Why customers don't need us telling them what to spend


I’ve been teaching something that I call “the feel factor” for several years. It came about as the result of having one particular class of P&A folks who argued that many of the manufacturers’ branded accessories are expensive.

They were, in their dealerships, talking customers out of buying top-of-the-line products simply because they personally felt the product cost too much.

This is wayward thinking. One of the most important duties of a P&A or service sales associate is to recommend the product or service that best satisfies each customer’s wants and needs — leaving our personal spending power out of the discussion. To bring this point home, I thought about creating a way to help sales associates understand the concept of recommending the best — first. I needed a way to alter their perception so they’d do a better job serving their customers. The answer was a thought experiment involving a simple reverse-math calculation.

I call it the feel factor. We all have it, and it’s different for each one of us. It’s the pressure or weight we feel when we purchase something; especially something that taxes our financial capacity.

In the classroom, I start off my feel factor session with three simple questions:

• Do you have customers who earn and own twice as much as you?
• Do you have customers who earn and own five times as much as you?
• Do you have customers who earn and own 10 times as much as you?

In every class the answer to all three questions is a resounding yes. I then go on to ask the class to consider how they feel when buying top-of-the-line things like a titanium sportbike muffler for $550, a set of chrome internal hand controls for a custom bike for $1,900, or even synthetic oil for $13 a quart.

Next, I create a simple comparison table using at least one ceiling-level accessory that the class is familiar with. A ceiling-level accessory is the top-of-the-line in its group: the one that offers the most benefits, is made out of the best materials and usually retails for the highest price. Because I primarily teach Harley-Davidson dealership employees, I have been using Harley-Davidson’s new LED Headlamp for touring bikes as an example. It retails for $525.

Harley’s LED headlamp projects the brightest blue-white light, in a curb-to-curb pattern, farther down the road than any other headlamp Harley offers. This is a particular advantage when riding in rural areas where a lot of game is crossing the road, and it attracts a lot attention from oncoming traffic, which doesn’t hurt. It’s a great product and everyone would love to own one, right? Well, at $525, the majority of folks in class would probably pass — not because they don’t want it, but because it “feels” so expensive. OK, but what if it were on sale at 50 percent off? $262 for the LED headlamp feels much better, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what someone with twice the spending power feels when they consider buying it. What if it cost one-fifth of its original price at $105? Wow! Now that’s a steal! That’s what it feels like to someone with five times the spending power. OK, the killer deal has to be $52, right?

And, that’s what it feels like to someone who earns 10 times what we do.

So, the reverse calculation for feel factor is this: If customers earn two times what we do, divide the price by two to understand their feel factor. If their income is five times greater, divide by five, and if it’s 10 times greater, divide by 10. See the table for three more product examples.

I leave you with this: When customers relate information that indicates their wants and needs, recommend the best product you have. It will deliver the most features and benefits and, in the long run, will satisfy the customer at a greater level. Remember, only customers know what it feels like to pay for the best. If they don’t want to spend that much today, they’ll tell you, and then you can recommend a product that’s the next step down and be a hero because it saved them a few bucks in the process.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews January 2011 issue.