I remember, back in the day, my first experience in the art of perception.
I was hired on to sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door through a distributor. The owner of this outfit knew next to nothing about the device other than the way it sucked up dirt. This was okay as far as demonstrations went, but there were a lot of vacuums that sucked up dirt.
This particular vacuum sold for a whopping $800 which, back in the late 60’s, was about half the price of a Volkswagen. This contraption had better do more than suck up dirt...and, it did.
It had more extensions, accessories, and gadgets than the Space Shuttle. It weighed in at about 100 lbs. fully loaded.
It had a cord the length of a football field. The hose was made of some new material that was guaranteed not to twist, shred, or tear. The extensions and accessories could do everything from cleaning your couches to scouring your car’s engine. It was tricked out in a great paint job and wore shiny chrome everywhere.
But, in the end, all we were trained to do was sell the dirt-sucking ability of the main unit.
With all that lack of knowledge in my head, I hit the road. After 2 weeks, I sold one unit...and that was a referral by my Mom.
My fellow salesmen faired no better - except for one. Kevin, diminutive and shy, was selling these things at a rate of 4 every week. Quite a commission for our little friend. I was determined to find out how he was doing it. Of course, we all figured that he was getting the more affluent neighborhoods, or that people felt sorry for him because of his size and awkwardness. We were wrong.
I sucked up (no pun intended) to Kevin in order to learn his secret. It cost me some burgers and fries but it was worth it.
He explained to me that he never really talked about the actual sucking ability of the unit. He figured that was a no-brainer. Instead he concentrated on all of the magic of the extension, accessories and gadgets that no other vacuum cleaner had. He would spend the time pulling the parts out and showing the homeowner what the little beauty could master.
He’d spill dirt on the floor (we all had a bag of dirt for demonstration purposes,) dump it on the furniture, tables, kitchen counter, and anything else that was horizontal. He’d wave the extensions around like he was Darth Vader. He’d suck the curtains, walls, window sills. Then he pulled out the accessories and suck the stairways, under the tables, around the ceiling, and under the refrigerator. He was a man on a mission.
Finally, he would walk the homeowner through the intricacies of the vacuum and all the quality parts the unit held. With one last flurry, he would tell the homeowner how jealous their neighbors would be when they laid their eyes on this beauty. “Look at that paint job, feel the chrome, check out this cord.”
Kevin was absolutely convinced that it was that last statement that won them over. Made sense. Beat the Jones’.
He was right. I subsequently sold a lot of these vacuums using Kevin’s approach. Right up to the time they started catching fire and were pulled off the market.
The lesson was learned. Kevin believed in the product (albeit in error,) but felt that wasn’t enough. Appealing to the “gotta have better” philosophy was the final straw to the sale.
Proving again that perception is everything.
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