Sales Call: If Risk Is too High, Boomers Won't Buy

August 4, 2008
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[Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in an eight-part series on selling to Baby Boomers.]

Baby Boomers grew up in an era of risk-taking. Being drafted for an unpopular war, civil rights protests, drug experimentation, free love, and the Nixon administration all carried unique risks. As Boomers grew older and a bit wiser, risk reduction became an important part of everyday life.

In the HVAC industry, 10-year compressor warranties and multi-year parts guarantees were developed primarily to meet Boomers’ needs to minimize risk. Today, warranties and guarantees are just the ante. If you want to consistently sell to the folks who buy the vast majority of high-margin premium comfort systems, you must understand how Boomers perceive risk and be able to reduce each one to an acceptable level.

PHYSICAL RISK

The safety of loved ones is our highest priority.

According to behavioral psychologist Abraham Maslow, people must feel safe before they care about less basic needs like precise temperature and humidity control. Every Boomer has read at least one story about an entire family dying from an improperly vented gas furnace or other heating- and air conditioning-related tragedy.

Our subconscious mind has an overpowering need to know how your customized solution will reduce potential safety-related risks to their lowest possible level.  To eliminate anxiety caused by physical risk:

• Tell how your installation provides the final layer of family safety. 

• Mention how you reduce physical risk. “We buy the safest equipment, hire the best qualified people to install it, and inspect every step during and after the installation.”

• Ask if they’d like to hear more about the steps your company takes to eliminate physical risk.

PSYCHOLOGICAL RISK

Peace of mind is more important than price.

Psychological risk manifests itself as unpleasant emotions that disturb our sense of well-being. Anytime we suspect a pending purchase could result in the feelings of guilt, remorse, regret or irresponsibility, there’s a degree of psychological risk that must be resolved before we’ll feel comfortable buying. Buyer’s remorse is unresolved psychological risk.

One reason Boomers buy warranties isn’t because we can’t afford future problems, it’s because if we do have problems, we don’t want to regret not buying one. This complex behavior is especially true when we purchased long-lasting big ticket items like a replacement comfort system. To help your customers effectively reduce psychological risk:

• Justify the purchase as an investment;

• Use emotional benefits to build desire higher than perceived risk; and

• Tell how improved physical comfort improves one’s peace of mind.

FUNCTIONAL RISK

If it’s not reliable and dependable, we don’t want it.

Boomers are more likely to replace their existing comfort system before it breaks than any other group of buyers. Over the years, we’ve discovered functional risk is inevitable. The wet spot under the hot water heater will become a flood. A dirty furnace causes a $1,500 repair. The strange noise coming from our car’s engine will leave us stranded on the freeway. To help us visualize the reliability you provide, use your equipment manufacturer’s literature to:

• Show how they test components and equipment.

• Use pictures or diagrams to point out reliability enhancement features.

• Tell how your maintenance program reduces all aspects of functional risk.

MONETARY RISK

The lowest risk is the best investment.

Boomers are passionate about money. We believe buying seldom-purchased negotiated products, like comfort equipment, is rife with risk. We fear paying too much, being taken advantage of, and not getting everything we want. We ask a lot of tough money-related questions that you must be prepared to answer. “If it’s so good, why do I need to pay extra for a warranty?” “Why does your air cleaner cost so much?”  “Why are you $3,000 higher than the last company?” Proven ways to reduce monetary risk include:

• Show estimated energy savings;

• Provide a return of investment; and

• Customize their comfort system around their requirements.

SOCIAL RISK

Is this the Edsel of air conditioning?

A young man met a distinguished looking gentleman at a cocktail party and asked what he did for a living. The older man said he was a Rolex Co. executive. The brash young man said, “I have a Seiko that keeps time as good as any Rolex ever made.” The executive said, “That may be true, but at Rolex, we’re not in the watch business, we’re in the luxury business.”

When dealing with the 40 percent of Boomers concerned with reducing social risk, you’re also in the luxury business. The luxury brands they buy are your biggest clue. If they have a Viking range kitchen, a new BMW in the garage, and Rolex on their arm, they’ll probably appreciate your help buying “the best socially acceptable solution.” The steps to do that include:

1. Briefly detail your brand’s history.

2. Relate a story about a well-known person who bought from you.

3. Tie your brand into a one they own. “This is the Rolex of comfort systems …”

THE PRICE ISN'T TOO HIGH

Unresolved risks create insurmountable objections.

A significant number of Boomers who don’t buy say the problem was the price. Most of the time the real reason isn’t too much money, it’s too much risk. If the risk is too high, the price will be too, no matter how low the cost. The key to boosting Boomers sales isn’t lowering your price, it’s lowering their risk.

Sidebar: About Risk

Risk: The likelihood of bad things happening.

Physical risk: Potential risk to people, buildings, animals, and environment.

Risk avoidance: An informed decision not to become involved in a risk situation.

Risk perception: How Boomers perceive threats.

Risk capital: The money a buyer can afford to lose.

Risk reduction: Reduction in the likelihood of occurrence or consequences of an event.

Safe: An acceptable low, tolerable level of risk.

Warranty: Perceived risk transfer.

Publication date: 08/04/2008  

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