Selling to a Customer’s Needs – Specs vs Relevance

specs vs relevance

How many times have you walked into a store to buy a product and walked out with a much higher-end product than you planned for? Let’s say that you are going camping with friends, and you do not have a sleeping bag. You go to the outdoors store to buy a sleeping bag that you will not have to throw out after a couple of uses, and one that will keep you warm. After a chat with the customer service representative, you suddenly realize that you do not just need a cheap bag, you need an ultralight, dry-down, 900 fill, 0-degree quilted bag and an inflatable sleeping pad with a minimum R-value of 3.0. Wait! Say what? $300 for the bag and another $159 for the pad? Wait, how much does my mattress at home cost? You walk out of the store shaking your head. For $450 you could spend the weekend in a nice hotel with a fireplace, instead of out in the woods with the mosquitoes and ticks! Overselling a customer’s needs is just a bad customer service strategy.

Good Sales Techniques

So what went wrong at the outdoor center? The salesperson did not take the time to know what you needed. The best sales techniques start with knowing your customer. You wanted a sleeping bag for a weekend glamping trip, but they tried to sell you a bag that would take you for a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Sure, the setup that they wanted to sell you would keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures, and it would last for hundreds of camping trips, but you go camping twice a year, in the summer, and you have usually consumed enough tasty adult beverages by the fire that you could likely fall asleep on a pile of rocks. To improve customer experience, the outdoor sales rep could have asked you how often, where, and when you camp. Chances are that they would have directed you to a kit that cost you far less, and suited your needs. Having sold you on the bag, it would have been easy to cow-sell you on a sleeping pad. The result is a happy customer who wants to come back time and time again because the crew at the store knows what they are talking about.

Get to know your customer

How do you get to know your customer? Listen to them. If you are in a face-to-face retail situation, then active listening is your greatest tool. If you are responding to a site visit, then a competitive marketing strategy is to know where the sales potential is in their buyer’s journey. To quote Entrepreneur magazine, “Communication is a contact sport, so do it early and often.” If you are using an autoresponder then find out what emails attract them, and what they are trashing without opening. Respond with the information they need, not just the technical specs that you know. In our camping example, you probably aren’t interested in knowing the weight, shell material, or stuff sack size. You are likely more interested in temperature rating and overall dimensions. Will this bag fit you, and will it keep you warm enough for the camping you are doing? Speak to your customer in the language that they use. This is particularly a problem for those who are involved in the engineering of a product, but even enthusiasts get wrapped up in details that may not be of interest to the buyer.  

Getting the Right Cross-Sell/Upsell

By listening to your buyer, you can get a feel for how open they are to a cross-sell or upsell. There is nothing wrong with offering a client a better product, or additional gear if it is something that they will need. For example, if a person comes in saying that they plan to camp several times this summer, offering a sleeping pad may be a good cross-sell. You can sell them on the quality of sleep over time. If they admit that they sleep cold, then offering a higher temperature rating is a good upsell. Attempting to sell a 3-year extended warranty on a product that has a lifetime warranty is a quick signal to your buyer that you see them as a cash cow, and you are only interested in making money from them. Think about your experiences here, and realize how you avoid places that sell products this way.

Individual customer research is no different than mass market research. It’s as simple as listening to the person and hearing what they say. For too long, customer service jobs have relied on technical specifications that may or may not interest the buyer. Rather than spouting how fantastic your product is, create a relationship where your client feels the trust. When a consumer knows that you are looking out for their best interest, they will keep coming back.

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