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Getting Customers To See The Invisible Feature


Whether you sell tangibles or intangibles, most of your product's advantages are not clearly on the surface. So the secret is Getting Customers To See The Invisible Feature. Stan Adler gives us excellent advice on how to do this, in this free excerpt from his top-selling book: The Zen of Selling.

The feature that sells the product is often invisible until the customer notices it. It sometimes takes a customer's viewpoint to point out the efficiency of a particular lever, the convenience of a special service, or the uniqueness of a piece of property.

When the customer spots that favorite feature, he will make a favorable comment, raise an eyebrow, or simply smile. If you are where you should be -- fully present, focusing without trying too hard -- you will immediately see what your customer sees, and will, almost intuitively, understand how the feature fits into the whole idea of what you're selling.

You will respond in the same way you would to a friend who had called your attention to something wonderful that you had missed: with appreciation and acknowledgment that you both like the same details. As a result, the customer relates to the product personally because you understand his observations.

It is important to realize that your response is what makes you someone special in the eyes of the customer. By being where the customer is, listening, acknowledging, fully participating in the natural flow of a conversation -- in other words, by being yourself with someone else -- you are facilitating the flow of a common idea. You are saying, in effect, "I know why you like this and want to do this, and here's how we can do it."



Victor's friend Jennifer was a high-powered real estate agent, but she expressed her assertiveness in such a way that it was interpreted by clients as "the personal touch." By no coincidence, that was also the slogan on her business card. Jennifer often said the best way to maintain her own personal balance was to hold someone else's hand, the customer's, and guide him or her through the sales process one step at a time. Making every step count was the challenge.

Jennifer related to her customers so effectively that she often created the feeling of a greater intimacy than actually existed. In fact, it wasn't unusual for customers to get just a little bit jealous when they found out she gave her other customers the same special consideration they had received.

Most of her business was by referral. She opted for no floor time and had other agents handle open houses for her unless they were located in a neighborhood that she had staked out as her "farm." She attended the weekly sales meeting, but otherwise tried to stay away from the office and all the grousing, ego grooming, and politicking that went on there. Whenever she needed to catch up on paperwork, she had a fully-equipped home office.

One evening, she was in that home office installing a new software program when Jeff, a longtime acquaintance, called with a surprising request. "Mom wants to buy a condominium."

Jeff's mother, Deborah, was a very special woman, someone for whom Jennifer had tremendous respect. Now in her late seventies, Deborah had been a very influential person in the days when Hollywood was an entertainment empire without precedent and Los Angeles was becoming a city. She had been friends with two of America's greatest novelists, and had advised one of them to return to the South while his genius was still intact; she had dined with the stars, Gable, Grant, and Bergman, to name just a few; and she was a political activist, environmentalist, and lady of letters in her own right. Whenever she attended a social occasion, Deborah would always be surrounded by the most distinguished people at the party.

Deborah currently owned an estate in the wine country, and Jennifer had assumed she intended to stay there forever. But now, Jeff explained, she wanted to move closer to her son and his family. In particular, she had mentioned Tiburon . . . something with an ocean view. But it had to be the perfect place.

Jennifer could think of no other person for whom she would rather find the perfect place. At the same time, she could think of no person whose standards were higher, or no area where finding the perfect place would be so difficult. It was going to be quite a challenge. Jennifer took a deep breath and calmly assured Jeff she would begin the search immediately.

The next morning, she wasn't surprised to learn there were no bayfront condos available in Tiburon. Getting a Tiburon condominium by the Bay was about as easy as getting a berth at the San Francisco Yacht Club -- who knows, something might open up in six or eight years.

All of this meant one thing to Jennifer -- don't give up; stay in touch with that exclusive little share of the marketplace. She was determined to deliver on her promise to find the perfect place for the woman she held in such high regard. It would be an opportunity to do something special for some very good friends. It would be like doing a performance with your best friend sitting in the front row, or painting the portrait of someone you had long admired without ever having had the opportunity to tell them so.

Two months later, rather to her amazement, Jennifer found a new listing in Tiburon. The writeup was promising: "Truly one of the best. Upper end unit on the bayside with wonderful light and a superb San Francisco view . . . " It sounded perfect on paper. Jennifer immediately previewed it and, to her surprise, it was even better than it had sounded. It met every requirement that Jeff had specified.

She called Jeff and told him the good news. They made arrangements to meet in Tiburon the next day. Jeff was thoroughly impressed with the condo, and his wife Bonnie and their children loved it even more than he did. They knew it was perfect for Deborah.

The following afternoon, Jeff drove his mother down to see the condo. Jennifer and Jeff's family were waiting for them outside. Deborah greeted everyone individually, and gently laying her hand on Jennifer's forearm, she said, "I hope you haven't gone to too much trouble to find me something." Then she smiled the smile that was always a compliment to the recipient. "Well, I suppose you are all waiting for me. Let's take a look."

