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Hard-Won Sales Wisdom: Replace Abstract Ideas with Concrete Ones

This lesson is a part of an audio course Hard-Won Sales Wisdom by Paul Andrew Smith

Every good marketer knows, if you design your product for everyone, what you end up doing is designing for no one. You just end up creating a mess of compromises that fails to please anyone. So, the theory goes, you should pick a subset of your customers to design your products for. If you choose right, you'll have a group small enough that its needs are easy to identify and understand, but that represents the lion's share of your growth potential. It's called segmentation in industry-speak, and that's the position Procter & Gamble has taken with its own brands for decades.

But, when P&G tried to convince one of its biggest retail customers in Canada to adopt a segmentation model, they weren't interested. It just didn't make sense to them. Even though, the segmentation model P&G recommended was the simplest imaginable—a concept they called the high potential shopper. It's based on the classic Pareto principle. You know, 80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your shoppers. So, if you're going to pick a group of people to design your store around, it would be hard to go wrong, starting with that 20%.

But despite several explanations, this particular retailer just wasn't buying it. So, in their final attempt to explain it, the sales team members made the same argument they had made many times before, but this time with one simple change. They took out the words "high potential shopper" and replaced them with the name and photograph of one woman—Lisa. They took something abstract and made it concrete.

Now, they gave Lisa the same demographic and attitudinal profile as the average high potential shopper they'd been researching. In fact, they used almost all of the same presentation materials, except all the references to the high potential shopper were replaced with the name Lisa and accompanied by a picture of an average-looking Canadian woman.

And it was a huge success! The retailer immediately adopted the idea and began using Lisa as their primary design target. In fact, after that, anytime P&G came to them with other ideas—or, more importantly, when the retailer had ideas they wanted to consider—they would come to P&G and ask, "What would Lisa think about this?"

Now, that was proof they had completely adopted the idea of designing to a specific target customer. And all because P&G substituted something concrete in place of something abstract.

Describing your idea in specific, concrete terms is almost always more effective for two reasons. First, it helps people understand your idea more easily. After all, what do people do when they're having trouble understanding a complex idea you've been trying to explain for several minutes? They ask you to give them an example. And when you do, their eyes get big, and the light goes on in their head. The example creates the "ah-ha" feeling the moment everything makes sense.

Second, concreteness helps people apply your idea to their situation. "If this is how this idea was used by so-and-so, then if I change this little thing, it'll probably work just as well for me." Applying an abstract idea to an individual situation is hard if you don't know where to start. A concrete example gives people a starting place. So, if what you sell involves complicated or complex ideas, find a way like this to make your ideas concrete, instead of abstract.

In the next lesson, you'll hear about the worst sales call a salesman for a major chocolate company ever had, and how you can avoid the same mistake.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith