Selling with the Five Senses

Sell the Experience, Not the Product

During recessions or down economies, consumers become more value-conscious shoppers. New to the most recent downturn was a basic change in consumer mindset that said: “I want to buy things that give excellent value AND a good personal feeling.”

Maybe this is best underscored by the fact that in spite of the down economy, candy and sweet sales continued their multi-year sales rise.

Others have proven that consumers buy more when they have a positive experience with a purchase. Walt Disney, the original experience architect, has been followed by many — Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Niketown, Rainforest Café and Bass World, to name a few. These sellers have learned to appreciate the power of the experience in making a sale and at a premium price.

Your challenge is to figure out just which experience best serves your purposes, and how to make it happen during the purchase-decision process. Today’s shopper is more educated than ever and the Internet has reduced many products to commodity status. Add the waning degree of attention being given to broadcast and print advertising and businesses are even more challenged to connect with the buying public.

Outshining the Competition

Here are some examples of how some industries are selling experiences to gain a competitive edge:

  • The Florida grocery store chain Publix moved into the Atlanta market with a noticeably different shopping experience and has taken a big hunk of the market. To set their brand apart and build customer loyalty, Publix designed their stores to better appeal to all five senses. For example, they placed fresh, hot food near the entrance, and introduced numerous self-serve sampling stations, pleasant vs. obnoxious background music, easy-to-read aisle signs and super customer service.
  • Quite a few national brands, such as Home Depot, LifeTime TV and Matchbox Toys, are selling experiences by sending road shows across America. This approach allows consumers to spend concentrated time experiencing their products. They also like having real-time communications with their trade and retail partners. What would you remember longer — one TV spot each day for a week, or 20 minutes actually feeling, tasting, smelling and using a product?
  • After Burner Seminars is a sales training program that puts sales people into the minds of jet fighter pilots. While much of the training is basic, it sticks much better because of the experience that participants undergo. Instructors wear military flight gear and use military terms. Actual flight film is used throughout. Students almost feel like they are actually fighter pilots.

Getting Started

So how can a company assess its potential for creating and delivering an experience around its product? Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Obtain objective information about the mindset of your best customer.Use skilled research to deliver this. With this research you can identify and build on those senses and emotions felt most during the buying process for your product.
  • Try to involve several senses at the point of sale and tickle as many human emotions as possible. Cosmetic manufacturers achieve this with in-store beauty consultations; hardware stores do it with demo models; computer stores have demos and personal consultants. The more you can relate to buyer senses or emotions, the more solid the decision to buy — at any price.
  • Look closely at your services menu or product offering and see how you can make it modular. Can you group some services into a new package that appeals to a specific target audience?
  • List the ways your product can change the lives of those who use it. Can it transform the buyer into someone happier, safer, better educated, richer or more important?
  • Ask yourself, how would you sell your product or service differently if you charged admission to come into your store or selling zone?

Don’t forget that with an improving economy it is essential to protect your current customer base from following a competitor’s passionate plea and promises. If a customer has a good on-going experience with the current brand, they are less likely to leave. Make your customers’ experience as unique and memorable as possible. Dig down into their psyche and know what they believe they are experiencing with your product. Don’t guess or assume!

As the economy improves, consumer become more ready to buy. Companies having the courage and knowledge to move quickly can reap a disproportionate share of the spoils. Experience selling is a strong competitive selling tool and when well done, will:

  1. Support higher pricing,
  2. Become a unique selling proposition, and
  3. Build stronger customer loyalty.

Rick Wemmers  is president of Wemmers Consulting Group, an Atlanta-based firm focused on helping companies increase sales and revenues.

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