A Socratic Dialogue: Good, Better Best... How do you approach the customer who asks for your least expensive mattress?
Author’s Note: This dialogue is not meant to provide salespeople with a script to be memorized. Its sole purpose is to get salespeople to develop a strategy whenever customers blow the smoke screen of price in their face. It is meant to remind salespeople that price must not be the customer’s primary objective. Nothing is a bargain at any price or at no price, if the customer fails to get the benefits he or she is looking for. We all owe a debt of gratitude to John F. Lawhon. In the matter of good, better, best, some of us consultants are good; some of us consultants are better. In this matter, John F. Lawhon is the best.
All adjectives have three degrees: positive, comparative, and superlative. An example of these degrees is the adjective on which this article focuses: good, better, best. It was John F. Lawhon, who more than any other author I know, emphasized that customers buy only what they perceive as best. Good and better do not win the cigar. Neither good nor better are good or better enough.
If it is true that customers buy only what they perceive to be the best (one author refers to this as the principle of differentiation) it follows that salespeople must become skilled at getting their customers to see one of their products as the best. But what does that skill entail?
This article aims at demonstrating that skill by way of a fictitious scenario, a Socratic dialogue. In this scenario, a customer starts out by asking to see the salesperson’s cheapest mattress. Never mind, he feels, that he has spent his recent nights in sleepless tossing and turning only to wake up with lower backaches and pains. He insists on being shown the cheapest mattress. Let’s listen as this dialogue unfolds.
Salesperson: I imagine that your present mattress is giving you a pretty good night’s sleep.
Customer: (With a puzzled look) Why do you say that?
Salesperson: Well, if your mattress were giving you a poor night’s sleep, logically your opening words should have been you were looking for a mattress that could provide you with a good night’s sleep night after night. Next you would have added you were looking for this mattress at the lowest possible price.
Customer: I don’t follow you.
Salesperson: Let me more or less repeat what I said. First of all, If your old mattress were giving you a good night’s sleep, you wouldn’t be looking to replace it. Since you are looking to replace it, your opening statement should have been you were looking for a mattress that could give you a good night’s sleep at the cheapest price. Does that make sense?
Customer: I need to think about that.
Salesperson: That’s exactly what you need to do. While we are on the subject of thinking, would you agree that your primary objective today is to get a mattress that provides you with the kind of sleep you’re not presently getting on your old mattress?
Customer: I agree.
Salesperson: Good. And do you also agree that your secondary objective is to find that mattress at the lowest possible price?
Customer: That makes sense.
Salesperson: Even if that right mattress may not turn out to be the lowest priced mattress in my store?
Customer: Sure, provided that mattress is at the lowest possible price.
Salesperson: It is now my turn to agree with you. You see, my friend, if you simply bought my cheapest mattress and it failed to be any better than the mattress you now sleep on, the cheapest mattress would turn out to be a total waste of your money.
Customer: It certainly would be.
Salesperson: And even if I were to deliver you a free mattress that failed to give you a good night’s sleep, that free mattress would be no bargain.
Customer: You mean I’d be replacing one bad headache with another equally bad.
Salesperson: Well put. You now see clearly that merely saving money is not your primary objective. In fact, if that were your primary objective, you’d run the risk of replacing one bad headache with another equally bad.
Customer: Most certainly.
Salesperson: Furthermore, if merely saving money were your only objective, why you’d be best advised to keep sleeping on your old mattress because it is already paid for and would not cost you one more cent.
Customer: You mean the one I now have is my cheapest mattress. But how do we go about finding the best mattress at the cheapest price?
Salesperson: First, by doing what you just said, finding it together, that is, by becoming side-by-side buyers.
Customer: I like that.
Salesperson: You see, Sir, I know my mattresses; you know your comfort level.
Customer: You mean it’s your knowledge, but it’s my back.
Salesperson: Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Customer: Let’s see if I’ve understood you clearly. I shouldn’t be looking for a mattress that is as good as the one I now have, and I shouldn’t even be looking for one that is simply better than the one I now have. I should be looking for the best mattress.
Salesperson: You left out one important thing.
Customer: What’s that?
Salesperson: At the lowest possible price.
Customer: Gotcha. All this really means is what my Gran'pa always told me: “When you buy quality, you cry only once.”
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to him care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.