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The customer is always right. Well, probably…

'Installation International' columnist Ian McMurray offers a solution to the perennial problem of how to steer a client away from the poor-value system they've decided is perfect for their needs.

‘Installation International’ columnist Ian McMurray offers a solution to the perennial problem of how to steer a client away from the poor-value system they’ve decided is perfect for their needs.

When I was much younger, I worked for a brief period of time for a (now defunct) nationwide chain of electrical stores in one of their high street outlets. One of the lessons that has always stuck with me was when Tony, the store manager, told me: “Ian – if a customer comes in and asks you to tell them about the Ultra TV, tell them about it. Don’t try and tell them about something you think is better. They’ll just go down the road to Wadley’s and buy the Ultra TV there.”

He was right, of course. When we’ve made up our mind about what we want to buy, we typically don’t want guidance – we want approval and affirmation. We want to hear someone – especially a ‘professional’ – endorse our decision.

But while that may be sound business sense when you’re selling TVs, is it equally sound when you’re selling sophisticated audiovisual systems for the home? If the customer claims to know what they want, are you doing yourself a disservice – and possibly doing yourself out of a sale – by trying to convince them that they really want something different?

After all, you’re the professional. You know what’s out there, what can be done, what the pitfalls are of going in the direction they want to, how they could achieve better results. A reasonable customer – and I’ve heard that they do indeed exist – should listen, and take onboard your advice.

There’s also the entirely practical issue that you could sell them what they want – but if what they want isn’t really viable, or if you know they’ll end up being unhappy with it, you know you’ll suffer the consequences of having a dissatisfied customer on your hands.

It’s “rock and a hard place” time. Try to change your customer’s mind, and there’s the risk they’ll walk into the arms of a competitor. Sell them what they want, and there’s the danger that any profit you’ve made on the sale will be consumed by ongoing support.

Having spent more of my life than I care to remember in sales training classes – both receiving and giving – there is a classical answer to the problem. The key is to understand why the customer wants what they think they want. Confirm that they’ve made a good choice – never, ever disparage it. But then lead them gently forwards. “Had you thought about…?” “What would you do if…?” You’re not destroying their choice – you’re building on it and developing it.

The fact is that, for all we may like to pretend otherwise, customers are often wrong. The art is to lure them to the side of rightness – and make them feel good about their journey. It is only the most cynical of salespeople – perhaps like my manager, Tony – who will allow a customer to buy something that’s not the best thing they could have bought for their money.

Ian McMurray is an AV industry veteran and a regular contributor to the pages of ‘Installation Europe’, ‘Residential Systems Europe’ and ‘The ISE Daily’.