“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I’m having an ongoing e-mail argument with two colleagues about selling homes in our beautiful seaside community on the Pacific Ocean in Nicaragua.  It began with a letter written for prospective customers that described a near drowning in the surf. This is the surf we are trying to sell, mind you — the same surf that we are asking customers to shell out big bucks to swim in themselves.

“I can’t see how hearing about a near drowning is going to attract buyers,” I told them.

“You don’t understand our clientele,” they explained. “They really appreciate our telling it like it is. They feel they can trust us, and they like that.”

Yeah, sure.

What’s really going on here? A literary impulse gone wild? Some sort of confessional instinct played out in business communications? Or is it just a dumb mistake?

Probably all of the above.

If you want to develop a lasting relationship with your customers, you can’t be trying to sell them something every single time you speak to them. No matter how good you are at selling, your customers will always figure out what your basic motivation is — whether it’s to help them or to sell them.

When you are in the business of selling a retirement community, as my two colleagues are, your relationship with your customers must be about more than just the benefits of buying land. For it to last a long time and develop into something substantial, it must be about helping them benefit from their experiences.

It could be argued that warning potential customers about the dangers of drowning (in front of a beachfront house) is a benefit — but it is not the benefit that customers are looking to buy. Yes, it may let them know that you are not “all about selling,” but it will, at the same time, dampen (or even kill) any kindled desire they may have to invest in the property.

The fundamental equation doesn’t change. We all want to believe that the next thing we purchase will take away our pain and fill our souls with bliss. And although we are smart enough to acknowledge, if asked, that nothing we buy is likely to do that, that doesn’t mean we want to have our illusions shattered either.

Get real. When you are in business, your job is to sell. If your business is good, you will be providing good value for a fair price. If you are doing that — providing something valuable at a good price — you should do it enthusiastically and without hesitation. You should:

  • Make promises.
  • List benefits.
  • Create attractive images.

Anything else you may be tempted to do — such as scare your customer, warn him, confuse him, or educate him — is completely unnecessary. And more often than not, it will thwart (see “Word to the Wise,” below) the sales process.

Experienced marketers are the last to see the badness in their own marketing, because they already know the rules and have done the deeds. You can’t tell them anything. They’ve been there and back. But when their businesses break down because of such indulgences — and every business will if given a chance — they begin to look for answers.

That’s when they are willing to listen — when they are already hanging from a limb, perched over the precipice of disaster. Still, late is better than never. And when someone does suggest “Why don’t you go back to the basics?” they are suddenly astounded and enormously appreciative of the amazing insight they’ve been given.

I’m not playing “holier than thou” here. I’m as guilty of this marketing hubris as anyone else. What has the great Michael Masterson done lately to boost sales? Let’s talk about something else. It’s natural to drift away from the basics. After all, we are intelligent, complicated beings. Who would be content to bang away on the same six bongos year after year when there is an entire orchestra of instruments waiting to be played?

Intelligent marketers have the advantage of being able to see patterns that their less-gifted colleagues fail to notice. They learn quickly and often rise like shooting stars.

But unless they stick to the basics, they may find that their advertising isn’t working anymore. And if they take the time to figure out why, they may discover that they simply forgot the most important marketing “secret” they ever learned: When it comes to selling, simplicity is always the best course of action.

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