"Four Common Words That Will
Ruin Your Sale"
Good news! When you say po-ta-toe, and I say po-tah-toe, we both know we mean exactly the same thing. The trouble comes when a single word means different things to different people. Four words commonly used in marketing today can have a devastating effect on your sales results. We use these words to describe our offerings and assume the prospective buyer knows exactly what we mean. However, definitions vary widely and the end result of that type of miscommunication is disastrous. These words can lead to disappointed buyers and reversed sales. They cause unmet expectations on the part of the buyer and result in poor referrals. Using any of these four words is a sure way to generate negative references for what you sell. Let's take a moment to explore these four words and the impact of their use when selling.
The first word to avoid is "Value." All customers want good value, and all customer-oriented companies want to provide a good value. Yet, the seller should never claim to provide good value; that is entirely up to the customer.
A good value is a transaction that provides us with more than we expect, more than we believe we paid for or bargained. The key word here is "Expect." A transaction either is or isn't a good value based on how well expectations are met. Unfortunately, expectations change almost daily.
For example, if I shop for a television set and choose a model that happens to comes with a one-year warranty instead of the usual 90 days, I'm pleasantly surprised. I feel as though I'm receiving good value for my investment. When I go to buy another television set, my expectation may be the inclusion of a one-year warranty. The manufacturer's idea of value may be a 90-day warranty and a lower price. The result: I'm disappointed if I don't get the one-year warranty, even if the price is lower.
The solution is to break a generic value statement into something more specific and meaningful to the targeted buyer. Where does the value come from? As a seller, you can point out where the value might come from so your buyer cannot overlook it. However, it doesn't have to be accepted by the buyer. For example, perceived value may result from a longer warranty, a lower price, or more standard features. It might come from lower cost of ownership due to extended reliability, or from lower maintenance costs. But I can't tell you that I am providing value. I can only tell you what I am providing, and let you decide if there's value for you.
The second common sale killer is the word "Quality." Many of us have a hard time defining quality, thinking "we'll know it when we see it." According to Philip Crosby, author of Quality is Free, quality is not a matter of opinion. Quality means conformance to requirements, and is defined by those characteristics that allow your purchase to do what you expect it to do.
For example, consider which is the higher quality automobile, Mercedes-Benz or Chevrolet? That all depends on the characteristics needed for quality. If I use my vehicle over an extended range, such as throughout the US and Canada, and up-time is important to me because I depend on my vehicle to make a living, the Chevrolet may be the higher quality choice. Wherever I travel, I am never far from a Chevrolet dealer and the parts needed to fix my car. Chevrolet has over 15 times as many service locations as Mercedes-Benz in North America, and the parts distribution network to support them. It will almost always take longer to get the Mercedes back on the road. If it's important to me that my car isn't tied up in the shop regardless of where I go, the Chevrolet is the higher quality product.
The solution is to describe the quality of your offering in terms of the fundamental characteristics that allow you to deliver that quality. For a product, characteristics might include the purity of the materials used, the precision with which they're built or assembled, or the functions it can perform. For a service, quality may relate to speed of service delivery, a low error rate, or depth of services available. Note that all of these are measurable and definable. By focusing on the characteristics of quality, quality changes from a nebulous "I'll know it when I see it" into a set of clearly definable and measurable requirements. Always remember that your definition of quality is not the same as the next person's, even though we all think we know what it means.
Third, avoid the word "Service." It's simply overused. Too bad, really, because everybody does want good service. It's just that, like quality, everybody has a different definition of what good service is. Some people associate good service with the sound of a human voice. Others actually want resolution of the problem. In fact, there are so many different ways to define good customer service that the topic has spawned an entire industry of consultants and professional speakers to address the topic. If you haven't heard enough good and bad customer service stories already, give me a call and I'll be happy to share a few of my own.
Instead of talking about good service, just shut up and do it. Put some performance standards in place for your own organization, and then deliver to those standards. Let your customers tell your prospects how you deliver service. Jeff Multz at Emerging Market Technologies of Atlanta, Georgia has already figured this out. He read Ken Blanchard's book, Raving Fans and decided to create his own. Jeff insists that his staff (including him) return all calls and acknowledge all e-mails within an hour. Not only do they have their service benchmarks on paper, but they use the software they sell to help them deliver it, as well as report on it. Their computer tells them if they are living up to the performance standards they've set for themselves.
When talking to prospects about your offering, you won't have to mention a word about service. Instead, show them the testimonial letters you've collected from your happy customers. Encourage them to talk to your existing customer base. Show them the statistics from your customer satisfaction surveys that talk about responsiveness and service levels. Your prospects will get the message.
The last, and ugliest, word to avoid is "Price." Price doesn't usually come by itself. It's usually accompanied by another word, "low." As soon as you start talking about price, your prospects will be happy to compare it. Therefore, avoid making any claims regarding price in your advertising or other initial messages to your prospects.
You can never consistently win at the low price game anyway. To paraphrase Don Peppers of Peppers and Rogers Consulting Group, "if you're competing on price, you always have to underbid your stupidest competitor." Price becomes a distraction in your customer's buying process. They forget about how important their purchase is in solving their problem, and instead become concerned with comparing "apples with apples." They quickly discount all the unique and significant attributes that make your offering a better solution. This concern over price reduces your offering to commodity status.
Of course, sooner or later everyone is going to need to know "How much?" and your offering needs to be priced in a range that is comparable with your competition. Just make sure the solution you're offering is worth much more to the buyer than the price you'll ask for it. If your prospect jumps the gun and asks "How much?" before you've had a chance to help them establish value, explain with pride, "that's the best part. I'll get to that in just a moment." While you should be proud of your price, leading with it only makes your job more difficult.
Value, Quality, Service, and Price will get you in trouble because they mean different things to different people at different times. While each concept is important, you must take care to explain and define each of these words if you choose to use them. Before you ever talk about value, learn the buyer's expectations. Before you mention quality, determine the buyer's requirements. Don't talk about service. Let others do it for you. And price? If you're really providing a worthwhile solution, price is the best part. Save it for last.
© 1999 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.
About The Author:
Paul Johnson of Panache and Systems LLC consults and speaks on business strategy for systematically boosting sales performance using Shortcuts to Yes™. Check out more salesforce development tips at http://panache-yes.com/tips.html. Call Paul direct in Atlanta, Georgia, USA at (770) 271-7719.
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