by Matt Michel

Note: The Mousetrap Series is about helping you sell more mousetraps, no matter what the mousetrap is that you sell. I don’t care how good your mousetrap is, few people will buy it if you do not market it well.

One of the biggest marketing mistakes people make is to talk excessively about their companies. Your customers don’t care about you. They care about themselves.

Granted, there are a few lucky companies that have managed to attract a cult-like following. A manufacturer of overpriced motorcycles sold primarily to middle aged biker wannabes comes to mind. No offense, but I doubt you are in the same league with Harley-Davidson. Their customers actually care about them. Your customers care about themselves.

Don’t drone on about things your customers could care less about (i.e., you). Talk about things that interest them (i.e., themselves). You see, your customers are tuned into the radio station, WII-FM 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. WII-FM is What’s In It For ME!

Don’t talk about your company. Talk about what your company can do FOR your customers.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

How do you figure out what your customers want? Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a “Hierarchy of Needs” to help explain human behavior. According to Maslow, people are motivated by physiological needs first, such as food, water, clothing, and breathing. If you can’t breathe, for example, little else matters. If you’re hungry, the world’s greatest automotive ad isn’t going to motivate you the least.

Once these needs are satisfied, the next level in the hierarchy is safety and security needs (avoidance of fear and anxiety, health, job security). Beyond safety and security come social needs (love, belonging, family, friendships). Next are esteem needs (respect, adulation, recognition). At the pinnacle of the hierarchy is self actualization (doing whatever the heck is that you want to do for the pure joy of doing it).

Your customers will fall at different places along Maslow’s Hierarchy at different times. If you are a plumber and your customer’s water heater is broken, that represents a physiological need. It trumps everything else. Customers care little about anything besides getting hot water.

When the economy slips and people are worried about their jobs, security needs predominate. They will choose to repair an old product rather than replace it because they’re worried about money and their financial security. They will attempt DIY solutions they would otherwise avoid.

Thus, attempts to market discretionary purchases will often yield poor results in a bad economy. Instead market things people must have and market discretionary purchases to people with little to fear from the economy (e.g., civil servants).

Think about each of your products and services and what needs are satisfied. Then, think of how you can identify groups in that category and what you will say to speak to the core need. Alternatively, think about what products and services you offer that fill each need. The more basic the need, the better the response you can expect.

Classic Appeals

There are a number of appeals that are often used because they work. The classic appeals are:

  • Save money
  • More security/safety
  • Prestige
  • Enjoyment
  • Comfort
  • Freedom from worry
  • Advancement
  • Less hassles
  • More time

What does your company offer that fits each of these appeals?

So What?

Years ago, I worked on a few video projects with David Dunlap. Dave is a GREAT videographer. He can also be a real pain to work with because he wants perfection, exactly what you want from a videographer. I would waltz into Dave’s office and tell him I want to make a video on “90+ AFUE furnaces.” Dave would look at me and say, “So what?”

“What do you mean, ‘So what?’”

“Why should anyone care? Why would anyone want to waste their time watching your video?”

I would explain. Dave would listen.

“So what?”

And we would repeat the process until I got down to a core benefit. Then he would say, “Ah ha. Now that’s interesting.”

  • 90+ AFUE furnaces…

So what?

  • They’re efficient…

So what?

  • They use less gas…

So what?

  • They lower utility bills…

So what?

  • People with 90+ furnaces have more money each month…

So what?

  • They use the money they save to buy stuff they want, but can’t afford now…

AH HA!

Video Title: The Furnace That Will Pay For Your Vacation.

Benefits Not Features

Almost everyone’s gone through feature/benefit exercises. The feature is the drill. The benefit is the ability to make holes. Yadda yadda.

If everyone’s been through the exercise, why do so many companies talk about features without bothering to mention benefits? For example, on K2’s website, the following features are mentioned for the Escape 5500 Unlimited ski…

  • MOD Technology
  • Triaxial Braided
  • Torsion Box

Huh? What they heck does any of that mean? Why should I care?

By contrast the Rossignol Bandit ski lists the following features…

  • Free dualtec
  • Shockwalls
  • Cut away tip
  • Construction free/rideproof
  • Free absorber.

But Rossignol doesn’t just list them. The company tells the prospect why they matter. For “free absorber,” for example, they remark that, “This new interface uses a damping material built into the surface of the ski under the binding. The Absorber filters the vibrations and increases comfort, while maintaining maximum ski contact with the snow.”

Determining Features and Benefits

A great service meeting exercise is to take a product and list the features in the meeting. Ask the technicians to give you a list of benefits for the various features. It might be helpful to use the “which means” bridge. For example, if company provides on-site furniture restoration, you could say…

“We restore furniture in your home, WHICH MEANS you do not need to haul it to our shop or pay for it to be transported.”

“We restore furniture in your home, WHICH MEANS there is no chance the furniture will be damaged transporting it to our shop.”

Take the best five to 10 features and benefits for each product and service and type them up. Give the list to the technicians the following week, while you brainstorm another product or service. Tell the technicians to study the list and keep it in their price books.

On the following week, hand out the next list and hold a contest. Have the technicians stand up and recite the features and benefits while holding a burning match (credit Tom McCart for this idea). The match simulates the pressure of standing in front of the customer. Hold a run-off between the top two and give the winner a prize (e.g., a ten dollar bill, a gift certificate to a sandwich shop, etc.).

Why hold feature/benefit contests? Hold them to equip your technicians with the tools they need to do their jobs from the sales and marketing side. You wouldn’t think of sending a technician out on the job without tools, but when you send him (or her) without the knowledge and training to respond to customer queries about your products and services that’s exactly what you are doing.

When a customer asks an air conditioning technician about setback thermostats, more than likely he’ll mumble, shift his feet, and look at his toes because he’s unprepared for the question. If a technician has gone through feature/benefit training, he might recall and spit out a feature or two and talk about why they matter. He’s in his comfort zone, educating the customer, but he’s also selling. Shhh! Don’t tell him.

Remember, the customer is tuned into WII-FM, 24/7/365. Talk about how things will affect him. Market to his core needs. Stress customer benefits.

Marketing is not rocket science, though few rocket scientists could ever market. They would get too hung up on the features.

Matt Michel spoke at HVAC Comfortech 2004 on marketing This rant was solely the opinion of Matt Michel, CEO of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.