive and isn’t the typical choice for long-distance riders who normally prefer a sleek and light racing or touring bike. His story? 

He’s someone who values the human journey and the serendipity that is to be found around us. And so it is too with his bike journeys. He needs a bike that can easily ride down the bumpiest of farm tracks to take a peek at the tree-like-thingy in the distance. One that can carry a heavy pannier bag full of a free windfall of pears discovered at the roadside. And one that can perform an emergency beach trek to get up-and-close with an amphibious vehicle as it crawls out of the sea.

He’s fine that people think his choice of bike is unconventional for the long-distance rider. He’s a conscious consumer who doesn’t believe expensive equals better; he analyses, he thinks for himself, he doesn’t make the obvious choice.

This is who Daniel is and the bike allows him, on a daily basis, to live out this story of himself.

What story are you giving space to?

When you put a PayPal button on your website, or ask for a cheque or bank transfer, you’re not merely inviting a purchase; you’re giving the members of your community the chance to live out a story they’re yearning for. Take time to consider what that story might be.


Be aware that there will be other stories competing for attention in your prospective client’s mind. “It’s not the right time.” “It’s too expensive.” “I’m not far enough along.” “I’m too far along.” “I don’t have what it takes.” “I don’t really need this.” “I don’t deserve this.” “This is scary.” “This isn’t for people like me.”

Your job is to defend your prospective client’s more beautiful story – the one they want to be telling. Your job is to see the stories that might get in the way, and remind them, repeatedly, of the grander tale.

This is why it’s our job to sell. It’s why we need to put aside our own stories – that we’re going to come across as pushy or salesy or manipulative – so that we can take a strong stand.

As a coach, I was trained to become an ally to my client’s highest wishes. We learnt about the saboteurs, or gremlins, who spin limiting stories: all the excuses and reasons why the person shouldn’t move forward powerfully.

My job as a coach was to help their most beautiful story to win. And regardless of your line of work, this is your job in your marketing too.

Over to you

What was the last significant purchase you made – and what story did that allow you to tell? Any stories you’ve noticed that would divert you from living your most beautiful story? And what can you see all this meaning for you in your marketing? Leave a comment below, let us know.


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© Corrina Gordon-Barnes 2014

Top photo credit: Viktor Hanacek / Picjumbo

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  1. Derek Hassack

    Brilliant, thank you for this, Corrina. As fluent and incisive as ever 🙂

    As someone who works with people aged 50 +, one phenomenon I often tackle is that our stories can become increasingly embedded as we get older. Like ruts in the road, our wheels can get stuck in them.
    Sometimes we need to hear bright new stories to lift us out of emotional ruts.

    1. claire stone

      I never thought of it like that, but you are so right. The older we get, the more entrenched those stories (tend to) become. Will watch out for that in myself as well as for my potential clients!

    2. Corrina

      Ah, love this, Derek. I was really drawn to this image we chose for this post, of the younger girl with all her stories ahead of her – so maybe our minds were tuned into the same thing there 🙂

  2. Sarah Durrant

    Love this Corrina – so resonant for me right now, both as a ‘buyer story-teller’ and a ‘seller story-teller’. It’s illuminating to see things in these terms and empowering. What I take from your post is that whether we’re buying or selling, our best course is to become aware of the stories we’re weaving around these activities and ensure these are true, resonant and congruent for us. Both yours and Daniel’s stories have each of these qualities and so I’m guessing have resulted in the peace and satisfaction that comes with the right choice being made.

    1. Corrina

      Sarah – Beautiful. I love that image of weaving stories – brings to mind fairy tale castles 🙂

  3. claire stone

    Oooh, I love this idea, mainly because people often see nutrition as a total waste of time until they actually get to try it out!

    My last ‘story’ I told myself wasn’t for something expensive – it was just to pay for someone to format and convert my ebook into kindle format. I wasn’t going to do that, and was happy to spend HOURS trying to figure it out, when I realised that I didn’t want to be doing that. I told myself the story that I am a nutritionist, and (almost) a writer, and that I am not a formatting/conversion expert, and that I am happy to pay someone to do the job for me. It took a while to sink in, but I’m glad that I did!

    As always, a brilliant post – thank you!

  4. Joey

    So it wasn’t a massive purchase by any means but I just bought the next edition of Permaculture Magazine. And you’re totally right – that’s part of my journey to stay informed in the green agenda and be inspired about what’s next for me in the way I live my life and grow my garden 🙂

    I love this reframe that purchases / decisions are about telling stories. For my clients the story they are creating is one where their life is lived in a way that helps them to make a positive impact.

    Loads of food for thought. Thank you as always.


    1. Corrina

      Joey – Great example that the story principle applies whether we’re spending £3, £300, £3,000, £30,000 or £300,000!


    This is such a great way of considering that moment of hovering near the PayPal button, as you said!

    Let’s see: I recently paid for a high-end coaching package. What was the story I was telling myself?

    That I am here to do powerful and great things and all experts and masters in their fields have coaches to help them get to the next level. I am ready to have the support that I need to step into my highest purpose and be the artist and entrepreneur that I’m here to be.

    1. Corrina

      Jessica – Yee ha!

  6. Jenn

    Great point! The last purchases I made: I bought the book “Radical Remission” for a friend who has cancer. I hesitated at first – what if it gave her false hope? What if she thinks I’m a woo-woo weirdo? – but then I decided that I want to be true to myself and be the kind of person who buys spontaneous gifts for people from the heart, so I bought it!

    The other one was hiring a graphic designer to design an all-new logo for my business. I was hesitant because of the cost, but I know that I want my business to be seen as professional, polished, edgy and fun, and I also know that I don’t have the expertise to design the logo on my own. I want to be the kind of person who invests in themselves and their business, so that’s why I hit “buy”.

