What's foremost on your client's mind when he or she begins talking with you about a new project? Gleaming appliances? A luxurious shower?
If you listen to Harry Beckwith, author of Selling the Invisible, uncertainty and fear are what's really on a person's mind.
And, do you really know who your competition is? It's not the low-ball bidder down the block, or the fancy new showroom around the corner. Your biggest competitor isnothing that is, the likelihood that your prospects will be so overcome by fear and uncertainty that they will decide not to do the project at all.
Beckwith, founder of Beckwith Advertising and Marketing and a former advertising creative supervisor, has studied the consumer mindset surrounding the purchase of a service versus a product. His book is full of worthwhile marketing insights for our industry because, while products are components of what we sell, we are ultimately selling an intangible.
"A service does not even exist when you buy one," Beckwith points out. "You interview a service to redo your kitchen. A representative of the service promises to work up an estimateyou are not sure you will be able or willing to pay the amount the firm actually quotes. As a result, you feel even more uncertain and fearful.
"Your only recourse for most service failures is either painful
negotiation or agonizing litigation. So, you buy a service with no
guarantees and even more uncertainty," he continues.
"as a service marketer.you face prospects almost shaking with worry. That is where your marketing must start: with a clear understanding of that worried soul," he asserts. Beckwith shares tactics on how to market to "worried souls."
The most important thing a kitchen or bath dealer has to sell is a relationship, so don't focus on features and benefits. Sorry, it's not the brilliance of your design, the finish of your cabinets or your pricing. It's whether they like you that gets you the job.
Don't sell aggressively, warns Beckwith, or you'll just fan your prospect's fears. Your biggest challenge is to get a prospect to commit to doing a project at all.
I know this from years of doing consumer research. Survey a thousand consumers who say they are planning on remodeling a kitchen or bath and a year later, and as many as 38% of them will have done nothing. Consumers will admit to thinking about doing a project for years (sometimes 10 or more), actively shopping around and then giving up because they can't find a firm that is simpatico.
"If you compete aggressively, and implicitly criticize your
competitors, you aggravate your worst problem: the prospect's doubt
that anyone in your industry can provide the service and value that
the prospect needs," warns Beckwith.
So, then, how does a prospect decide to move forward? How do you build a relationship.?
"Ask yourself: What risks might a prospect see in hiring us? Then, without reminding the prospects of those risks, eliminate the prospect's fears, one by one," Beckwith says.
So, what are the fears likely to be on your prospect's mind?
"How much will it cost? Can I afford it? Will I get ripped off, and if I do, how will I even know? Will it end up costing me more than indicated? How will I know what this room will look like?" are among them.
Other fears to be dealt with are: "Won't this make a huge mess in my home? Won't it take months and months? Maybe my project is not big enough or fancy enough for you to take seriously. Maybe my taste isn't sophisticated enough for you. Maybe I'm too small for your company. Maybe your company is too small for my project. Maybe you'll take my deposit and go out of business."
"Communicating about services must make the service more tangible and real," Beckwith says. "You need to appear (and be) honest and trustworthy."
How will prospects finally decide? Emotionally, not rationally. And, their comfort level increases with their level of familiarity.
Note that referrals and word-of-mouth are no longer reliable ways of reaching, and impressing, time-starved prospects. Someone may hear of you through a friend, but that's not enough. They need corroboration of that referral.
So, how do you create familiarity? By creating a brand for yourself.
It starts with your name. Beckwith strongly recommends "no initials, nothing funny, nothing generic." The place to start is with your own name, he advises.
Once you have the name, pay attention to what it represents: its position. But, what if your competition, frankly, is very similar?
"Peoplelook for differences upon which to base their decisions. The more alike two services are, the more important each difference becomes. And, they could be trivial differences," Beckwith admits.
They can be in a display, your brochure, your business card, your receptionist. So, what you need to do is something that repositions your competition. This is why the red kitchen in the window works. You are memorable. You are different. Your competitors with the very saleable maple suddenly look boring. The bean counters will argue that you will never sell a red kitchen. Ignore them. You'll sell a lot more maple, thanks to it.
Now it's time to start to build your brand.
"Brand beats word of mouth every time," Beckwith insists. Brand is so important in a service business because it becomes the warranty. It takes away the fear.
You don't build a brand by lining your walls with manufacturer's brochures, he adds. "You can walk into several large local service companies and find almost $500,000 worth of sales brochures displayed on their walls. What you cannot do is tellwhat company stands behind them," he argues.
They may be important in supporting your brand, but they can't be your brand. Take control of your own brand and tell your own story.