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.


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.


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.


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.


Recommended additional readings to understand copyright and Creative Commons

As part of the Create Commons Certificate for Educators, I will be highlighting resources that build upon the course content.

Due to the grading rubric for this assignment, I’ll distinguish North American sources and Non-North American Sources.  This page will be updated regularly for the duration of the course.

North American Sources

Reading 1: “The Commons, Short and Sweet” by David Bollier is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Annotation: Unit 1 Additional Resources

Relevant content in the unit: Unit 1.2, Creative Commons: The Licenses, Paragraph 2. However, the reason I highlight this resource is that I think the below is content that needs to be added to the course.

This resource is very helpful in explaining, in simple and short word paragraphs (short and sweet, it is), the full context of the commons:

“The commons is not a resource. It is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values and norms devised by the community to manage its resources. Many resources urgently need to be managed as commons, such as the atmosphere, oceans, genetic knowledge and biodiversity.” (emphasis added)

Emphasizing the social norms and community accountability aspects of the commons are key to truly understanding the commons, it’s role in society, and how it can be sustained.

Reading 2: “Copyright Basics” by U.S. Copyright Office, all rights reserved.

Annotation: Unit 2 Additional Resources

Relevant content in the unit: Unit 2.1, Creative Commons: Acquiring Essential Knowledge – an Overview, all paragraphs.

I prefer sources that are short and to the point, with links allowing me to explore various topics if  I need to.  This piece goes over all of the basics of creating and maintaining a copyright license. While that is not the objective, typically, of someone taking a Creative Commons course, it helps to see this information from a pro-copyright perspective to understand all sides of the issue.

It’s also a primary source, meaning that the department issuing the copyrights in the United States also wrote this piece, which means it should be as accurate as possible.

Reading 3: 3 Steps for Licensing Your 3d Printed Stuff by Michael Weinberg. CC BY-SA 3.0

Annotation: Unit 3 Additional Resources

Relevant content in the unit: Unit 3.2, Acquiring Essential Knowledge, What types of content can be CC-licensed, suggested additional content (related to both paragraphs in current content).

While the primary purpose of this paper is about 3-D printing, this resource is a great overview of copyright law related to electronic files, whether they be photographs or the files for a 3-D printing project.

This is an especially good resource for those interested in specific examples of the delineation of the functional, non-copyrightable aspect of a work and the artistic expression, copyrightable aspects of a work.


Suggested additional North American Sources

Suggestion 1: “What does copyright protect?” by U.S. Copyright Office, all rights reserved.

Relevant content in the unit: Unit 2.1, Acquiring Essential Knowledge, numbers 1 and 2.

This resources is a quick FAQ of what copyright does and doesn’t protect, which can very helpful in understanding the most common instances of protection and the questions most people will ask regarding what is protected and what isn’t.  It’s also a primary source, meaning that the department issuing the copyrights in the United States also wrote this piece, which means it should be as accurate as possible.

Suggestion 2: “Educational Fair Use: A flow chart for teachers” by Lisa M. Jorgensen, all rights reserved.

Relevant content in the unit: Unit 2.4, Acquiring Essential Knowledge, paragraph 4.

This flow chart helps visualize the fair use elements of utilizing a copyrighted resource within an educational context. Considering the course I’m specifically in is for educators, I think it’s a natural addition. Note: I reached out to the author to ask if she will license the work CC-By.


Suggested additional Non-North American Sources

Another part of the suggested readings project is to suggest three additional resources to be included in the Creative Commons Certificate Course that come from non-North American sources.

Suggestion 1: “Benefits of an Open Access Policy” by Rhodes University Library, all rights reserved.

  • Country/Region: South Africa
  • Suggested unit of the course: Unit 2, no specific place because this is a section I’m recommending adding.
  • Why add: I struggled with the readings and additional readings of this unit of the course because none gave concrete examples of  how public domain, open access, and open licensing can impact the public. What I liked about this resource is that it gave specific examples of how an open access policy could benefit the university, the government, and the public.

Suggestion 2: “Why Australian Schools Need Fair Use” by COMMUNIA is in the Public Domain, CC0

  • Country/Region: Australia
  • Suggested unit of the course: Unit 2
  • Relevant content in the unit: Unit 2.4, Acquiring Essential Knowledge, paragraph 4.
  • Why add: This article provides an excellent overview of the challenges that copyright causes within education and Australia and how fair use could impact education in the country.

Suggestion 3: “Case Law” by from Wiki Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

  • Country/Region: Varies
  • Suggested unit of the course: Unit 3
  • Relevant content in the unit: Unit 3.4, suggested new section of content
  • Why add: The current content is very theoretical and gives a great overview, but I think it’s conducive to retention of the content to read about actual cases where the CC License played a role in the cases. This page provides a summary of case law related to the CC Licenses.

Featured image: “Reading” by Marco Nürnbergervia Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Creative Commons License
This blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License unless otherwise noted.

