Do you really know what you’re selling, or how a grizzled old mechanic had the secret to getting new clients for a beautician.

English: John Wanamaker Category:Images of Phi...
English: John Wanamaker Category:Images of Philadelphia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Wanamaker, the man credited with being the father of modern advertising is quoted as saying “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”. He may have made that comment around 100 years ago, but from what I have observed, that saying still applies to most businesses, and it especially applies to the smaller businesses. Sadly they are the ones that can least afford to waste money, so over the next few months I will be writing a number of articles on how small businesses can find ways to make their marketing more effective. Much of what I write will have little to do with sustainability, but everything I say will be about marketing, and if I can help people develop their sustainably run businesses I’ll be happy.

You see, I am doing this because I see sustainably run businesses, most of whom are small, as playing a critical part in creating a sustainable future for me, my children and their children, and I want to play a part in that. I don’t want to say “I knew we had problems, but I couldn’t be arsed doing anything about it”, so feel free to print, download and share anything I write because you’ll be helping me to stay in my kids and grand-kids good books.

Back in the days when we still owned ALL of our state assets I worked as a sales rep for an engineering supplies company, and one of the products we sold was a brand of tools called Snap On. Now Snap On are beautifully made and look fantastic, but they are really expensive; often double or treble the price of similar tools from other manufacturers, and as a young and nervous rep I struggled to sell them. Then one day an old mechanic taught me one of the most important marketing concepts I have ever learned.

A man with hands like these taught me how to market beauty therapy

I had my van parked outside a workshop with a group of mechanics had gathered round to check out what I had to sell, when a young apprentice picked up a Snap On spanner and asked how much it cost. When I told him the price he almost dropped the tool. “Bloody hell, is it made of gold or something?” There was an older mechanic standing beside him – the kind of guy who will only ever drink beer served in a jug and would rather be burnt alive than eat vegetarian food. He turned to the young apprentice, put one hand on the apprentices shoulder and said “when you buy Snap On, you don’t buy a tool. You buy being able to finish your job by knock  off because your tools aren’t worn out. You buy not slamming your fist into the side of an engine because your ratchet slipped and you buy having pride that you are the kind of mechanic who takes his jobs so f#@king  seriously he will only use the best tools money can buy. If you ask me, that price is bloody cheap”.

Needless to say, I sold the young mechanic the tool he had been looking at, and that lesson gave me the tool I needed to sell more Snap On than anyone else because I had been taught that I didn’t sell tools, I sold what they could do.

I have never forgotten that lesson, and it doesn’t just apply to spanners and other tangible goods. A while ago I was approached by a beautician called Sarah who was struggling to get customers for her new business, and like too many SME owners she thought marketing was advertising so had spent almost all her marketing budget on radio ads with (predictably) no appreciable change in her sales. We sat down over a coffee, and I asked her what she sold. She looked puzzled, then in a slightly frustrated voice answered “I don’t actually sell anything, I’m a beauty therapist”. I rephrased the question to “what do your customers walk out of your clinic with that they didn’t have before they came in?” I could see that she was having an “aha!” moment, and she soon realised that because people left her clinic looking good they felt more positive, had greater self confidence and felt energised and alive. “That’s what you really sell –your customers get confidence, self assurance and energy in exchange for money”. At that point it would be easy for Sarah to advertise that she can give confidence and self assurance, but that is probably even less effective than advertising a facial, so I asked her another question: “when do people need to feel confident?” Between us we came up with situations like applying for a job, going on a date, after being knocked about by a relationship breakup, before an important business meeting and soon Rachel had a list of the different times and events where she could sell people what they needed.

That meant instead of running an ad telling everyone in Christchurch (including grizzled old mechanics) that, just like every other beauty therapist, she could give them a facial; Sarah was able to tell a job applicant that she could help her get that job by increasing her confidence. She could reassure someone who had been through a relationship break-up that she was able to make them look and feel attractive, sexy and desirable again and help make a date with someone special work out. Instead of advertising a generic product to a huge and mostly disinterested audience, she could tell specific people how she could give them what they wanted and needed.

What do you really sell? What human needs do you satisfy? How will people feel when they deal with you? How will dealing with you help people solve their problems, give them an advantage, make them feel good about themselves or start a new relationship? When are people most likely to need or want what you can do for them?

Sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm, then when you have a list like the one Sarah made, you need to identify the best way to spread the word, and I’ll cover that later.

Have fun and if you have any questions drop me a line.

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13 thoughts on “Do you really know what you’re selling, or how a grizzled old mechanic had the secret to getting new clients for a beautician.

  1. Hello again

    great stories, and brilliant concepts. i like the phrase – what business are you really in? and go from there.
    And i think you are right in believing that a sustainable future includes great small businesses employing local people, doing essential services, building communities where people are known and take care of each other.

    • Thanks Bridget, I really appreciate the feedback. I suppose I’m just telling stories about what I’ve experienced over the years, and I know for me I get something much quicker when I can relate it to a real situation.

  2. Hey man, I can’t believe that only one other person ‘Likes’ this post. Honestly those were both amazing stories with valuable ideas and concepts. I’m glad I came through here; like Sarah I also just had a couple of ‘Aha’ moments. I definitely have heard similar stories, but you have got a style of writing that really makes it click. I appreciate that you’re doing your part in the world by helping struggling business people – you helped me, and I’ll be writing a similar article so that I can help others as well. Take care buddy.

  3. Just adding to my post, a few years ago I worked for a motorcycle shop as a salesman, and although I was the top salesman in the region, I used to say that I didn’t sell motorcycles. Instead I used to sell the feeling customers got when they opened their garage door on a sunny Sunday morning. When a customer was trying to decide between several bikes I always told them to choose the bike that would make them say “f#@k yeah!” when they rode it.

  4. Hi Jean-Francois, I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I’m interested in your product, waste reduction is an absolute no-brainer,but we have largely ignored it because it’s always been easier to just dump it. Can you tell me what your product is and how it works?

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