Marketer vs. high-pressure sales home remodeling contractor

Obviously I had way too much fun analyzing their sales pitch.  Let’s break down what they did.

What we thought was going to be a simple task of having a contractor come over to our house and provide us with a quote for remodeling our bathroom turned into a two-hour high-pressure sales pitch from two salespeople, including a slide deck, videos, and a lot of sales tactics.

After they left, my husband started laughing and said, “I want to see your notebook.” “Why?,” I asked. “Because I saw your face crack into a smile and furious writing, and I know you.” Dang, I guess I’m not as sneaky as I thought.

So, without further adieu, here’s my notebook:

The notebook shows general notes about the bath remodel but also includes the following comments: - Price anchoring. “The average bath remodel costs.” - Priming “What’s important to you in a company you work with?” - Awards/endorsements = external affirmation - They just did the “I need to get something from my car, can I let myself back in?” Trick!!! “Building trust” - Affirmation & Good vs. bad guy. “Now Scott, I can see their point…” - Price anchoring again! Except the quote for us is above average (whoops!) - “We’re so busy, if we don’t have to come back out again before you say yes” discount - Social norms “Most people go with paying this way.” - Small yes to try to move to bigger yes “I know you said you’d have to think about it, but if you were going to move forward, which of these three payment options would you pick?” Really threw them off when we still wouldn’t answer.
My notes (with some modifications for privacy reasons) from listening to a sales pitch from a home remodeling contractor.

Obviously I had way too much fun analyzing their sales pitch.  Let’s break down what they did.

Sales prompts

Not listed on my notes, but one of the salespeople had a printed-out sales prompt form. It was multiple sheets, where he filled in our responses to questions like “What’s important to you in a company you work with?” At one point, he set it down next to me, and I was a little too obvious in looking at it, so he picked it up and moved it. Bummer.

Price anchoring

Near the beginning and right before they gave us the quote for our bathroom at the end, they showed us the “national average” price for a bathroom remodel.

This is a technique called price anchoring, where consumers tend to over-rely on the first price they hear or see. In most cases, this is used to make someone think they are getting an amazing deal. A good example of this is furniture stores, where they show the “list price” and then a much lower price they are asking, which makes the price they are asking seem like a great deal.

In this case though, price anchoring was a fail because their quote for us came in up to 2-3% higher than the national average. I can’t think of any reason they’d do this intentionally, so I’m pretty sure this was a mistake.

Priming

The sales presentation began with the question, “What’s important to you in a company you work with?”.  This is called priming, getting the customer to say who they are and/or what they value, then showing them why they should buy from you related to who they said they are or what their values are.

My personal annoyance with priming is when a sales person doesn’t change their presentation to the priming points and instead just brings them back up at the end, which is what these two salespeople did (more on this later). To add insult to injury, they did their priming in the most obvious way, “Now let’s look back at what you said you valued” instead of being more subtle about it.

Awards/endorsements

One of the salespeople also showed us a list of their awards they’ve received. This technique is most closely related to the association principle, where someone is attempting to associate their brand or themselves with something of higher value.

The majority of their awards were fluff, primarily a lot of “fastest growing company” awards which don’t really tell the consumer anything, but sound impressive. It’s easy to get “fastest growing” awards when you are just starting out. For example, if you go from one to four employees in a year, that’s a 300% increase.

The list also backfired with us because one of the awards was for being the top seller of a particular product for many years in a row. So we knew later on in the sales pitch they were going to push that product.

Small displays of trust

One technique commonly used by high-pressure sales people is for the salesperson to create a situation where you have to demonstrate a small amount of trust toward them. Why? Because this primes you to trust them in bigger ways later on.

I’ve read about the “Can I let myself back in?” tactic so many times and was actually quite excited to see it live because it’s always struck me as very over-the-top. Here’s how it works:

The salesperson…

  1. “Forgets” something in their car.
  2. Tells the customer that they need to go get it from their car.
  3. Asks the customer if they can let themselves back in. Bonus points if it requires the client having to give the salesperson the key to their home to let themselves back in.

Step 3 is where the customer shows trust, by agreeing to let the person let themselves back in.

To be fair, in this case, the guy came back with a large case of samples. If he’d brought this in from the start, that probably would have turned a lot of people off, so I could argue waiting was a good thing. But having seen his sales prompt sheet and the rest of their presentation, I’m convinced this was intentional.

Affirmation (good vs. bad guy)

At one point, I started to entertain myself by bringing up legitimate counterpoints to their sales pitch. And so did my husband. To counter us, the second salesperson said “Now Scott, I can see their point, if that’s not important to them and if that’s their goal…”

Oh that’s good.

