Monday, June 27, 2011

Sales substitution lessons from my Dad

Some of you may recognise that my surname is Maltese. My father grew up in Malta during the second world war. It was only after his passing in 2001 that I learned how he and his younger brother would leave air raid shelters to bring more food and water to his family. They weren't even teenagers. At the end of the war, my father was apprenticed to an uncle as a carpenter and it was with this skill and background that he emigrated to Australia as a nineteen year old.

Of key importance here was that my father learned to be inventive and could build anything from wood. He eventually became a troubleshooter for the state roads department in fixing bridges.

Before he retired he bought and renovated a beach house so he could indulge in his passion for fishing. Fishing seems to be a birthright for anyone with a Maltese heritage. Dad was never one to spend money on material items if he could build it himself, unless there was sufficient gap in the functionality that he desired but could not achieve.

Two examples come to mind:
1. He was happy to spend money on a fiberglass fishing boat and fit it out with an endless array of paraphernalia  because he could not easily replicate the strength, lightness and maneuverability that he needed to get through the rip into the open sea. Spending this money helped him achieve his goals.

2. Dad loved to sit back after dinner and watch some television. Because it was a beach house he did not spend where it wasn't warranted. His problem was that the old push button television did not have remote control. Rather than spend hundreds, or thousands, of dollars on a new TV which would have given him more functionality including a remote control, Dad took a long piece of timber dowel (otherwise known as a stick) and shaped the end of the stick to fit the buttons on the TV. So he substituted a completely different product that fully complied with his required functionality at a fraction of the cost. Fights over the remote control took on a completely different aspect.

Often there is a danger when we sell specific products and services that we become focused on the benefits and features of "our" products. We do this in order to line up against a competing product and overcome objections by differentiating our product from a competitor's product. When we do this we forget to focus on the customer's goals.

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