Why marketers still celebrate consumer-based holidays, such as Valentine’s Day

Why do people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.)? why people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). It’s a fair question, since we are supposed to be such “experts” on how product companies utilize these holidays to get consumers to buy things.There are three main reasons we still go out, buy things, and celebrate.

A white feather, chocolates arranged in the shape of a heart, rose petals
“Essence of love with sweet chocolate and Strawberries #1 [Happy Chocholate day]” by Kumar’s Edit, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

One of the questions I get often from friends is why people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). It’s a fair question, since we are supposed to be such “experts” on how product companies utilize these holidays to get consumers to buy things.

There are three main reasons we still go out, buy things, and celebrate:

The holiday & traditions are important to someone else in our lives

I first witnessed this when I was interning at the Kellogg Company in their snacks division. High-level marketing executives would rush out of their offices in the middle of the day for a chance to get their child the toy craze of that holiday season. Why? Because, even though these executives knew the techniques very well that made their child want the toy and made them willing to rush around to get it, their child didn’t care about those, their child wanted the toy, and sometimes, it’s not worth the battle to explain to the child why they shouldn’t want it.

If you want to test this theory, try telling your mother that you will no longer be celebrating Mother’s Day because it’s a “Hallmark holiday” and see what kind of reaction you get. Oh and email me about the experience, I’d love a good laugh.

Emotion and societal norms play a huge role

The vast majority of the consumer-based holidays are based around religion, cultural traditions, and personal relationships, which makes them highly emotional for the vast majority of us. This makes it difficult for anyone, even someone who is trained in the influential techniques, to not react emotionally to them.

As Robert Cialdini, best-selling author and professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, humbly points out in his best-selling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, even he falls prey to the subtle, but powerful influences of his emotions, societal norms, and cues in his environment. In many cases, it’s because we’ve developed patterns of behavior that become routine and thus we don’t question them. For example Valentine’s Day=buy a card and chocolates for your loved one (which yes, I did this year).

The holidays are rooted in a positive intention

Is it wrong to take a day and celebrate the love we have in our lives? Is it wrong to show appreciation to the people who raised us? Most definitely not. We should be celebrating these things. And I would argue that most of us need an external reminder to take some time to do so, such as a designated societal day.

What this doesn’t mean, however, is that it needs to be celebrated in a consumer-centric way. This may be something as simple as not having your Valentine’s Day dinner on the actual day, or it may mean something more, such as not exchanging gifts on major gift-giving holidays. As long as the other people involved are on board (see the first heading), then you can choose to retain the positive intention of these holidays and celebrate them another way.

Don’t trust the crowd, it’s most likely hired/manipulated

The point of adding this to the film (in my opinion) is, “Look at the political corruption and manipulation! Isn’t it shocking?”

But the reality is, this is now happening regularly in the United States as well.

A large group of people rallying
“Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” by Cliff, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

During the documentary “The Act of Killing” about the horrors that took place in Indonesia, one of the subjects of the film decides to run for office. He goes around handing-out business cards and the people respond with renditions of “that’s it?” because they are so used to being bribed with more. They also make a point to talk about how the political rallies are filled with paid people. The point of adding this to the film (in my opinion) is, “Look at the political corruption and manipulation! Isn’t it shocking?”

But the reality is, this is now happening regularly in the United States as well.

  • Political campaigns hire fake crowds
  • The Pentagon has been paying sports teams for patriotism
  • Photography is regularly used to make crowds seem larger than they are
  • Colleges and other organizations utilize rent-a-crowds too
  • Television shows (I know this from personal experience) sort audience members to ensure the people sitting closest to the actors are diverse and meet the demographic they want to watch the show.
  • Some people argue that police may be using riot gear to make a crowd look more violent than it is.
  • A couple of years ago, I went to a talk by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Myself and two young men were escorted to the very front row. After we were seated, one of the young men looked at the crowd, mostly age 50+ and said to me something like “I don’t think we should be in the front row. I’d prefer some of these older folks get a better view.” I told him, while I agreed with him, we were seated there intentionally. They wanted us within camera shots to show that the younger generation was there, even if the reality was, there were only three of us out of 350.

Why is this happening?

For this, I turn to Social Norms Theory. People go along with what the social norm is, and crowds often signal social approval. Think about this as an illustration: You and a friend are walking to a concert. You’re positive you know the way to the concert. But you keep seeing tons of people, who also seem to be going to the concert walking the opposite way. What do you do? At the very least, you start to second-guess yourself. And, most likely, you will determine the crowd is most likely right, you’ve mistaken, and turn and follow them.

How do you combat this?

The best response is identification; whenever you see a crowd, just assume that it’s manipulated in some way. If it helps, do a quick mental exercise, using the examples above and others, to think through what possible ways the crowd could be manipulated to serve a purpose. This will keep you from thinking the crowd is the norm and falling into the subconscious social norms patterns of thinking the crowd is right.