The second salesperson was building trust by affirming us and making it seem like he’s on our side. He then argued for us to the first salesperson, but in a backhanded way.  Non-academics and young people commonly refer to this as negging.

Social norms

After price anchoring and showing us our quotes, they moved to three different payment plan options. During this part, they said something to the effect of “now most people go with this one,” which is a social norms argument. Essentially, social norms in this context means you’ll go along with what others are doing because you assume that the majority of people doing something means it’s the right approach.

While it may be true that most people do put home improvement projects on credit, the option “most people” choose is also the one that added 7% interest fees to the total for the project, so it was in their financial best interest to push this one.

Small yes to bigger yes

Similar to building trust and priming, a common high-pressure sales tactic is to get you to say yes to small things and thus walk you into saying yes to bigger things. One of the ways the salespeople did this was after presenting the payment options.

They asked us what we thought after presenting the price and payment options in a variety of ways. We gave very noncommittal answers each time, mostly “We’ll have to think about it.” So they moved to a small yes, by asking “…but if you had to move forward, which of these three payment options would you pick?” The goal was to get us to say which one of those we would pick (small yes) and then move to the final close.

But we didn’t. We just kept saying “We’ll have to think about it.” At this point, I think we genuinely threw them off their programming; they seemed to not know what to do. They ended up giving up and leaving. I “helped” them make this decision by standing up from the table as if to say “Ok, enough.”

They broke the golden rule…

If you’re trying to convince someone of something, start by knowing your target market. As you’ve probably guessed by now, a high-pressure sales tactic was the wrong approach to take with us. And it had the opposite of the intended effect; it made us not trust them.

This is the issue with such pre-prescribed sales pitches; it doesn’t allow the person presenting the material flexibility to tailor it to the target market. Had they taken time to get to know us better at the beginning and had they been able to modify their approach with us based on the cues we were giving, they may have been able to make the sale or at least be considered.

Outtake

Salesperson to my husband: Don’t you want to be excited every time you walk into your bathroom?

Husband: I don’t get excited about bathrooms.

 

Football fandom and the Association Principle

The association principle can manifest as associating with a sports team, especially a sports team that’s well-liked or performing well.

A referee voodoo doll with pins stuck in it. Next to the doll is a pin cushion with additional pins for patrons of the shop to stick in the doll.
A day after the January 20, 2019 NFL Conference Championship game where the New Orleans Saints lost to the Los Angeles Rams, I walked into a New Orleans craft store to find this referee voodoo doll prominently displayed. The store owner invited me to push another a pin into the doll. Many residents of New Orleans blame the game loss on a referee’s bad interception call.

A while ago, I was listening to a local radio station when a female caller asked a dating question. She’d been on a few dates with a guy and noticed that he is what is often referred to as a “super fan.” His apartment was covered in logos and memorabilia from a particular sports team. His clothing also was mostly for that team, down to the slippers he wore. And his vehicle was covered with stickers for the team.

Her problem? The rival team is her team.  Her question was whether he’d continue to date her when he found out.

But I think her question should have been, “Why does this guy so heavily associate with the team?”

Association Principle

The association principle is when two or more things that are not related are somehow connected in our minds to create a relation between them. For example, in Ivan Pavlov’s famous study where he rang a bell and the fed dogs, the dogs eventually connected the bell to food and began salivating when he rang the bell, even in the absence of food. They’d associated these two things with one another food + bell.

Association Principle and Advertising

Advertisers absolutely love the association principle because they can associate their product or service to another positive product or service to drive sales.

Examples:

  • Marlboro cigarettes + tough cowboy = Men who smoke Marlboro cigarettes are tough and rugged.
  • Corona + beaches = The drink you should drink at the beach or to feel like you’re at the beach is Corona.
  • Successful business person endorsement + book = Successful business people read this book. If you want to be successful, you should too.
  • Beautiful celebrity + skincare product = If you use this product, you’ll be like this celebrity.
  • National Basketball League (NBA) + Nike shoes = If you want to be in the NBA or play like NBA players, wear Nike shoes.

There’s also the fun world of negative advertising association, in which a competitor works to associate your brand with something undesirable.  For example, it’s rumored that a competitor to the Gucci brand sent Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi a Gucci handbag to make Gucci less desirable to luxury buyers.

Self-Esteem, Association Principle & Football

Yet another way of looking at the association principle is through the lens of social status and self-esteem. The belief is that if we surround ourselves with favorable people and things then that positivity will also be associated with us. One example is people with low self-esteem and low social status. In these cases, a person has a tendency to want to associate with someone or something of a higher or “winning” status.

