While working for Xerox, I became the go-to guy when it came to meeting with our more eclectic clients.  I was responsible for working with clients who wanted to understand the Xerox methodology of selling, and wanted to integrate these concepts into their environments.  Sometimes, that meant meeting with conventional clients like Microsoft, Black & Decker, and General Electric.  Other times, that meant meeting with clients like hostage negotiators, polygraph examiners, and even some large churches.  But my favorite client was QVC, not because of what I sold them, but because of what I tried to sell them.

 

I’ll never forget that meeting.  When I was told QVC was coming in, I had to prepare.  The first step was figuring out who the heck QVC even was!  Before you say: “Rob’s got to get out a little more,” the year was 1989 and QVC was in its third year of operation.  I was told two things before the meeting:  Firstly, QVC wanted to come in and have me work with their on-air personalities, regarding their use of features and benefits when they sell.  Secondly, I was told what channel it was on so I could watch a couple of shows.

 

That night, I went home and caught QVC’s version of a tool show.  At that time, the host was selling electric circular saws.  I heard many people call in, and each call went pretty much like this:

 

QVC    “Hi, how are you?”

Caller   “Great Hank!  I’m excited about purchasing this saw!”

QVC    “I’ll bet you are.  You know, this saw comes with a safety slide, and that means more protection for you.”

Caller   “Ya – I was looking for something like that.  I can’t wait for my saw to arrive!”

QVC    “I’ll bet you can’t.  Thanks for calling!”

 

After listening to that call, the first question that came to my mind was this: Who did this conversation appeal to?  I suppose the call might appeal to anyone who was looking for a saw with a safety slide, but to me, it meant nothing because I wasn’t looking for a saw.  I couldn’t relate to the conversation.  I could relate to the old, dull, and dangerous saw that my Dad had used when I was a kid. That thing had frightened me so much that I had never even bought a saw as an adult.  I could relate to the experience I had when I was building my own kids’ tree house:  I had been using a handsaw to cut the dozens of pressure treated, 2’x8’ pieces of lumber. Not having an electric saw not only wore out my arm in a hurry, it extended the project from a day to a month. In other words, I could relate to the problem of not having a saw – not the need of looking for a new saw!

 

That’s when it hit me; QVC didn’t need a conversation about needs.  They certainly didn’t need to learn the difference between a feature and a benefit.  They needed to learn where the needs came from, so they could talk about them effectively.  They needed to learn that our problems shape our needs. They needed to learn that many more people would be interested in hearing about the problems that exist with those who didn’t have electric saws, or older unsafe saws, and how this new saw could solve many of those problems. They needed to learn that a conversation like this statistically would appeal to ten times the number of people who were watching their show.

 

I got up early, prepared my presentation, and gave it all I had.  I played back the conversation I had taped from my TV to the QVC executives, and then hit them with my own simulated call I had taped as well:

 

QVC    “Hi, how are you?”

Caller   “Great Hank!  I’m excited about purchasing this saw!”

QVC    “I’ll bet you are.  What kind of saw are you using now?”

Caller   “I’m using an old saw my Dad gave me.”

QVC    “How old is that saw?”

Caller   “I’m embarrassed to say it’s about twenty years old.”

QVC    “Wow!  What kind of issues do you have about using a saw that’s that old?”

Caller   “Quite frankly, I’m not sure how safe it is.  The saw kind of bucks every now and then.”

QVC    “Well, with this saw and its patented safety blade, you won’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Caller   “I can’t wait for my saw to arrive!”

QVC    “I’ll bet you can’t.  Thanks for calling!”

 

I showed them a conversation that would appeal to many more people who were struggling with making a change, rather than the few people who had already made this decision for change, and were actually looking for a new saw.  When my presentation was over, I proudly turned to my client and said this:  “Anyone can recite features and benefits.  Wouldn’t you rather train your on-air personalities to have conversations like this?”

 

I’d like to think I was a little ahead of my time.  Perhaps I hadn’t quite explained enough about the value, to those watching at home, of my suggested, on-air QVC conversation. At any rate, I was greeted with a confused look, and a question that still makes me cringe. The question the QVC representative asked me was this: “Do you know of any other company who can teach our on-air personalities how to incorporate features and benefits within their selling scenarios?”

 

Obviously, it was not the response I had expected, and I was just as stubborn as QVC that day because I could not in good conscience pivot, and tell them what they were looking for was going to meet their needs.  We shook hands and parted, and although there’s no arguing with the success of QVC, to this day I think they can do more…

 

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