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The Art & Power Of Collaboration

About eight years into the kitchen/bath design profession, I developed a different way of doing business that completely transformed my operation, producing results far beyond all expectations. This new sales process was predicated on four core marketing principles:

  1. If you put your clients' interests (design solution and price) ahead of your interests, you will get what you want (a commitment)
  2. Collaboration, not competition, is the appropriate mindset for effective client development because it invites involvement and thereby engenders trust
  3. The only way to differentiate a product or service is through the way they are delivered
  4. Speed kills the competition

Now it is true that you can't convince anybody of anything because it creates an adversarial situation. But when you collaborate with prospects in developing a budget interactively, after you have quickly together come up with one possible design concept, they end up convincing themselves that the final total is the right price. The net result is that there is a lot less price resistance because the prospects basically "own" the end number.

With this new sales process, prospects got what they wanted - a "design concept" and a "price" delivered in a meaningful way and faster than my competition. Sometimes within a few hours or days of the initial showroom meeting, not weeks as from competing firms. And I got what I wanted - a retainer in 1/3 to 1/2 of the time that it was taking me to earn a commitment using the traditional sales approach. A classic win-win. But that's only one of the several improved metrics for me and my company. More about them later.

Price Transparency Plays To Self-Interest

I was absolutely stunned that people could make a significant buying decision without a scaled floor plan, fancy perspective, and a precise estimate. Based upon only a sketched layout by eye (no measurements taken) and an interactive, hand-written budget, where I was literally pulling realistic figures from my head for cabinetry, countertops, appliances, installation, etc., I was receiving signed retainer agreements and sizable checks in the thousands of dollars (equal to 8% of the low end of the budget range). From one prospect after another. How could this be?

I have since learned some basic truths behind the power and success of this collaborative selling system. First, that I performed directly in front of my prospects, in the comfort of their home (after a preliminary meeting in my showroom), was evidently a very different and meaningful "delivery." Essentially, it was an immediate free mini-sampling of my intellectual capital and professional services. Whereas all my competitors would take measurements and then develop their plan and price back at their respective offices, promising a presentation in 1-2 weeks. Frequently calling later to admit unexpected delays, making their follow-up presentation more like 2-3 weeks.

The prospects never experienced how the plan came together or how the price added up to the total. That comports with what one Harvard marketing professor advocates: when you are selling an intangible such as a kitchen (which of course doesn't become tangible until assembled and installed in one's house), you must "tangibilize the experience" as proof of its value. And that was what I was evidently accomplishing by working with them in their home, developing one possible design concept and a realistic budget range.

Secondly, this new sales approach played to my prospects' self-interests. According to Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power, "the key to persuasion is softening up people and gently breaking them down. The quickest way to secure people's minds is by demonstrating, as simply as possible, how an action will benefit them." So because "self-interest is the strongest motivation of all," and I was being totally transparent about the pricing of their projects, my prospects grew to understand why their projects cost what they did. They felt like they were in control of the pricing process, a bona fide self-interest. As a result, they also felt comfortable making a buying decision ... in many cases well before they received competing proposals.