And, as by now you’ve probably guessed, that can manifest as associating with a sports team, especially a sports team that’s well-liked or performing well. Think about some of the behaviors that sports fans exhibit:

  • Fans watching the game in a bar giving other fans “high-fives” when their football team scores a touchdown even though they didn’t physically complete the play themselves.
  • Someone becoming a “super fan” of a university football team even though they never attended that university.
  • University students saying “we won” when their university’s team wins and “they lost” when their university team loses. By doing so, they are associating themselves when the team does well by using “we” and distancing themselves when the team does poorly by using “they.” (Cialini et al. 1976)
  • A fan believing “their team” won’t win if the fan doesn’t wear a certain shirt or eat a certain food during the game.

While enjoying a sports game can be a fun hobby and someone with a favorite team doesn’t necessarily suffer from low self-esteem, it’s interesting to look at the most extreme examples of sports fandom and try to understand the potential motivation behind it.

You are not your target market

They probably aren’t listening to the same radio/Internet stations as you. You may be on a particular social media platform regularly, but that doesn’t mean they are. You might get your news from a particular outlet, they may get it entirely differently.

When time and resource pressures creep into the promotional and advertising planning process, it can be easy to decide that you know the target market well enough to decide the best strategy to take. In most cases, this includes making assumptions that they are just like you. But they probably aren’t. Even if you fit into the definition of your target market, you behave differently because you have a vested interest and inside knowledge.

Similarly, many people complain to their marketers, that they “never see their marketing.” But they forget that they aren’t the target market, which means if they are seeing the ads, the ads are most likely in the wrong places.

Frequent your competition to positively impact your business

Wouldn’t it be good management and marketing to frequent your competitor’s offerings to understand the market and the differences?

A man examines a tomato at an open air market.
If this man owned a produce market, should he buy his groceries from his competitors? I argue he should. “Shopper” by Carl Mueller, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It was supposed to be a relaxing moment on the couch, with a hot cup of coffee and my local grocery store’s magazine, but it quickly turned into frustration.

As I read the owner’s (and marketer’s) write-ups about the freshest produce at their stores, the highest-quality ingredients stocked in their aisles, and their family atmosphere, which translates to amazing customer service, I thought, “Have they been to another grocery store lately?!?”

And then it struck me, they probably hadn’t.

The reality is, their produce is terrible and rots quickly. It’s also highly overpriced compared to the Trader Joe’s just across the street. And interactions with their staff have been memorably bad.

So how did this gap between marketing and reality happen?

Probably a mix of the following:

  1. When they do go their own store, they are treated differently because employees know them.
  2. They don’t frequent their competitors and incentivize/encourage their employees not to frequent their competitors.

And it makes sense, if this grocery store owner went to a competitor’s store, it’d probably turn into a local public relations nightmare for him and probably hurt his store’s brand.

But is that the way we should react? Wouldn’t it be good management and marketing to frequent your competitor’s offerings to understand the market and the differences? Shouldn’t we applaud employees like this American Airlines executive who flew United?

We can hire secret shoppers, but I would argue that employee everyday interactions with competitors is  the key to small changes that could greatly impact your product or service.

  • If Hyatt hotel employees stayed in other hotels, they may realize how slow their elevators are compared to other hotel chains and investigate why.
  • If an oil company employee went to another gas station to fill her tires with air, she may realize how much safer she feels if the air pump is in front of the store vs. the side of the store and advocate for the change at her company.
  • If a restaurant employee went to a competitor, they may generate new ideas for the restaurant they work at, such as a new way of managing reservations.
  • And if my local grocery chain employees went to Trader Joe’s, they might realize the customer service difference between them and their competitor and work to try to fix it.

So my challenge for you this week is to deeply consider not only your own shopping patterns, but how you may be incentivizing or encouraging your employees’ shopping patterns when it comes to your product or service. Perhaps the best way you can help your own business is by frequenting a competitor.

How to make your political opponent look bad in TV ads: A step-by-step guide

Since I’m guessing you loathe television political ads as much as I do, let’s turn it into a game; how many of the TV political ads that you see follow this formula?

A black and white old television set. On the screen are found young people gathered around a TV themselves
“not everything has a reason” by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Since I’m guessing you loathe television political ads as much as I do, let’s turn it into a game; how many of the TV political ads that you see follow this formula?

(written with sarcasm, but really, see how many actually fit this)

Step 1: Obtain footage of your opponent, preferably with them alone. Bonus points if it shows them walking away from people.

Step 2: Change the footage of your opponent from color to black and white.

Step 3: Add daunting music, as similar to the Jaws movie theme without being obvious. Also, you don’t want to distract your audience by having them think “I really want to watch Jaws now, that movie is awesome.”

Step 4: Contrast the black and white footage you’ve just showed with testimonials from senior citizens, veterans, and working-class people talking about how that candidate just “isn’t right for us,” but your candidate is. Bonus points for each time one of them says “trust” with your candidate.

