By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
"Home entertainment" is increasingly becoming a commodity business. National chains are buying up independent specialty retailers. Hard drive music servers, home networking, and Internet-provided content are giving computer makers a foot-in-the-door. And new technologies and distribution channels continue to drive down retail prices and profit margins.
Home theater and custom install were once safe havens for specialty retailers. But now they're under direct attack, as online "professional" distributors sell plasma screens directly to the public at wholesale prices and consumers can find dozens of "expert opinions" at the click of a mouse.
Soon cable and satellite providers will be offering inexpensive wireless whole-house multimedia systems directly to consumers.
What's a specialty retailer to do? The answer is to focus on your strengths. Play to those areas where you have a distinct advantage.
But where do those advantages lie?
Selling on price is clearly not the answer. There's always someone, somewhere, with lower overhead, greater buying power, or who is simply unaware that his prices are too low to sustain his business.
Feature-based selling is no better. There may have been a time when a laundry list of features in the hands of an expert salesperson could intimidate some people into buying. But today a longer feature list is never more than a mouse click away.
In fact, feature based selling has always been a dubious technique. Cataloguing features and specifications overwhelms and confuses customers. No product has every feature. When you dwell on features it puts the customer in the position of deciding which ones he is willing to give up, even when he doesn't understand their benefits. And customers don't buy when their attention is on what they're giving up.
If your competitive advantage is not in selling on price or features, then where is it? You already know the answer. In fact, it's what most of you used to do. Your distinct, and arguably insurmountable, advantage is in demonstrating performance.
No matter what anyone claims, it can't be done on a Web page. Big-box retailers lack the facilities, product, and expertise. And even many "specialty retailers" are neglecting it. It's time to rediscover and work on your edge.
This approach is known as performance-based selling. It all comes down to this: A convincing demonstration of great performance establishes your credibility and authority, shuts out your competition, and builds the emotional excitement that's essential to closing sales.
Here are the Eight Golden Rules of performance-based selling:
Get right to the demo. Opening a sale by demonstrating performance is the quickest way to show a customer "what's in it" for him or her. Provide technical information only as needed by the customer. The need will be evident by the type of questions the customer asks.
Be wary of the customers who insist on knowing everything. These customers have probably done some homework. Unlike you, your customer only needs to know about one product on which he can become an "expert" after only a few hours on the Web.
Entering into a duel of wits with this customer is a no-win situation where you'll lose his respect and risk embarrassing both of you. Embarrassed customers don't buy. The easiest way to avoid this trap is to move as rapidly as you can into a performance demonstration.
Set the stage, set the mood. Remember, this is show biz. You are selling the excitement of home entertainment. Have fun yourself — your own enthusiasm will be infectious.
Script the demo. A successful courtroom lawyer never asks a question unless he already knows how it will be answered. And a successful salesperson never performs a demonstration unless he already knows the intended emotional impact of each and every movie clip or CD track.
You should map out every track on every disc you plan to play. You should know the purpose each track plays in the demo. Avoid letting customers play their own discs until after you've completed your demonstration and made the points you want to make.
Sweat the details. Demonstrations should be set-up and ready to go at all times. Projectors should be properly converged and focused, and speakers should be positioned, wired in-phase and solidly spiked.
Effective retail means never making excuses. This attitude should be carried through right into the customer's home. The message should be "Our systems sound better and work better because we carefully select our products and know how to properly set up the system for optimum performance."
Practice, practice, practice. An amateur magician performs an ever-changing assortment of tricks for the same audience of friends and relatives, rarely perfecting an old trick before moving on to a new one. A professional magician performs a small number of tricks over and over and over again for new audiences.
By repeating the same scripted demonstrations in front of as many customers as possible you will eventually encounter nearly every possible customer reaction and question. You'll learn how to anticipate these and develop responses that lead to sales, not walks. You'll never get bored with your scripted demo when you're receiving the ultimate customer affirmation – the sale.
Simplify the demonstration. It's very difficult to make comparative demonstrations of home theater systems. We know one retailer whose typical home theater demo ends with "Okay, now it's time to select your speakers." At this point he takes his customer into a two-channel demo room and explains that it's much too difficult to choose the right speakers with the distractions of the video screen and the occasional bullet streaking past your head.
He continues, "We always recommend making an important decision like this by listening to music on the main left and right speakers. It's less confusing and much more revealing than the compressed audio in movie sound tracks. We've learned that when you select your speakers this way they will bring you the greatest long-term satisfaction."
If it doesn't perform better, it isn't better. If you can't confidently demonstrate that a given component or system is better than another, you need to reevaluate your choice of products, your system set up, and/or your demonstration techniques. It really is that simple. If you can't demonstrate that a product is better, then it isn't. This applies to stores as well as products. A store that doesn't perform better isn't better either.
Performance is defined by the customer. We hope you feel an obligation to introduce your customers to great audio and video performance. Many customers will have no idea how exciting this experience can be before you make your demonstration.
But we close with one caveat: Ultimately it's the customer who defines exactly what constitutes "performance." For some customers the ability to switch the system off from the bedroom may be every bit as important as the musical performance. Focusing on demonstrating performance does not relieve you from the obligation of listening to the customer.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.