    So I guess I’ve been thinking this way all along, without realizing it! 🙂

    1. Corrina

      Jenn – Great example. We can ask ourselves how our prospective clients are filling in these gaps:

      “I hesitated at first – what if _______? But then I decided that I want to be/do/have _______”

      and through our marketing, speak to each of these gaps.

      And much love to your friend.

  7. Michele

    A great post, thank you! My last significant purchase was some fab designer clothes from an Italian designer outlet village. This was all part of my metaphor for living my life this year, ‘Flying FIrst Class’. So, I stepped out of my usual “I don’t need it” mentality when it comes to shopping and said to myself, why settle for one Calvin Klein jacket when I can have both 🙂

  8. Anne Hornsblow

    Thanks Corrina,
    This is very useful as always and a great read!
    When I look back at the last few months this is so true! every customer I have has bought a story of what they wanted for themselves! They want to spend more time doing what they love, they want to make sure their customers are looked after, they want to get away from admin tasks that eat their private time!

  9. Tara

    God this is brilliant. It just suddenly makes the whole idea of marketing and selling something kind of glorious. If a miracle is a shift in perspective I consider this post a miracle, at least for me. 😉 I’m going to write down the story/stories and weave that into everything I do now. Thanks so much Corrina.

    1. Corrina

      Tara – Yay! Here’s to miracles 🙂

  10. Daphne Cohn

    there is something about the way you show up in everything that truly does “inspire me.” You asked what was the last big investment and I think it was a coaching program – which makes a lot of sense. It tells the story that my business means a tremendous amount to me and that I see it’s growth as my growth.

    1. Corrina

      Daphne – Bless you. And so wonderful to connect in-person with you 🙂

  11. Tim Gray

    My last significant purchase was actually a cluster of things, spread out: new furniture. I moved house, three doors down the road, from a place that hadn’t been kept up properly for years to one that had. The story: I’m ready to have a good quality living space, and to fill it with good quality things that suit my tastes. (So kind of like being a grown-up really. Shh!)

    As people offering things, there are lots of ways we tell stories about who we are as well. As well as what you say/write, it’s important to think about how you say it and how you present it.

  12. Lisa McLoughlin

    Oh I love this blogpost and I love stories.. My recent big purchase was for a piece of upcycled furniture that served a functional and environmental need in one. It is a gift for my partners birthday. The story I told myself was, I have seen him struggling to find a space for his books at bedtime and where to put the light and iphone (all on floor)…he has very little furniture, since moving from Vancouver and I have filled the flat with mine…;) He pays majority of the bills. I love him dearly. I saw him glancing at this piece of furniture (very unusual for him as not into material things like furniture) and I know he would have got it if he hadn’t had to spend out on some big bills and set up his own business this year etc etc…so when he comes back from Italy on Friday, he has a wonderful surprise in store which will make us both feel warm and smiley inside and I feel I have given him just a small piece of the gratitude I have every day that he is in my life….;)

    1. Corrina

      Lisa – 🙂 and now I feel all warm and smiley too 🙂

  13. Stella Tomlinson

    Fantastic and right-on-time-for-me blog post Corrina!

    The main stories I hear from my potential clients (I teach therapeutic yoga & relaxation) are “I’m not flexible enough”, “I don’t have time”, “my back hurts too much”, “it’s no good I just can’t do that relaxation stuff”.

    What you point out – about the stories we tell ourselves – directly relates to an idea in yoga called “Samskaras” or the grooves of thoughts and behaviours we get stuck in – like a needle stuck on a record… And that’s really my life’s work! Helping people to help themselves get out of their negative grooves and into more beneficial and positive thought patterns. That is what yoga has helped me do.

    Sooo, my most recent big purchase was your Blog For Clients course 🙂 The story I was telling myself was around the idea that I’m now ready to expand my yoga business so it’s time to get serious about this and invest time (and money) in getting clearer about my vision and putting it into practice.. That I’m a writer so I want to hone my skills. That I’m part of a passion-led community who want to help other people, spread love and greater understanding and generally raise the vibes of the world. That this course would help me do the thing I love more effectively by helping me reach out to potential clients.

    Thank you!

    1. Corrina

      Stella – My absolute pleasure, and I’m so pleased that we’re a part of your story 🙂

  14. lesley pyne

    Great post Corrina,
    You’re so right that everything we buy or don’t buy and everything we tell ourselves is part of our story.
    I wonder how many of us have kept a part of our story hidden maybe for years? I certainly did and many of my clients also do. Speaking from experience taking ownership of your own story is really powerful and freeing.
    My last business purchase was to commission Lisa Mcloughlin to do some artwork for my new programme. I told myself that I wanted the artwork to look professional and to mirror the journey that the clients took. I am not an artist and I knew that, although I could probably find some images online they wouldn’t look as good as she could do. And I wa right 

    1. Corrina

      Lesley – Oh fantastic! I love Lisa’s work. Yay for these connections within the Blog for Clients community 🙂

  15. Rosalind Bubb

    Thank you, Corrina, this is very interesting and helpful.

    I recently spent some money to become a Nikken consultant. That means I am using their powerful magnet products to help with a sore shoulder which I have.

    The story I was telling myself is that these things could make a huge difference to my own physical comfort, (which they are,) and that as a therapist who is interested in helping her clients to be happy and well, I know loads of people who have aches and pains who might also benefit from them, and that it would be nice to be able to offer these as another tool in my toolbox for helping them.

    It felt like a very good investment, for myself, and also for my family, friends, and clients. Why wouldn’t I click on that button?

    Now that I am aware that my clients will be telling themselves a story, when they purchase my services, I will be far more conscious of supporting them in a story which is helpful and empowering.

    Thank you 🙂


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