On the brilliant “Open Forum” marketing website by American Express, Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs (also a great resource for marketers) and author of the new bestseller “Content Rules,” posed the question, “What’s your response to ‘I can get it cheaper on the Internet?’” She wrote about her homebuilder friend who refused to give in to pressure to reduce his prices to match those found online and cited the extra value he brings. He concluded his response with a bit of snark:
“Ask anyone about our reputation, follow-up and expertise. At this point, because you don’t seem to trust me, I think you should now become your own ‘appliance guy.’ Did you ever hear the term ‘value-add’? Good luck.”
Ann acknowledged that her friend was never going to get business from this person, but asserted that he still lost a big opportunity.
“Today’s customers are smart. They are informed. They are sophisticated in how they are researching major decisions. They very clearly know their options. They know appliance pricing as well as Armen does. So if you are a company squeezed by internet retailers on price, how can you respond?”
Here are 4 ways Armen might have responded more effectively:
1. Always take the high road
In a world where everybody is instantly connected to everybody else, you have to be very careful what you say. In the end, how many people beyond the potential customer saw Ann’s friend’s response and were offended? (For a cautionary tale, consider the closing of Cooks Source Magazine.)
A better response might have been:
“Thank you so much for your interest. Of course, different people value different things. Some put a value on the added service and attention to detail that we bring. Others might put a larger value on price. For the former group, we are a great match. For example, a low-cost supplier might not be willing to deliver your appliances exactly when you need them or bring them inside the house. They certainly would be less proactive than we are in making sure you get exactly what you need. They probably would never look at your actual plans. They might not even take care of you if the merchandise shows up damaged. You can be sure we do all of that and more. But, like I wrote earlier, in some circumstances price is the overriding factor and we understand that. If that is the case for you, we may not be your ideal match.
Best of luck to you with your project and let us know if we can be of service in the future.”
2. Start a blog
If Armen publishes content on a blog, available for all the world to see, he may receive fewer inquiries like this one. As Ann pointed out, in today’s world, the sales funnel doesn’t begin with a phone call — it begins online. Only after a person has done some homework does she then contact the vendor for more information. By doing a better job of educating your potential customers within their own timetables, the fewer mismatches you’ll have. The people who don’t value what you provide won’t waste your time calling you in the first place and you can focus on the business you’re more likely to close.
3. Develop a “FAQ” 1-Pager
As Ann rightfully points out, this can’t be the first time Armen has faced this issue. Yet, Armen’s response seemed emotional and “fed up.” Instead — and at a time when he’s less aggravated — it would be opportune for Armen to arm himself with a 1-page FAQ document about his experience and his practices, which could be available both as a physical leave-behind, a downloadable PDF, and a standard email response . The document could be named proactively, like “The Top Five Reasons We Are Not The Lowest Priced Vendor.” This would also make a great blog post.
4. Create a permission-based “bottom feeder” email list
In Armen’s case, those for whom price is the deciding factor may not be his ideal customers. But, what if he collected a list of price-sensitive customers that could be notified by email whenever he was running a discounted promotion? Perhaps he has some older model appliances he’s looking to offload, and he’d be willing to sell them cheap. He doesn’t necessarily want to offer those to his less price-sensitive customers because he may inadvertently cause them to over-focus on price in the future. But, if he had the ability to easily make an offer to those potential customers he might never have sold to otherwise, he might find a chance to — in time — convert a “bottom-feeder” lead into someone who actually appreciates the extra value he offers. But without developing a list of those leads, the opportunity is gone.
Ultimately, price is a sticking point for most customers. Now that anyone can learn what you and your five closest competitors are charging with the press of a button, your status as anything other than the cheapest option must be articulated and justified. It’s not that people are averse to paying more; they just want to know why they should. (And if you can’t convince them that you’re worth it… well, maybe it’s time to re-examine your added value after all.)