In the 1980s, investment firm EF Hutton broke ground with an ad series featuring the slogan, “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.” It was such a hit that even today, more than two decades and the turn of a century later, analysts such as Derek Loosvelt of the career intelligence site cite the slogan as one of the top five banking slogans of all time.

But like 1980s sitcoms where characters amused audiences by failing to set the clocks on their VCRs, this slogan doesn’t hold up in today’s marketplace. Technology, business and communication have moved on.

Parting the Clouds

The way we communicate has changed. Consumers rely on Facebook and Twitter, and even CNN and Fox rely on citizen journalists to provide reports via these channels. Information is exchanged in real time through an interactive process called cloud computing.

What this means for the equipment dealer is that consumers more actively research their purchases before visiting your store. They interact with others who have shared interests before they meet you. When they finally step into your showroom, they both expect and deserve a more personalized response than ever before.

Changing Slogans Meet Changing Expectations

This is reflected in many new ad campaigns. We’ve evolved from EF Hutton authoritatively expecting us to listen into a conversational, customer-focused approach. The dealer is still the expert, but we’re responding to customer requests. Do a Google search on the slogan “You asked, we listened,” and on the first page alone you’ll find major companies employing that phrase:

  • Barnes & Noble for the Nook e-reader
  • Congressional Quarterly’s CQ Roll Call
  • Computer chassis builder Alienware
  • Yahoo! Answers blog
  • Macy’s

Electronics dealer Radio Shack has long thrived on its inviting slogan, “You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.”

Learn it, Live it

John Deere Worldwide Commercial and Consumer Equipment works with its dealers to react to a changing rural demographic. At dealer training meetings, it has held classes on how to appeal to the increasing numbers of women who are joining the market.

Some dealers have redesigned stores to make them more open and visually appealing and stocked them with items that might catch different eyes, such as John Deere-branded scented candles.

Creating a welcoming environment in your store is just the beginning though. Be courteous and attentive without hovering. Greet the customers and offer to help them. Perhaps most important, improve your listening skills.

  • Don’t assume the customer is ignorant about the equipment.
  • Attentively listen, frequently making eye contact to convey interest and that the customer has your complete attention.
  • Repeat the question back to show that you heard it correctly.
  • Answer questions honestly.
  • Take care not to come across as a know-it-all.
  • Try to perceive the customers’ unstated questions and pose them back to them. Ask questions that begin, “Are you wondering if …” or “Do you mean…”

Know the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment and its competitors. Practice blocking and bridging techniques ahead of time so that when you’re with a customer, you can gently guide the discussion positively.

Blocking is when you acknowledge and answer a customer’s question and then bridge to the message you want to deliver about a particular product. It is critical that you respond to the question quickly and confidently.

According to a 2007 Business Week article, a global study showed a reduction in customer service satisfaction from 83% to 68% in 2006. Other studies, the article goes on to say, show that customers leave businesses because of perceived indifference by the employees.

One reason the EF Hutton campaign was so successful was that consumers like to be reassured by someone in authority. That hasn’t changed. But today’s consumers want to know that the expert hears their specific questions and addresses them. Make the people who come into your dealership feel that way, and chances are you’ll convert them from random consumers into loyal customers. RLD