Controlling the sales conversation

I had a really interesting conversation about house hunting recently and I inadvertently tripped across an exact example of how people can sometimes get the sales message wrong.

Here is the scenario:

Years ago I was a first home buyer. My partner and I had just scraped together enough money for a deposit and started house hunting – looking for the perfect home within our budget. We came across many a real estate agent, and the tune was always the same.

“Now is a really great time to buy.”

“You better get in quick, the market is booming and prices are going up.”

“You better be quick, we have had a lot of interest.”

“This one has 49 car parks.” (Ok, maybe not this one…)

Every agent we met recited the same “benefits” that sold houses previously. They were desperate to create urgency and the need to act and they told us all the ways other people wanted the home.

The problem was, they weren’t listening. They had all the information they needed to help connect us emotionally to a home, but they were telling the same stories that had worked before. The problem with this, is the same marketing idea very rarely works twice.

Here’s the conversation my partner and I were having as we walked around this particular home.

“WOW! There is no mould in the bathroom! There’s an extractor fan! There probably aren’t any slugs in this shower!”

“WOW! This one has a deck! And look, sunlight is coming through the windows! In the morning!”

“LOOK at the size of this kitchen! IT HAS A DISHWASHER!!!!”

“Can you believe we aren’t wearing shoes and we can still feel our toes?”

Why does all of this matter? Because the agent needed to understand where we came from to understand what we wanted in where we were going next.

Our previous rental was a south-facing unit that was surrounded by trees. It got sun inside for about 13 minutes before sunset and that was it. The bathroom didn’t have an extractor fan and the window was nailed shut. There was mould growing down from the ceiling and we attacked it with bleach regularly, but the conditions remained the same. There was a hole in the shower wall, where a giant slug who we named Frank would come out for a drink while we were showering. It was cold all the time. We wore shoes inside and sat around with blankets while we tried to blow smoke rings with our cold breath. Our kitchen was tiny, so we learned our “kitchen dance” (how we move around each other while making breakfast) quickly.

We weren’t interested in interest rates, or car parks, or heated floor tiles, or recently renovated, or stud height, or any other list of things that experienced home buyers were interested in.

We wanted a house that was dry, and didn’t have mould (although we would miss Frank!). We wanted one that saw actual sunlight and a kitchen that could fit more than one person in it at a time.

As we walked around the homes that met this criteria, we exclaimed in excitement every time. But only one agent heard this story. And only one agent sold us a home. You won’t be surprised to hear that it was the same agent who took the initiative to hear our story.

So, what can marketers learn from this story?

  • Ask your market what they like and what they are looking for.
  • Listen to their subtle cues (or not so subtle ones!)
  • Don’t try to sell the same features and benefits to everybody – ‘everybody’ is not your market.
  • Pay attention to the conversation happening around you.

This story is a great example of how marketers can get caught up in trying to sell common features and benefits, without taking the time to understand their customer first.

Are you listening to what your customers are telling you?