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.

 

Don’t forget packaging

And yet, what people are mostly buying it for is the packaging, the idea of a luxury product, or a personal relationship.

An in-store display of honey in glass jars next to cheese
Yes, glass jars cost more, but in this case, they also communicate “high quality” so they can charge a higher price. Note the placement of this display is near produce to communicate freshness and next to high-quality cheese, to emphasize the luxury of the product.
Honey in small glass jars that's been labeled for specific purposes, such as
Honey for various purposes? I doubt there’s much of a difference. And $4.49 per small glass jar communicates these as a luxury good (and potential gift item)
A round container of honeycomb with the honey still in it.
Honeycomb included in honey takes a gift to a whole new level of interesting and luxury, with a hefty price tag. Question: How many people know what to do with raw honeycomb?

The past few years, I’ve become very familiar with bees, and everyone’s favorite product from bees, honey.

As my fiancé, the beekeeper, would tell you, you can’t judge the quality of honey by the color or what it says on the package, you judge it by “the bubble test,” essentially turning a jar of honey upside down and watching how fast the air bubble moves to the now-top of the jar. The slower the bubble, the better the honey.

And honey supposedly purported to be from only a single plant (i.e. clover honey or lavender honey) isn’t always accurate either, as bees go where they please and like variety.

Now that you know all of this, you can see my amusement when I walk into a food store and see the varieties of honey available and the pricing related to them. The vast majority of the price differential is the packaging.

  • Honey in glass and/or special shaped bottles looks more expensive (and thus can command a higher price)
  • Including honeycomb greatly increases the price
  • Marketing honey as single source means smaller amounts for more money
  • Honey from far away feels exotic and special, resulting in an upcharge
  • Labeling honey for special purposes (such as “honey for cooking” and “honey for tea”) encourages people to buy more for these various purposes
  • Honey that seems special encourages people to give them as gifts

And yet, what people are mostly buying it for is the packaging, the idea of a luxury product, or a personal relationship. I recently purchased from thredUP and received my “used” clothes very prettily wrapped in paper, trying to emphasize their quality (vs. buying from Goodwill). Similarly, when Molly & You (formerly Molly & Drew) sends your order, it always includes a personal note and sometimes even a gift.

I’ve noticed similarly how many products I avoid, not because the product isn’t good, but because the packaging is terrible, such as a greek yogurt that I no longer buy because the lid is cheap and breaks too easily.

An opened shipping box of Molly & Drew bread mixes with a handwritten note that says
Molly & You (formerly Molly & Drew) orders come in a plain box, but includes a personal note from the person who packaged this. And, in this case, a surprise of a free pancake mix. Hopefully they can continue this personal touch as they continue to grow.

My challenge for you: Take a look at your packaging, whether it’s actual product packaging and shipping or packaging of your service.

  • Think about how your messaging is or isn’t extended through your packaging.
  • Do your customers like your packaging.
  • Are you losing/gaining customers due to your packaging?
  • What can you do to improve the packaging experience for your customers?

 

The formula for selling viral toys, getting you to buy more

Formula:
Create a viral marketing campaign around certain toys using social media influencers.
Undersupply the market with the toy. The limited amount furthers the frenzy and increases the desirability since now only a select number of consumers can get them (exclusivity)….

Formula:

  1. Create a viral marketing campaign around certain toys using social media influencers.
  2. Undersupply the market with the toy. The limited amount furthers the frenzy and increases the desirability since now only a select number of consumers can get them (exclusivity).
  3. Launch PR campaign, supply media organizations with a few of the toys so they can them away as part of their holiday feel-good campaigns.
  4. Parents promise their kids the toy for Christmas, but can’t get it.
  5. Parents buy substitute toys for Christmas.
  6. After Christmas, toy manufacturer floods the market with the toy.
  7. Parents buy the toy when it becomes available, so now the parents have bought toys twice for the season: the substitute toys for Christmas day, and the desired toy in January or February.

And yet, what do I remember about my childhood holidays?

  • My grandfather building a gingerbread house with me.
  • Seeing and playing hide and seek with my cousins.
  • Putting together my family’s Christmas pyramid and being amazed by how the candles made it work.
  • Candlelight services.

https://www.nbcnews.com/widget/video-embed/1107596867748

Sources:

I bought a dress because of your Facebook ad, but you may not know it

A model walks down a fashion show runway in a red and black dress
“Stop Looking! Fashion Runway 2011” by Henry Jose, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

I recently bought a dress online following this flow:

  1. See dress on a Facebook ad, fall in love with it, click on ad
  2. Ad takes me to a company page, I’ve never heard of the company before, this makes me wary of purchasing
  3. Conduct a Google search for reviews of dress
  4. Finding nothing, go to Amazon and look for the dress there. Find positive reviews, including photos of actual people wearing the dress
  5. Opt to purchase on Amazon because:
    1. Amazon has standardized recourse/return methods if the purchase goes bad
    2. I can easily track the shipment
    3. I had a gift card from my birthday I wanted to use up
    4. It was the same price as the initial website

If you’re the business selling the dress, using simple Click-Through Rate (CTR) tracking methods (# of people clicked on ad, % purchased after clicking), you’ll never know that the Facebook ad “worked.”

