- Understanding and embracing the era of customer focus
Marketing experts look across history in terms of eras. The present day has been deemed the marketing era of customer focus. Compared to past eras centering on product or advertising, it is particularly important that we are putting the customer first in everything we do. In my company, we have recently made policy changes to reflect this evolution, adopting a total customer service strategy in which we put the customer first in any situation. As a store manager, whether I am interacting directly with a customer, handling a complaint, training my staff or rearranging the product on my sales floor, I do so with the purpose of creating the best possible experience for customers.
- Features vs. benefits
It is critical that any associate involved with sales understands the difference between a feature and a benefit, and how to communicate both to customers effectively. A feature is a physical attribute of the product (color, size, material, etc.) while a benefit is the customer’s intangible gain from these aspects—literally, how the specific features work together to benefit them. Everyone working the sales floor should be able to explain the technical aspects of the product they are selling, but what really makes a successful sale is the benefit: painting a picture for the customer of how much better her life will be after purchasing this product. This is the turning point to transition a browser into a buyer.
While the actual positioning of a brand should occur at the corporate level, it’s important that store associates understand the concept and how their brand is positioned. This means knowing what space your brand is competing in—what are the attributes your brand wants to be known for? Brand positions can range from high quality, good value, convenience, low cost, etc. depending largely on the industry.
- Points of Difference
Understanding where your brand lies on a perceptual map should also tell you who your direct competitors are. A smart salesperson keeps tabs on the competition and uses points of differentiation in her sales pitch to set her company’s product apart from similar competitor products. Points of parity are attributes that are expected of all products competing in a given product category, while points of difference represent those features and benefits unique to a given product. It is expected that a shoe from a high fashion brand will be stylish (point of parity); if said stylish shoe is also unusually comfortable, durable, etc. this can set it ahead of the competition (point of difference). Elaborating on standard, expected features of a product—points of parity—is a waste of everyone’s time. Highlighting the product’s points of difference is imperative to a successful sales pitch.
- Purchase Process
What particularly fascinates me about marketing is the human behavior/psychological aspect of it. Marketers spend a lot of time researching how the brain works and how to affect human behavior, and a basic knowledge can work wonders in sales. A generic consumer purchase process has been outlined (see graphic below) which can be applied to any purchase decision; depending on the type of product, consumers may spend more or less time on certain steps and some steps could be skipped all together.
The process initially begins at the top with need/ problem recognition: the customer discovers a need and will look to purchase a product or service to fill. This presents opportunity for the store associates, especially in shopping malls where customers often wander into a store just to see what’s there: the associate must take this opportunity to introduce the customer to the brand’s wonderful product(s) and lead the customer to recognize a problem that can be solved with the product, which she might not have ever thought to seek a solution for. This can also be applied to a customer who comes in for a specific product when the associate offers additional products to fulfill other needs. The gathering of information follows; this step will vary heavily by person and by the scale of the purchase, but often includes reading reviews online and talking to friends and family about their experiences with certain brands. Associates in a store can also be very persuasive by offering extensive knowledge of the product and recommending the best products to meet the customer’s needs. Hint: personal testimony is a great tool here, so make sure your associates love your brand! The third step is evaluation, in which customers compare specific features and benefits of the brands still being considered—this is where those features & benefits come into play. Stay ahead by offering customers information about your competitors so they won’t have to shop around and do the research themselves! After this consideration, the customer makes a purchase decision in which she decides what brand and specific product(s) to purchase. Finally, the post-purchase behavior—how well the product fulfills the need—will become a factor in the purchase process the next time the customer needs to fulfill that need, so don’t forget to thank the customer and invite her back! Most importantly, being familiar with these stages and learning to identify what step a customer is at in this process can help the associate determine how to approach each customer, leading to an individualized and more effective sales practice.