Step 5: Show video of your candidate walking into a room, waving, while a very large group stands and claps like they’ve each just won a million dollars. Make sure the music is upbeat and hopeful-sounding.

Step 6: Show your candidate having one-on-one conversations with senior citizens, veterans, and working-class people. Bonus points for small children, especially babies.

Step 7: Show your candidate looking directly into the camera, saying how much he or she will “work for you.”

Step 8: End with the obligatory stuff. “I’m x candidate and I approve this message” and “This ad was paid for by x committee that sounds like it has nothing to do with politics.”

And, cut.

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Examples of digital marketing fails (broken windows)

The last time I gave a workshop on the Broken Windows Theory and how it related to marketing, a participant gave me feedback that I needed to include more web-based and digital examples. And, she’s absolutely right.

So to fix that, I’ve started collecting digital examples of broken windows. Taking inspiration from one of the blogs I read for fun, McMansion Hell, I’ve added parody comments to the photos.

Without further adieu, enjoy!

Priority Pass website with residence spelled incorrectly

Another fun fact about this one: I was nice and emailed their support department over a month ago and let them know about the typo. I got a standard, “thanks for your feedback” macro response. But did they fix it? Nope.

Cooking light recipe missing ingredients

So much for wanting to make this recipe

Branding to millennials web banner where millennials is spelled wrong. It also shows only white men and they are using their technology in ways that looks like work. There is only one woman in the photo. She's white, and taking a selfie

Thanks to a friend for sending me this one. Beyond the typos, my friend pointed out that the graphic is also problematic; it only shows white millennials even though millennials are incredibly diverse, and the only woman depicted is using her technology to narcissistically take a selfie.

Linked in notification, saying I haven't connected with a coworker for 2 years, even though I work with him every day

Let’s be real here for a minute: We really know why this came up. Phil hasn’t had a need to get on LinkedIn in a few years and they want him back, because eyeballs mean ad revenue. So it’s more about getting him back than doing to me a favor. But to me, it feels like that ex who tells your friends to tell you that they “just hope you are well” in hopes you’ll take that as a cue to contact them.

To give LinkedIn credit, this may be helpful at a large organization where you don’t interact with almost everyone every day. So, for this one, it could be a simple change to the algorithm; only show these messages if it’s an organization of x (200?) employees or more.

Screenshot of a law firm website where the photo of the lawyers is pixelated in a way that gives them a weird halo/aura around their heads

Two ideas of how this might have went down:

Option 1:

Web designer: Can you send me a high resolution version of the photo of you in the courtroom?

Lawyers: Sure. Here you go.

Web designer: Um, that’s low resolution. Can you send me the high res file?

Lawyers: We sent you the file.

Web designer: Yes, I know, but you sent me the low res file

Lawyers: We sent you the file!!!! Just do your file.

Web designer: (sigh) Fine. I give up (or a stronger version of this)

Option 2:

Web designer: We need high quality photos for the website

Lawyers: How much is that going to cost?

Web designer: (gives number)

Lawyers: What?!? That’s too much money. Ted’s kid does a great job taking photos. We’ll just have him do it with his phone.

Web designer: Those won’t look good

Lawyers: They’ll look fine…

On another note, the reason I ended up on their website in the first place is because of some entertaining billboard replacement.

A billboard for a law firm that represents drunk driving cases. Below it is a billboard for Miller Lite

Moving on…

A screenshot of an email promotion from a gym advertising a pizza and beer party after a new workout class

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the hypocrisy of gyms serving pizza and beer. This one is especially fun because the fitness center is tied to a hospital.

An iphone screenshot of Jason's Deli's website with the words "Access Denied" when I tried to click on their nutrition information

Actually they are right, I don’t want to see the nutrition info. I’m happy being blissfully unaware in this case.

iphone screenshot of a website with an error message that says "email not exists"

There, I fixed it.

Fair use disclaimer

All screenshots are used in this post under fair use for the purposes of education, satire, and parody, consistent with 17 USC §107.

Creative Commons Licenses 101 openly-licensed PowerPoint slides

Creative Commons Licenses 101 (openly-licensed)

As part of the Creative Commons Certificate for Educators, I developed the above set of PowerPoint slides covering the basics of Creative Commons Licenses, including the three layers of the licenses, the four license elements, the six Creative Commons licenses, how the licenses interact with exceptions and limitations of copyright, the licenses and public domain, and more.

Please note that the simplicity of this design is intentional; I subscribe to the Presentation Zen philosophy of presentations, which includes not putting a lot of words or clutter on slides. However, since I won’t be presenting this slide deck in person and to make it as useful to others as possible, I included more wording than I normally would.