If you’re using “Last Interaction Model” tracking, you’ll assume the purchase came from Amazon. Amazon played a role, but it wasn’t the whole story and didn’t prompt the purchase.

If you’re using “First Interaction Model” tracking, you’ll assume the Facebook ad did all of the work, ignoring the role of the web search and Amazon.

To really understand the full journey, you have to look at a broader set of data and how various advertisements and marketing promotions play critical roles in your sales.

 

Further reading: Addressing the Question: Measuring Advertising ROI

 

“To sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising”

This trend makes perfect sense through the lens of Raymond Lowey’s “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” (MAYA) principle, that the Atlantic Magazine writer Derek Thompson summarized beautifully in his article about what makes things cool, “[Lowey] said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.”

Five different phones, of various age, to show how they originally looked like a phone and then moved to a full screen.
The evolution of devices, particularly the iPod/iPhone evolution, is a popular example of the MAYA principle. “Mobile Device Evolution” by Adam Selwood, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

This week, I was skimming readings and came across Ivy Ackerman’s presentation at the 2016 PSFK Conference, where she discusses the “High-Low Dining” concept, namely putting high end restaurants in surprising “low” areas and low-end food in “high” settings. For example, she highlights Sadelle’s New York Bakery, where you have to make a reservation to dine on….bagels, in a high end setting.

MAYA Principle

This trend makes perfect sense through the lens of Raymond Lowey’s “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” (MAYA) principle, that the Atlantic Magazine writer Derek Thompson summarized beautifully in his article about what makes things cool, “[Lowey] said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.”

So Sadelle’s made the bagel surprising. And people are loving it.

Think about how logos evolve; as one of my colleagues pointed out, the Starbucks logo has changed very gradually over time, so gradually that most people didn’t really even register that it happened.

I’m personally a sucker for novelty kitchen items (please don’t buy me any though, I have plenty!). Why do I love them so much? Most likely because they’ve taken something familiar and made it surprising, like these matryoshka dry measuring cups, which I love so much I won’t even use them for measuring things. So yes, this trick even works on marketers, or at least, it works on this one.

When I think about our work in open educational resources (OER), this also explains the popularity of expert-written, peer-reviewed, fully developed resources with print copies readily available. OER is so much more than a book, but basically, we’ve made it look like a book. We’ve taken something surprising, and made it familiar.

Contemplation questions

  • Are you working on something that’s surprising or familiar?
  • How could you apply the MAYA principle to your work?
  • Can you think of products or services that you love or hate that the MAYA principle may be influencing?

 

 

 

 

CAMEX: Products I loved

I recently attended CAMEX, the campus market expo, where college bookstore managers come to learn about products and services for their bookstores (we were there promotion open educational resources).

I was very impressed by the expo and with the products & services I saw, as well as the creative booth designs. A friend of mine asked me to keep an eye out for new vendors/products that might be good for her high school stores, so below is a combination of ideas for her as well as other products that were unique and exciting.

ResquMe had keychains that had a seat belt cutter and a glass hammer in one. I was so impressed I bought 2. They also had infrared pepper spray so police can identify attackers up to 4 days after the attack.
ResquMe had keychains that had a seat belt cutter and a glass hammer in one. I was so impressed I bought 2. They also had infrared pepper spray so police can identify attackers up to 4 days after the attack.
A package of team twists, that look like multi-colored braids when put in hair
Team Twists provide an easy way to add team colors to long hair
A set of cute portable keychain phone charges, such as a pig, a pineapple, and a slice of cake
Portable phone chargers in all shapes are really popular. These ones from BUQU are really cute and have a lifetime warranty.
A set of coolers with a wrap around them with a team's logo on them.
Custom logo coolers would be very expensive, so how about a foam wrap (like a koozie) for your cooler? Victory Corps offers this economical solution in various sizes.
The Diva Cup menstrual cups are a wonderful product for women.
The Diva Cup menstrual cups are a wonderful product for women.
A display of clear bags and purses where you can see all of the contents in the bags.
With schools and many professional sports requiring women to carry clean bags only into the stadium, the retailers have responded with a wide array of options.
A display of individual packets of mug cake mix to make in a coffee mug
Ah, the modern version of the Easy Bake Oven: Mug Cakes! Molly & Drew make it easy to make one with these individual packets. I sampled the cake and it was wonderful. Their beer bread mixes are also excellent.
A series of necklaces covered in two colors of Swarovski crystals, including 3-D designs of a football and basketball.
DreamTime Creations specializes in reasonably-priced designs made with Swarovski crystals in your school colors.
A display of fair trade products, including necklaces, earrings, etc.
Minga Fair Trade Imports had a wide variety of socially and ecologically conscious options, including notebooks of paper made from elephant dung.
A display of composition books that decompose, so they are called decomposition books
One of my personal favorites, the bookstore managers I spoke with said Decomposition Books are top sellers at their stores.
I often worry about the next generation growing up with minimal financial skills, so I was excited to see a board game, Bulls & Bears, to teach them the basics of finance and budgeting.
I often worry about the next generation growing up with minimal financial skills, so I was excited to see a board game, Bulls & Bears, to teach them the basics of finance and budgeting.
A display of various collegiate headbands with the school name or logo in sparkles.
Bling is big, which shows in these sparkly and big headbands from GlamFans.