My wife and I bought our house about two and a half years ago. Soon after moving in we began the standard home improvements, including redecorating, painting, landscaping, and all the fun things that come with home-ownership. We did all of the painting and most of the landscaping on our own. But after awhile, we decided there were a few things we wanted to do that were outside the scope of our own abilities.
The two big projects we wanted done were installing a water softener and house filtration system (additional plumbing required), and we wanted our basement finished (electric work and drywall – not thanks!). So we called a few contractors to obtain quotes. The sales pitches we experienced was eye opening.
After sitting through multiple sales pitches, I learned about how many companies make their sales pitch, and some of the things you can do to resist the hard sale.
The Bigger the Sales Pitch, the More they Will Charge
The first pitch we had was for a water softener and house filtration system. My wife and I knew we needed a water softener because we had a lot of hard water buildup around our sinks and appliances. We went to one of the big box home improvement stores and sent in a water sample for a free water assessment, and the results were not surprising: we had very hard water. So we scheduled a free, in-home water consultation.
The result was a two hour sales pitch, complete with a home chemistry kit, an interactive slideshow and video presentation on an iPad, and an estimate of how much money we would save over the course of our lives (by using fewer cleaning products and supplies). It was a slick presentation. But my personal takeaway wasn’t the product itself, it was the sales pitch.
Emotional Triggers Are Open Game
Powerful emotions make people take action. That’s why it was imperative for the water softener salesman to try and scare us into buying a system. OK, maybe he wasn’t trying to scare us. He just let us know that the public water systems had trace amounts of microorganisms, chlorine, hormones, birth control, antidepressants, and other unpleasant things. (We live in farm country; I’m surprised he didn’t mention pesticides).
We were also informed that our pipes would cake over with deposits, our water heater would stop working, all of our appliances would be ruined, and it would cost us thousands of dollars to replace everything.
Is all of this true? To some degree, maybe. But the tone of the sales pitch was designed to scare people into taking action now, versus taking action later.
Companies Don’t Sell Products, They Sell Solutions
Any good salesman will tell you they don’t sell a product, they sell a solution. And the water-softener representative that came to our home was well trained. After informing us our water would eventually stop flowing, our appliances would die, and we would turn into mutants from drinking the water, he offered an elegant solution.
The water softener and filtration system would remove the hard deposits from the water, and over time, it would actually remove buildup and damage to the pipes and appliances. In his words, over time, the hard water deposits would be dissolved back into the (now) soft water at a rate or about one month for each year the house was lived in. Our house is roughly 6 years old, so in 6 months, our pipes and appliances would be virtually brand new (in terms of hard water deposit buildup).
The water filtration system and reverse osmosis system would also remove those pesky hormones and other nasties from the water.
Bonus solution we didn’t even know we needed! Anyone with a water softener can tell you that you use less soap and cleaning products when you have soft water. Hard water requires more cleaning product. This goes for dish soap, hand soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc. The harder your water, the more cleaner you need to use. The larger your family, the more cleaning supplies and toiletries you need to use. See where this is going?
I have a family of four, and we go through what I consider a reasonable amount of soaps and other cleaning supplies (in other words, this has never stretched our budget).
But wouldn’t you know it – the water softener presentation included a math section that showed us how much money we would save over the course of or lifetime based on reducing he amount of cleaning supplies and toiletries we use. He also informed us we would never need to buy hand lotion again, because hard water removes the natural oils from your skin, but soft water leaves it on your skin, so you don’t need to moisturize. (Not completely true, by the way, but it makes for a great sales pitch).
To top it off, the water softener company was kind enough to offer us their own brand of soaps, shampoos, detergents, and cleaners so we wouldn’t have to buy anything for the next few years.
Over time, the water softener would pay or itself by reducing the amount of soap and cleaning supplies we buy (none for the next 5 years!), and by reducing our home maintenance costs.
Process: Scare You, Offer a Solution, Show You How It Pays for Itself
The sales pitch is designed to open your eyes to a problem you might have known about, make it sound worse than it is, show you how their product solves more than you thought it would, then show you how it really doesn’t cost that much money. In some cases it will even pay for itself! Even if it doesn’t pay for itself, it will make your life infinitely safer/easier/more convenient. And if you still aren’t convinced, you haven’t heard the closer…
Wait, There’s More! The 10% Buy it Now Discount (Today Only!)
Ahhh, the 10% buy-it-now discount! This is the tried and true closer.
Don’t buy it.
