Okay, so maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but give me a minute to explain.
My first job in the mattress industry was with Sealy as a Stearns and Foster Representative in Jacksonville, Florida. My first few weeks on the job were spent at Sealy University learning about mattresses. This class was led by Nat Bernstein and Troy Danahey who put on a fantastic training program. So for one of our first exercises, they led us into this large showroom filled with about 20 beds, all covered by sheets and numbered from 1-20. We were told to test each bed and then rank them from most expensive to the least expensive. I took great care in doing this so I could prove that my butt was price sensitive. When the big reveal came, everybody failed miserably. I rated the most expensive bed to be the softest and the least expensive bed to be the most firm because the plush beds were my favorites. Every single person in that class took a similar approach. Isn’t this how our consumers see it?
If you ask the consumer, comfort is the number one thing that they consider when buying a bed, so you have to make a good product. But here is the catch, every single customer that walks into a mattress store is probably going to have their own ideas on how to rank the beds in that store just like we did in our class. If all we do is Comfort Sell (thank you, Nat and Troy, for a great concept in its day), isn’t there a disconnect with the consumer? If she thinks that bed #3 has a better feel than the more expensive bed #5, why shouldn’t she buy it? This sounds like an easy question but ask some retail sales associates and see how many answers you get.
My point is that we have pushed and trained so hard on only selling comfort to keep it simple, that many have lost sight of giving the retail sales force real “meat on the bone” to help them justify bed #3 over bed #5. We used to talk more about what was inside of the bed and how they were made. I know it is very convenient for me to say this given my current position with a component manufacturer, but give this some thought. Has our consumer changed in the last few years? Is it tougher to sell them up than ever before? Are they more willing to accept the “good enough” bed now instead of going for the higher priced product? Most of the marketing research says that this is true, and based on what I am seeing, it is real for us in the mattress industry. So what are we doing about it?
During my first year out of college, my job was to conduct sales training all over the U.S. for many different kinds of companies – companies that sold a wide range of products like insurance, cars, investment products and even fork lifts. Even though the products were so different, the one thing that never changed during my training was the part about building value. This translates to every company out there trying to sell their stuff. If the PRICE is perceived to be greater than the value of the products you are selling, then nothing happens. If on the other hand, the VALUE of what you are selling is perceived to be greater than the price you are asking, then a sale takes place. (Thank you, Brian Tracy.) You can debate it all you want but it really is this simple.
Here is the question of the day…Are we building enough value in what we sell? Do we talk about value in our point of sale? Do we train retail sales associates on it? Is it in our advertising? Is it on our websites? If a consumer is debating a $999 bed over a $799 bed, how are we helping them make that decision? At that point, we are trying to justify $200 so what is the story? If you tell me that comfort is the reason for the more expensive bed, and then take into consideration the new mindset of the consumer, I would tell you that you have more work to do justifying the PERCEIVED value.
There are some out there that do a great job of this and I would imagine that they are seeing some positive results. We have to swing the door in our retail advertising but at the same time keep it simple at the point of sale so we are not giving consumers industry tech speak in our sales approach. HOWEVER, there is some room to talk to the consumer about what goes inside of that bed and give them some details to help justify that purchase.
Remember…your customers perception is YOUR reality!