Gone Fishin'

It's a busy Saturday afternoon and one of your sales associates has just finished working with a customer. By chance you overhear the customer whispering to her friend, "I don't care how much it costs, I want it anyway." Stunned, you step back and think, "I can't believe it. Did that customer just say what I think she said?" Go ahead and believe it, it's entirely possible.
By Rick Heaston, Contributing Editor | March 31, 2005

It's a busy Saturday afternoon and one of your sales associates has just finished working with a customer. By chance you overhear the customer whispering to her friend, "I don't care how much it costs, I want it anyway." Stunned, you step back and think, "I can't believe it. Did that customer just say what I think she said?"

Go ahead and believe it, it's entirely possible. Full price should be the norm, not the exception. And any associate that knows what to do can easily produce the same results. Let me share an old Michael LeBoeuf fable to illustrate what I mean.

A man went fishing one day. He was enjoying the beautiful morning when he looked over the side of the boat and saw a snake with a frog in its mouth. Feeling sorry for the frog, he reached down, gently took the frog from the snake and set the frog free. But now he felt sorry for the snake. He looked around the boat and realized that he didn't have any food. All he had with him was a bottle of bourbon. So he opened the bottle and gave the snake a few shots. The snake swam off happy, the frog was happy, and the man was happy to have performed such good deeds.

The fisherman thought everything had ended well until a few minutes later when he was startled by a knock on the side of the boat. He looked down and in utter disbelief found that the snake was back with two frogs!

LeBoeuf's fable epitomizes a selling strategy used by many in the home building industry — if it works once, twice is better.

The home building industry, especially the sales side of the business, is obsessed with doing things more than once. And in particular, we're obsessed with loading up on features and benefits. There's only one problem though. Features and benefits, as most associates know them, don't have much to do with building value and getting full price. This is quite the contrary. The contradictory belief leads us to our first rule in building value and getting full price: Value is the difference a customer perceives between what they have and what they hope to have.

It's not about the number of features and benefits, it's about the comparison between what they have and what they want. Increase the gap between the two and the closer you'll be to achieving full price. So believe it or not, your associate's sales strategy is almost totally responsible for the price you get. And the price you get is a direct result of how you teach your associates to build value.

Features & Benefits

Volumes have been written on the importance of features and benefits. Most experts would lead you to believe that if you match your features and benefits to your customer's needs, you'll build value. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you're selling products that cost a lot of money, the more you present, the less value your customer perceives.

Let me explain. If you've spent any time at all in the home building business you've learned that one purpose of a presentation is the "Ooo" factor. On the surface it seems like a great way to sell., but are "Ooo's" the key to value building, or just a way to get your customer excited? When you use features and benefits to get your customer excited, are you building value or just communicating value? In other words, are you communicating what you believe value should be?

Here's the simple truth. You don't need to be very skilled if your strategy for selling is "excitement" or "hot button" selling. This method boils down to asking your customer one simple question, "What are you looking for in a new home?" Once armed with this information, it isn't hard for even the most unskilled sales person to follow up with some memorized features and benefits. There's only one problem. If you're using "excitement" as a strategy to sell, you're "guessing." And this brings us to our second rule for building value: No guessing!

That's right, no guessing. I know you believe that you don't guess when you deal with your customers, but I want to ask you a couple of questions and then see if you feel the same way.

Consider features. Is a "feature" a fact or a guess? If you answered, "A fact," then you're right. The next question is just as easy. Is a "benefit" a fact or a guess? Again, if you don't try to justify your position, you've probably answered like thousands of other sales people and said, "A guess."

Sales associates typically present a feature and then make a guess about the benefit to their customer. Try putting yourself in your customer's shoes by answering one more question. If you were buying a home, would you want a salesperson guessing with a few hundred thousand dollars of your money? If you want to build value, get your customer to tell you what the benefit means to them, not vice versa.

Full Price

There's more to turning the tables on features and benefits than meets the eye. When pushed to think, your customers will explore a number of ideas — some they may already be familiar with, some they may not be familiar with.

Encouraging customers to think about the unfamiliar is the key ingredient to removing decision fear, objections and "We need to think about it" behaviors. I know what you're thinking, I've heard the responses before: "If I ask my customer what they're looking for and discover their 'hot buttons,'" I'm not guessing. My response would be: "You may not end up guessing about what your customer's looking for, but you certainly have to guess about what your feature will do for them."

That's only part of the story. Ever wonder why you've always been told to memorize features and benefits? The answer is easy. The theory seems to be that if you present enough features and benefits, you're bound to hit on a few that work for you. In other words, if you go fishin' and toss enough bait in the water, you're bound to catch a fish. Just like the fish, there's a catch.

What happens if you present a lot of features and benefits and don't get many bites? If your benefit isn't interesting and your customer doesn't perceive a gain, you're wasting his or her time and causing that buyer to silently think, "Wonder what I am paying for that?" Psychologists call this response "mismatching". And mismatching gives us our next rule for building value: If you're telling your story, you're hoping your customers will agree ... if they're telling their story, you're helping them create their own picture of value.

Final Thoughts

Maybe the most important thing you need to remember is something that you already know. The closer your customer believes they are to a perfect decision, the more they'll be willing to pay.

Would customers be willing to pay $100,000 or more because they were excited or because they believed they were making a perfect decision? For that matter, wouldn't a perfect decision generate much more long-term emotion than a feature and benefit presentation?

Building value is about getting your customers "think" above and beyond what they're looking for in a new home. It's about providing a method for them to think about the things they haven't thought about. Here's what you need to do. If value is the difference between what your customer has and what she wants, you need to do two things:

  • ask questions that will allow your customer to tell her story about what she has.
  • provide each customer with an opportunity to tell a story about what he wants and what he will gain if he gets it.

Follow these simple guidelines and you'll end up building twice the value as you do now. In addition, you'll discover all kinds of possibilities hidden in your selling process.


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