I bet this has happened to you before. You walk into your kitchen, and your child or your spouse starts talking to you, only you’re not really sure what they’re talking about. They’re mentioning dates or prices or telling you what you should bring, but you have no context for any of that information. It could be about anything from grocery shopping to taking a road trip to Georgia.
It takes awhile but eventually you usually get enough pieces of information for that “Aha – I know what they’re talking about” moment.
That’s what happens when you give people too little context. It doesn’t make for a very productive conversation.
If my wife is trying to tell me something, I will invest the time to put her words in context as she’s important to me.
If I am talking with a sales person, visiting a website or a trade show booth, I am more likely to tune it out and walk away if there is no context. When you forget the need to set the context, you are making me do your work.
The result is that I will not make the change you want or I will look for a competitor who knows how to make it easier for me.
I see this happen too frequently as building materials companies try to sell their products. On ride alongs with sales people, I see how quickly the customer’s body language shows me they are not interested. They will politely let the rep talk for the rest of the call, but they mentally left the meeting in the first two minutes.
The same thing happens with websites where people will leave your site within five seconds if they don’t “get it.”
Here are a few ways context matters for your sales and marketing.
Don’t Start Your Sales Call in the Middle
I frequently ride along with building material salespeople to observe their sales calls. And often what I see is salespeople skipping the context altogether.
Skipping the context means jumping right to the product features and the benefits of using the product.
But that’s starting the sales call in the middle, not at the beginning.
It’s like they think the customer is looking at products in a vacuum – like they never bought any building materials before and they’re about to do it for the first time.
You’re not the first product they’re buying. If you’re trying to sell to someone, they’re already using a competitor’s building materials. That’s the context you need to address. You’re not trying to show them that your product is great; you’re trying to show them that your product is a better solution than the one they’re currently using.
Instead of starting your sales call in the middle, start where the customer is. Talk about the product they’re currently using, what they’re getting out of it but also the limitations of using that product. Then, you can show them how your product is a better solution and how it could overcome some of the challenges they’re facing with the materials they’re currently using.
I’ve seen the same problem in a lot of marketing copy, too. You’ll get lists of features and some bold claim about the product being better.
But unless you’re giving the customer some context for your product by comparing it to what they’re already using, they’re not likely to care. If you’re just throwing product features at them, they’ll probably shrug and think “The materials I use now are just fine.” It’s your job to make them realize they’re not, but you won’t be able to without discussing what they’re currently using.
Context Makes the Customer Feel Smarter
Skipping right to the middle and praising your product’s features has another unintended consequence: it makes the customer feel kind of stupid.
Bragging about your product’s features and acting like it’s the only good item on the market can give your customer the impression that they had poor judgment. Instead of thinking about how great your product is, they’re more likely to be kicking themselves for having built so many homes or commercial buildings without superior moisture control or energy-efficient insulation.
That probably won’t translate to a sale. Making the customer feel stupid puts them on the defensive. And that makes selling them a lot harder.
What should you do instead? You guessed it: give them context for their decision.
Most architects, builders, and contractors choose their products carefully. Even if they’re using a product that’s inferior to yours, they probably had a good reason for purchasing it. Instead of starting with how great your product is, hone in on that good reason.
Tell them why it made perfect sense for them to select the product they’re currently using. Maybe it was the best option before yours came along. Maybe it met all the owner’s needs at the time, but now the demand for healthy building is increasing. Or maybe it looked like the best value on paper, but after discovering installation problems or how much labor it requires, it hasn’t been saving them much money at all.
Whatever the reason, use it to set the scene. Tell them why their initial choice made sense. Making them feel smart will put them at ease and make them feel much more relaxed. A relaxed customer will be ready to talk about your product.
With the context in place, you can tell them why your product is a smarter choice without having to make them feel stupid for not buying it in the first place.
Use Context to Create Focus
Who are you selling to?
That’s one of the first questions you should be asking yourself before you put together marketing materials, e-mail a prospect, or head out to a trade show.
Too many sales and marketing people think the answer to that question is “everyone.”
It usually comes from being a little risk-averse. If you’re selling windows that could be used in almost any building, but you pitch them as an ideal choice for hotels, it might cost you a sale from a developer looking to build strip malls.
But the real risk is not that you’re so narrow you lose a sale from a prospect. The real risk is having so little focus that you lose sales from just about everyone.
Trying to sell to everyone means you’re selling to no one in particular. When you do that, every prospect or customer has to connect the dots for themselves. You give them product features and tell them the product is great; then they have to figure out whether it really would work for the kind of building they’re looking to construct.
Most people are too busy to connect the dots. If you’re making them do all that mental work, they’ll either just stick with the product they’re using, or they’ll look for a manufacturer that will connect the dots for them.
Connecting the dots is all about creating a context. You’re not just telling the customer that you have a great product for sale – you’re showing them how great your product would work in a hotel (or a high-rise apartment, or an office building, or what have you). They don’t have to figure out whether your product will work for them because you’ve shown them that it does.
Will you lose apartment complex sales if you’re making your message all about hotels? Maybe. But you’ll more than makeup for it by the number of hotel sales you’ll make.
Remember that you’re not the only building material product on the block. You’re selling to people who:
· Are already using a product
· Had a good reason for buying that product
· Need building materials for a very particular purpose
You need to address that context. If you set the scene properly, the customer will be a lot more receptive to your message.
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“Great article Mark. Helped me reaffirm some of what I’m doing and gave me food for thought. Thanks!”
Grazyna Cumming National Marketing Manager
“I have read quite a few of your blog posts and emails and I have to say that this is one of your best. Great job!”