To begin, they sell products and not experiences. Products should be positioned as gateways to experiences. Although all of us have basic values and motivators that drive us, we manifest them differently as we move through the spring, summer, fall and winter of life. Our need for identity, relationships, centering, gaining knowledge and growth, rejuvenation and recreation are always with us, but as we grow older, we focus more on having meaningful experiences, rather than gaining material goods.
In yesteryear’s markets, sales people learned through trial and error that selling the rational marketing triad of product features, functional benefits and monetary value worked. They learned through trial and error that marketing was also a game of persuasion. However, product centered marketing is dead; say Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore in The Experience Economy. Like many others, Pine and Gilmore say marketing is now more about the customer experience than the product.
As important as it is to understand what boomers and older consumers think, it’s even more important to understand how they think. Research has shown that consumers’ final decisions are not the direct product of the reasoning process; in fact, emotions drive boomers and older consumers in their purchase decisions. The reasoning process will confirm their decision, but it doesn’t start there.
Sales people very often start talking about their product’s features and benefits without taking the time to get to know the customer and build the relationship first. This approach is not usually effective, because as we get older we become more resistant to absolute guarantees or propositions. Salespeople should allow the consumer to pull wanted information; never push it at them.
There are also many false stereotypes and myths about aging. The most destructive myth to business is that we become more alike as we age. If we believe it, we are prone to manifest it in our communications and sales approaches. We create a “boomer” market that doesn’t exist and we target the “average” boomer who also doesn’t exist.
In fact, we become less alike and more independent in our thinking as we age. As we age, we develop an increased resistance to hyperbole. We move away from dependence on others and to autonomy and individuality. We value relationships and experiences that are non-material. Salespeople have a better chance of selling a product or service if the customer believes the item offers a gateway to the specific experience they are looking for.
Go with the grain of the brain and integrate your data into an emotional matrix of anecdote and facts to satisfy the customer’s need and gauge the potential emotional and experiential quality of the relationship before talking about the product’s benefits and features. Also, understand that the best way to transmit objective and emotionally neutral information is to piggyback and sandwich it between emotionally enriched stories and anecdotes.
Understand you’re in an emotionally charged environment and take the time to really listen to the customer. Be vulnerable, honest and open about who you really are. The more honest you are, the better your chances are of developing a good solid bond in the relationship.
Finally, companies should sensitize and train their sales and service associates to the different perceptions, values and motivators we all have as we move into the fall and winter of life. Remember what one of the most prolific of sages, Anonymous, once said, “If you have sight, you’re blessed. If you have insight, you’re a thousand times blessed.”