By Amanda Crangle
During my career as a sales rep for a local water-treatment company, every now and then, I’d find myself in a dilemma. After what I felt was a solid in-home presentation, I’d be baffled when I delivered the price and the prospect’s jaw hit the floor, as if this person expected a water softener to cost little more than a microwave.
This was predictably followed by “we’ll have to think about it.” The sinking feeling in my stomach was so intense, I can still feel it. Where had I gone wrong?
After years of selling and plenty of time to rehash my techniques and evaluate where to improve, I’ve pinpointed two primary reasons why I’d find myself in that situation. One of the causes was that the person I was speaking with didn’t perceive enough value and differentiation in the products and services we offered to warrant the price. The second was that the person was not a good fit as a customer for our business.
Selling in a Competitive Market
At the Texas Water Quality Association Convention & Exhibition held in July, Candice Wentling, owner of Certified Action, and I gave a joint session on how to market and sell effectively in a competitive environment. We chose this topic because we’ve both been hearing from clients and industry colleagues that inflation, fuel prices, and a host of other economic factors have been contributing to increased consumer price sensitivity.
It’s interesting to consider that the boom era of water treatment through the COVID-19 years, coupled with consumers’ increased savviness in performing online research, has led to increased confidence among the public. People can now self-diagnose their water issues and research solutions and prices online. With this newfound expertise, perhaps people feel like they have more power over the sales process. Case in point: In her March 2023 Time magazine article “Maybe Americans Don’t Mind High Prices Anymore,” Alana Semuels wrote that many companies told investors they increased prices and were surprised when consumers didn’t seem to react very strongly.
If internet savviness and numbness to price increases have any weight on the sales process, then it’s now more important than ever to take a hard look at how to use your online marketing to avoid tricky pricing conversations and help set up your sales reps for success.
Set Up for Sales Success
Here are four principles that can help your team avoid those sinking-stomach situations.
- Know who your customers are and who they are not. If you’re trying to be everything to everybody, you’ll end up diluting your message to your most valuable customers and prospects.
Consider your online marketing strategy. Which category of people are you serving? Those in the DIY (do-it-yourself), DWY (done-with-you), or DFY (done-for-you) categories all warrant unique strategies to reach them effectively.
Most of our clients who serve the end consumer with local water-treatment services help the DFY crowd. If you have an e-commerce store, you’re likely serving the DIY folks, and if you are a plumber who installs systems, you’re in the DWY category. Understanding this is key, as each of these types of buyers will have a unique way of searching for what they need and different value drivers that will inform their decisions.
Discuss your ideal audience with your marketing company, and ensure your traffic and keyword strategy is geared toward the audience that will bring in the most valuable traffic to your site. This will save you money in your digital marketing spend, and it will help weed out the tire kickers who really aren’t your target audience.
- Identify what your best customers love about doing business with you, and leverage that in your marketing communication. Unless you just opened your doors, you likely already have customers who have purchased from you. This means you can gather market research to understand why people chose you over your competitors.
- Consider asking your customers the following questions:
- What other options did you explore?
- What were the top three reasons you chose to do business with us?
- What has been your favorite thing about working with us?
- What features or benefits did you find the most valuable?
Did you have any concerns or hesitations about choosing us over our competitors? If yes, how well did we address those concerns?
How did our pricing compare to our competitors’, and how important was pricing in your decision-making process?
Based on these answers, pull out the common threads and identify what’s most important to your customers. You can use this information to ensure you are effectively communicating your value to your ideal prospects throughout your marketing. This information can help you craft better marketing materials, such as a better headline for a Google ad or a value proposition for your social media profile.
You can also use this information to shop your competition and see how their messaging is different from and similar to yours so that you can use the unique aspects of your business to position yourself against competitors.
In their book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, authors Al Ries and Jack Trout highlight a strategic approach to gaining a competitive advantage in the market by leveraging the weaknesses of your competitors: “The first step is to recognize the weakness of the competition. The second step is to take advantage of that weakness. The third step is to make the weakness your own strength.”(1)
At the intersection of customer desires and competitor weakness lies a great opportunity to gain market share and steer clear of the race to the bottom.
- Be adaptable and willing to test your ideas. It’s easy to think we know what our customers want, especially when we have done the hard work of asking our customers what’s important to them. However, assuming we’ve got it right can be a big mistake.
In a world filled with data, why not use data to your advantage to test ideas, follow how effective those ideas are on your bottom line, and use the resulting information to continuously improve?
As Eric Ries succinctly states in his book The Lean Startup, “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.”(2)
- Make doing business with you a pleasure. I recently had to call a credit-monitoring company about a potential issue. I was on the phone for 30 minutes explaining my problem when the rep finally decided he needed to transfer me. After a few minutes with the next person, the call was accidentally ended during yet another transfer. Needless to say, I was livid.
Most of us have been in these situations, and we try hard to avoid giving our customers experiences like these. Yet, no matter how well we do, there’s always room for improvement. The very first human touch point with your company is likely the most important. What are you doing to ensure that interaction exceeds expectations and sets you apart from your competitors right out of the gate?
How can you identify where prospects and customers are leaking out of your marketing and sales funnels so you can patch the holes and create peak experiences instead of pits of despair?
From the initial search online to the final sale and beyond, pricing is just one piece of the puzzle. If all the other pieces are in the right places, your customers and prospects will see the full picture of your offerings and will be excited to do business with you at a profitable price point.
- Al Ries and Jack Trout. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. McGraw Hill, 1981.
- Eric Ries. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Crown Business, 2011.
About the organization
Amanda Crangle and the team at Lamplight Digital Media help residential and commercial water-treatment companies profitably grow their dealerships using digital marketing. They have worked with over 100 water-treatment dealerships spanning North America, managed millions of dollars in ad spend, and performed over 1,000 scientific website split tests. Crangle intimately knows the water industry, having worked in a dealership as a sales rep and as a general manager.