Thursday, March 12, 2009

Free Marketing Ideas - Part III

Originally Published 1.07.09

6. Develop An Electronic Sales Presentation

In many ways selling is teaching. Part of the sales professional’s role is to help prospects understand the different options available to them and how these might meet their needs.

Good salespeople try to uncover the needs and desires of a prospect. But sometimes this can prove difficult since prospects may not be able to articulate what they want or even know what they want. When you teach a prospect about a product or service, you open up new possibilities for consideration.

For example, you probably have a number of products you cannot live without today, but that you could not envision yesterday. Could you survive without an MP3 player or iPod? No? How about your LCD or plasma TV? Your Wii? GPS? Your mobile phone? Bluetooth? Broadband Internet access?

It doesn’t have to be high tech. My wife bought me a handheld lime juicer. Before I saw it I never knew I needed one and now I can’t live without it.

You might be wondering what the heck a handheld lime juicer is. It consists of a pair of hinged cups with handles. One cup fits inside the other to squeeze half of a lemon or lime. I can see it clearly in my mind, but I bet you can’t.

This is the problem. Some concepts are simply hard to convey with words. I could probably give a detailed explanation of the juicer that would give you a better idea what I’m talking about, but you would tune out long before I could do it. It’s far better, clearer, and faster to show you a picture.

Click here to see a picture of a juicer.

If it’s difficult to grasp the concept of a juicer without the picture, imagine how difficult it is for your prospects to understand what you are describing.

According to Prentice Hall eTeach, 65% of the population consists of visual learners. Two out of three people need to see things. If it’s an unfamiliar concept, it’s worse.

What do you think happens when your verbal description is inadequate? Some prospects will ask for clarification. Most will politely nod and wait for you to finish, but won’t buy.

It’s hard for consumers to envision an air conditioning zoning system, a tankless water heater, a solar pool heater, and any one of a million mundane products if they’ve never seen one. Pictures are worth a thousand words and showing prospects pictures of before and after kitchen remodels, installed power vents, pool fountains, the effectiveness of air cleaners on microscopic particles and dust, and so on helps them consider possibilities they had not imagined. And once imagined, some prospects will decide they must have them. Your sales increase.

It should seem obvious that you can increase your effectiveness by incorporating visual aids into your sales presentations. Use literature, photographs, and samples (the easiest way). Or, use electronic presentation software (the most flexible).

Despite their flexibility, a lot of sales managers and sales trainers frown on electronic presentations. They are afraid that the salesperson will use the presentation like a crutch, that it will take away from the sale, and that it will turn off and bore customers.

Frankly, that’s old school thinking. A good salesperson uses technology as a tool. As a tool, it doesn’t turn off customers or get in the way of the dialogue. It enhances the presentation. Proficiency comes with practice and once someone is proficient with a laptop, its use is no more awkward than a tape rule.

A laptop offers a wealth of visual aids. With sound it can also be an auditory aid. For example, sound is logarithmic like an earthquake Richter Scale. An increase of 0.3 bels doubles the sound level. It’s one thing to say it. It’s quite another to play the sound of one fan, followed by the sound of another 0.3 bels higher. Don’t you think a prospect is more likely to pay a premium for a quieter product after the sound difference has been demonstrated?

If you already have a laptop, it costs nothing to build an electronic sales presentation. If you need a laptop, I’ve got good news. Asus has an ultra portable laptop for less than $400. It’s limited in its memory, hard drive capacity, and display size, but good enough to help convey basic ideas. It comes with Open Office, which is a free open source counter to Microsoft Office.

Read Cnet’s review of the Asus.

I think the best solution for salespeople is one of the tablet laptops. Unfortunately, these are among the most expensive laptops. I had one of the early ones for a few weeks. The functionality was great, but the laptop left something to be desired. I bet the bugs have been worked out now.

For field service personnel who find themselves in sales situations or simply must give explanations to customers, a laptop may not be practical. Yet, the need for visual aids remains. In fact, it may be more important since service personnel are not usually as glib as salespeople.

The answer for service personnel is to use literature and pictures. Rather than ask a homeowner to climb into an attic to look at a rusted drain pan or try to explain it, take a digital picture and show it to the homeowner. Pocket digital cameras are priced so that anyone can own one. A camera should be an essential part of a plumber or technician’s toolbox. Like other personal tools, the employee should be obligated to supply a digital camera.

If your personnel lack a camera, buy cameras for them. Let them pay for the cameras over time through a payroll deduction.

Remember, without visual aids, two thirds of your prospects and customers have trouble following your explanation.

7. Enter Every Contest

Hobaica Refrigeration is the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s National Residential Contractor of the Year. I asked Paul Hobaica how they won it.

“We entered,” he said.

Now, there was a lot more to it than that. First, Hobaica is an outstanding company. It took years of sweat and toil to build up the company.

Still there’s a lot of truth to Paul’s statement. Before a contest can be won, it must be entered.

While some contests and awards have lots of entrants, I wonder about others. I suspect that few companies enter many competitions, though no one on the outside knows and people are still impressed when you win.

Win an award and stand out for life. In 9th grade I won a Columbia Journalism Award. I don’t know what the award was and didn’t know I entered it (a teacher entered me), but from that day forward, for the rest of my life I will legitimately be “an award winning writer.” Cool, huh?

Once you win an award, your company is hereafter and forever more, “an award winning company.” It becomes part of your marketing. It’s a point of differentiation. It represents third party reassurance to prospects. It makes you a more attractive employer.

Of course, it all starts with the entry form. Well, it all starts with the search for entry forms. Talk to the people with your local Chamber of Commerce. Call the business editor of your local paper. Contact trade press editors. Search the Internet to find possible contests. Then enter them.

What do you have to lose? Who knows? You might find yourself an award winner!

8. Get Newcomers Lists From Town Hall

Did you ever wonder how the Welcome Wagon finds new homeowners to welcome? I discovered that the list is provided by the city, for free!

Newcomers lists are typically available each month. Some towns will mail them. Others require you to stop by city hall.

I’ve had contractors tell me they’re too busy to pick up newcomers lists and have too many communities in their service territory. Good for them.

I hope you’re too busy too. If you’re not, and if you’re looking for business, newcomers lists represent lists of new homeowners who typically lack loyalty or allegiance to any of your competitors. They’re good prospects.

If you have too many communities in your service territory, it’s probably an indication that your territory is too large. But you say you can’t afford to turn away any calls.

Okay, don’t. But don’t market to the entire world. Focus your marketing to the immediate vicinity of your shop, starting with newcomers.

What do you market to newcomers? Send them a gift certificate with your company. Add them to your newsletter mailing list. Offer a free inspection. Start the dialogue so that the new homeowners start to think of you as “their” plumber/air conditioning company/pool company/carpet cleaner/fill-in-the-blank service and repair company.

That’s it for now. More next time.

© 2009 Matt Michel

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