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The Finer Selling Qualities of Quality of Life

The early 2020 trade show cycle is well behind us now. Everybody seems to have moved on to thinking about the upcoming quarters of this year and even the 2021 calendar. But, I want to comment and share some takeaways from those recent experiences.

I always like to poke a little at the edges of the comfort zones of the people representing the various products, systems and services in the building industry, and the sustainability sector in particular. So, while cruising around and engaging in conversations at the two big shows in January—CES followed by Design & Construction Week—I experimented by gently introducing the suggestion that basically everybody there is selling the same thing: quality of life.

I believe this is true and when you stop and think about it, the notion can apply to just about anything that companies are trying to sell. Sure, their offerings may have very specific applications but one way or another, just about everything in the market is intended to make the customer happier, more comfortable, safer and more secure, more efficient, more successful, more attractive, healthier. The list goes on forever, but in the end the idea is to provide something that in some way improves one’s quality of life.

The reactions I got to this suggestion were markedly different depending on who I was talking with but generally, they fell into one of two types. There were a good number of people who grasped the theory immediately and looked through that lens to get a perspective on what they were offering to customers and just how much potential it held for delivering the goal, even if it simply made someone’s life easier.
Other folks seemed to glaze over as if they were hearing an unfamiliar language. For the majority of those people, they couldn’t seem to get beyond the immediate purpose of trying to sell as much of what they offered to as many buyers as they could. It didn’t seem to matter whether the product or service met any abstract criteria or embodied lofty attributes as long as they were successful in piloting potential customers to the finish line.

There was something else I noticed about that second group. Many of them approached the conversion process by selling against the competition rather than concentrating on communicating the benefits and positive elements of their brand and product lines. This was particularly noticeable in the case of one young man who spent half of the time it took him to tell me about his particular offering, bad-mouthing the main competitor in his sector.

At one point I actually called this to his attention but he glossed over my comment and went right on delivering the rehearsed spiel that he was apparently comfortable with. I was not immediately in the market for what his company produces. But I can tell you that his failure to acknowledge, or at least hear, the basic message put me off. It is highly unlikely that I will seek out his brand the next time I’m specifying that particular building material category.

Now, in his defense, I realize that it can be challenging to make a meaningful pitch and provide any kind of relevant message when the attention spans of half the attendees at the event are compromised by toting bulging plastic schwag bags under each arm with giveaway yardsticks poking out (actually, this year they appeared to be four feet long, not three). So, maybe quality of life, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And maybe he knows his customers better than it seemed and I’m just not giving him enough credit.

After all, it helps if you can read your audience no matter what you’re selling.