“Don’t Sell the Steak — Sell the Sizzle!” Tested Sentences That Sell, Elmer Wheeler (1937)
True story: Several years ago I was in Vegas attending CES and was out to dinner at a fancy steakhouse. When the waiter came around to take our order, he asked if anyone at the table would care to try an appetizer. “Perhaps our duck fat fries?”
“Duck…fat…fries…?” I repeated, confused, curious.
“Yes. Duck fat fries,” he repeated, as if that explained everything.
“What are duck fat fries?” I countered.
“They are fries. Cooked. In duck fat.”
The waiter could not have done a better job of removing any sizzle—or desire—from that dish. Instead of describing them as light and crispy and decadent and a gourmet take on the classic fry, he merely repeated what they were. Which, frankly, didn’t sound appetizing. At all.
The other day I had a real eye-opening experience from the customer’s perspective. I needed a new battery for my wife’s SUV. Now, car batteries are not anything I know about. I figure there is a size and maybe a voltage and, I don’t know, some rating of cranking or lasting power? I don’t know. And, frankly, I don’t really care. I don’t want to know about batteries. What I did know is that lately my wife’s SUV was having difficulty starting and I was concerned that she would be stranded while going to pick up our daughter from school, so I needed a battery and I wanted a good one.
And I also knew that I wanted the battery guy to be the expert on batteries and for him to tell me the one to get so I could get on with enjoying the battery—which in this case meant me no longer having to hear or worry about how the battery *wasn’t* working—and forgetting any battery knowledge that I had inadvertently acquired.
So, I entered the Advanced Auto Parts store armed with the same, basic-level lack of knowledge as many of the customers that we deal with on a daily basis.
I told the salesman my needs/concerns, and he led me to a wall of batteries that, to my untrained eye, looked like rows of identical black cubes covered with different colored stickers. As we’re standing there, the salesman began asking me about my cranking power needs and how many devices we plugged into the cigarette lighter and blah-blah, and he finally just points to one and says, “This is the right battery for you. It has a 3-year warranty and has the highest reserve cranking power to ensure that the car will always start. Even if your wife is sitting for a while listening to the radio with the car off while waiting to pick up your daughter, it will always start.”
That was the exact sizzle that I wanted in a battery. And the guy got an instant sale.
As AV professionals, it’s easy for us to get excited about amplifier specs, and driver sizes and contrast ratios and the latest this-or-that, but the truth is, the vast majority of clients don’t care anything about those things. Customers don’t come into our stores looking for specs and numbers and technical figures pulled from memorized white papers; they want the product or system that gets them to the desired end-result: a better movie watching experience, a better way to enjoy their music, how the system will improve their lives.
One who truly understood the “sell the lifestyle” approach was Steve Jobs. Take this quote from Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography:
“It was designed to celebrate not what the computers could do, but what creative people could do with the computers. ‘This wasn’t about processor speed or memory,’ Jobs recalled. ‘It was about creativity.’”
Another company that really gets selling the experience is Bose. Like them or not, a walk through one of the company’s showrooms can be a terrific education in lifestyle sales technique. You won’t hear sales people talking about driver size, amplifier power or frequency response. Rather, you’ll hear about the amazing sound, ease of operation and form factor so small it can disappear into any room. That’s lifestyle. That’s what (many) people care about.
As an industry, we seem to have this concept down best when it comes to selling universal remote controls. We don’t pitch button size and layout or processor memory or the ability to program nested macros and complicated Boolean variables and two-way RS-232 feedback. Installers care about that, customers don’t. What end-users care about is the sizzle—how the remote will improve their lifestyle by making it easier for them to use and enjoy the system.
We need to step back and remember that to our typical customer, receivers, speakers, subwoofers and TVs all look pretty much the same… like that battery wall “of identical black cubes covered with different colored stickers.” As AV professionals surrounded and swept up in all of the cool, great gear that we work with, we sometimes get stuck on the techno mumbo-jumbo that excites us, but may find ourselves inadvertently trying to sell people the AV equivalent of “fries cooked in duck fat.”
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.