There are two main reasons companies use it. The first is to give you the sense of urgency to seal the deal today. The second reason is because it costs companies a lot of money to field a sales team. Selling a product at a 10% discount that day removes the need to send another salesman to your house or spend time with follow-up phone calls or marketing materials. In the long run, they know they will make up for any discount given by the time and money they save. Companies also bake those discounts into the price anyway, so it’s not hurting them.
Most salesman will tell you the 10% discount is only available that day. But don’t let that be your deciding factor for buying their product. You owe it to yourself to do your own price and product research, then make the decision on your own, without the pressure of sitting in front of a salesman who is waiting for you to respond. (And you can often get the discount later, just by asking – try it).
How to Resist the Sales Pitch
If the salesman has done a good job—and he probably has since they are usually well-trained—then you probably feel like you need to sign on the dotted line and buy whatever he is selling. Take a few moments before you take action, and follow these tips.
Your first line of defense starts before you ever meet the salesman. My wife and I always go into a sales meeting with the understanding that we are going to talk things over before deciding. And by talk things over, we don’t mean for 5 minutes while the salesman pretends not to be paying attention.
Sleep on it. This goes hand in hand with the first statement. My wife and I almost always talk over large purchases, then sleep on it before we make a final decision. If either of us doesn’t feel like it’s the right decision, we don’t do it.
Always get at least 2 or 3 quotes from similar companies. If you only do one of these recommendations, this one should be it. There are rarely any standards for most home improvement jobs. People use different products (often proprietary) and may offer different levels of service. Getting multiple quotes allows you to learn more about what actually needs to be accomplished, how the different companies recommend the installation, and what types of products or services they will provide. The variance will be eye opening.
Reevaluate what you have learned. Getting different quotes for our water softener and home water filtration system was a learning experience for me. I researched the different types of water softeners, the installation process, and more. This made the buying process easier when we made our decision. When going through this process, ask yourself if you still need this product, or if it will really impact your life as much as the salesman says it will. You may decide you don’t need it after all. Or you may decide you need it. Either way, you are more informed.
Always get it in writing. Always. If it isn’t in writing, then it never happened.
Our Water Softener Example
All of the above examples came from one salesperson. He was actually a very nice guy, and very low pressure. But the process was very slick and the product, in my opinion, was vastly overpriced. Here is an example from the two companies, Water-softer company A (slick presentation), and Water-softer company B (the company we purchased from).
Water-softer Company A:
- Very slick sales-presentation (2 hours, home chemistry kit, iPad, scare tactics, etc.).
- Water softener installation located where the water enters the house (across the basement from the drain hole), and a drain line snaking across our basement floor to the drain.
- No additional plumbing.
- Reverse Osmosis – 1 lines for drinking water to the fridge.
- Included several years of “free” soap and cleaning products.
- Multiple claims about the product I deemed to be “over the top”
- Cost: $6,500 after all discounts (additional 10% savings if we opened a store credit card).
Water-softer Company B:
- 40 minute sales presentation, 20 minutes talking about the product and comparing it to other products on the market, and another 20 minutes to discuss how the plumbing would work.
- Water softener next to the drain hole on our basement with no obtrusive drain lines running across the floor. They rerouted plumbing to make it work.
- Reverse Osmosis – 2 lines for drinking water. One to the fridge, one to the sink (required drilling through granite counter top).
- Included one year of salt for the softener.
- No “over the top” claims. In fact, the salesman debunked many claims other companies make (without any prompting by me).
- Cost: $2,900, including plumbing and installation (we needed over 70 feet of pipe; the plumber informed me we had almost $1,000 worth of plumbing work included in our deal).
Which product was better? Well, let’s start with the cost, then go to the product. The cost of the product offered by Company B was not only more than 50% lower, but it included a better installation with the included plumbing.
Now for the product: researching water softeners is extremely difficult. Consumer Reports doesn’t even rate these products for several reasons: it is difficult to compare them in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, and there are many regional manufacturers and installers (often using the same product that has been rebranded, much like mattresses). To top it off, the technology behind water softeners hasn’t changed much in decades. The biggest advancements have come through efficiency (energy and salt use). I researched the brand offered by the respective companies and came to the conclusion that most customers who left reviews were happy with the end product, but the one consistent item that continually popped up for Company A was that many people felt it was overpriced.
With all the research we did, we went with Company B. The installation was fast, professional, and we haven’t had any problems since we made the purchase. And we don’t regret it one bit.
Next up is a finished basement… Wish us luck!