Leading the way up the stairs, Deborah stopped suddenly, bent down, and picked up a purple petal. "Look," she exclaimed with delight, "it's so beautiful. It's such a royal color." Delicate petals of floppy purple blossoms were strewn and crumpled on the stairs. They had fallen from the tree that grew beside the staircase. "They're everywhere," Deborah said, handing Jennifer the petal, "like so many rose petals."

"It's so soft," Jennifer said, "like some kind of fabric."

"Yes," Deborah murmured as she stepped into the entry hall, "like silk."

As her family toured the house, happily discovering an array of features, comforts, and advantages in every room, Deborah followed quietly. She smiled gently, but said little, as they pointed out the quality of the carpets, the placement of the skylights, the elegance of the custom-made shutters, and the recessed marble fireplace in the living room.

In the living room Deborah, a petite figure, made her first real comment. She looked around her and then up at the high ceilings and said, "I feel so small."

"But, Mother, look at the light," Jeff answered.

"Deborah, come out on the balcony," Bonnie said. "You have to look at this view!"

Jennifer joined the others on the balcony and, with her practiced agent's eye, noted that it was protected from the wind on both sides and glassed in below the railing. The view was indeed magnificent: A gentle swell of green grass extended a few hundred feet to a narrow road bordering the shoreline. Next to the road was a walking path, and then the gentle lapping surf and expansive clarity of the Bay cradled between Angel Island and Belvedere Island, showcasing a view of the skyline on the other side of San Francisco Bay.

Standing next to the railing, wearing a sober, almost worried expression, Deborah said without enthusiasm, "Yes, it is a grand view." Then she leaned slightly forward and looked down below. There was a smile on her face when she turned back. "Look at that," she said with real pleasure. "Isn't that nice? A tree just like the one in front."

Everyone looked over the railing at the tree with purple blossoms.

"Jennifer, do you know what variety of tree that is?" she asked.

"I'm sorry, Deborah, I don't. But I'll find out."

Bonnie opened the sliding doors on the other side of the living room and invited Deborah to look at the view from this angle. With her same quiet smile, Deborah said, "Yes, dear, I can see it from here. The tree, Jennifer, you must be sure to find out the type of tree. Just for me."

After the tour, Jeff helped his mother into his car and walked back to say goodbye to Jennifer. As they shook hands in farewell, Jennifer whispered, "Does she like it?"

"I can't really tell," Jeff answered. "We'll have a chance to talk some more on the drive back, and I'll call you tonight."

That evening, between trivial tasks like filling the paper-clip dispenser and arranging her pencils and pens, Jennifer paced her office as she waited for the call. When the phone finally did ring, she jumped.

Jeff's first sentence was a tense question. "Jennifer, remember the tree that Mother liked? Do you know the name of that tree?"

The first thing she had done upon getting home was to call Victor. "Yes, it's a pleroma, sometimes called princess flower. Native to Brazil."

"Wonderful," he said with a sigh of relief. "Mother wants the pleroma tree, and the condo that goes with it."


The next day Victor called Jennifer to find out if his horticultural tip had made any difference.

"I'll say it did. The tree that Deborah showed me, and that you later identified, sold the house."

He chuckled and replied, "Maybe next time you'll run across a wishing well that will make things even easier."

The response on the other end of the line was not what he expected.

In a serious tone Jennifer said, "Victor, I'm serious. This is one of my very favorite sales, but I really don't feel like I can take credit for it."

"Of course you can. You're just not looking in the right place. Following a sale there should of course be time for looking around and understanding all the things that sold the product, sorting through the things that you did and the things that other people did. You should allot a modest amount of time to identifying the features that kept the customer interested, and the feature that excited the customer the most, but it doesn't matter one bit whether it was you or the customer who found the feature first. Because more than selling a product, you facilitated the meeting and the spirit of the sale. You brought together a customer and a product as surely as if you had been a matchmaker, and your good judgment, knowledge, and timely encouragement made it possible for something to take place that exceeded the expectations of everyone involved."

Jennifer had not said a word.

"Jennifer, are you still there?"

"I'm still here. But . . . "

"Jennifer, the fact that it is one of your favorite sales is the reason you feel you can't take credit for it. Leave the conquering-hero scenario for someone else. That's nothing but fodder for the ego. Instead, take credit for your role as a guide and your ability to discover inherent wisdom in the purchase of something new and perfectly suitable for Deborah. You see, with the best sellers a sale happens so smoothly that no one, including themselves, can accurately explain the process. Whereas beginning or unskilled sellers are so eager to take things into their own hands that they often find themselves the center of attention. Which is unfortunate, because that's where the customer should be."

"Thank you, dear. Now I must run along and open an escrow."

Victor hung up the phone with a laugh.


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