How do you market an expensive item?

Contributor - Drayton Bird

Four bottles of expensive red wine resting in a wooden crate with hay

F Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote "the rich are different from you and me". Well, high-ticket items are different from other goods too. There are no quick tricks when it comes to selling them. But take the right approach and you could dramatically improve your sales, as Drayton Bird reveals

Years ago I wrote ads for a very high-ticket item indeed. It was called the Airbus.

How much did I vary my approach? Less than you might think. I started with five thoughts.

  1. I had to explain how it was different and better. So I explained how the two engines (rather than three or four) made it more economical.
  2. I had to overcome objections. So I explained how these engines were just as safe - you could land with just one functioning.
  3. I had to remember people would be buying it. So I appealed to human emotions.
  4. I had to remember there would be many decision-makers involved in the process. So I bore that in mind.
  5. I had to remember decisions on expensive purchases take a long time. You don't get up one morning and say "I think I'll buy an Airbus". So I didn't say "buy now while stocks last".

So, yes, high-ticket items are different. But it is still all about buying and selling. You must use common sense and adapt what you do to how people buy - in other words the process.

Besides the fact that you often have several decision-makers, and they all have different motivations which you must address with differing messages, there is one very significant difference.

The greater the price, the harder it normally is to get a sale.

A low price usually means a one-step or maybe a two-step sale, without a great deal of reflection. Who broods over spending £5?

But a £1,000 sale? That is different. A £50,000 sale, even more so. And one involving millions or billions? Vastly different

In those higher realms, there may be many stages. You run an ad, or send an email or some direct mail. You get a reply. Or maybe they go to your website. You try to capture their names. You may phone them. You may have a salesman go and visit. You may invite them to a seminar.

Then, it may take you months or even years to close the sale.

Here are some things to bear in mind.

Sales copy - long or short?

Good, long copy almost invariably beats short copy. But this is particularly true when things cost a lot.

Let me give you a couple of examples: one of our clients sold a product that starts at £85,000. The average spend though, was £170,000.

Their sales process began with a one-page letter. So we rewrote it. When we had finished, it was four pages long.

Here's the rub though: they said they wouldn't send it out as "nobody will read a four-page letter". But we persevered, and they reluctantly agreed to send it.

The result? Response tripled and sales doubled. You see, when you are asking people to spend substantial amounts, their neck is on the line - they'd read a book on the subject if they could find one.

Later we sent out a six-page letter to sell a very complex online product to lawyers. It went to under 2,000 people. One firm splashed out over £100,000 just on the strength of that letter, another over £50,000.

The mailing with one follow-up and a sales sequence produced over £1,000,000 in sales. We then created another follow-up for that client. It got even more sales. Don’t just stop when you’ve done well. Keep going. Rinse and repeat.

Remember, though, there's a huge difference between being long-winded and being relevant. In fact I think my first letter to lawyers was a bit flabby, and I shortened it.

Use individual sales points intelligently

Expensive products seldom if ever have a single benefit - usually you'll end up with quite a list when writing your drafts.

Here's what you should do.

  1. Write a letter, email or landing page that encompasses all the points. If you miss just one out, you are missing a potential sale from readers who might be motivated by it.
  2. Make sure you also overcome all reasonable objections and fears. Again, any one omitted can lose you a sale.
  3. Break the individual topics down into a logical sequence, then use them as the openings to a series of helpful messages to prospects. These can be letters, White Papers - whatever.

Doing this serves two important purposes.

Firstly, different prospects have different needs - and until you are further down the sales process, you won't know what they are. So you have to cover every angle.

Secondly, stay on their radar without sending out mindless propaganda. And prospects tend to hang on to useful, helpful information.

Another good reason for doing this is that it's very hard to stay in touch with prospects when you have nothing new to say and keep repeating yourself. So look for new things to say.

Mind you, continually sending out the same message to existing prospects is better than doing nothing at all.

Continually qualify your sales prospect

Every so often, politely ask your prospect whether they'd prefer if they didn't hear from you again.

This not only saves time and money weeding out duff prospects. Another real advantage is that it gets your prospects to ask, "Are we interested in what you offer?”

Naturally, when you do this, you get more people than normal asking not to hear from you again. But at the same time you get more people letting you know their intentions and where they are in the buying process.

I suspect when you read the bit about long copy you muttered to yourself "Easier said than done".

It's true. Long copy is obviously harder to write than short. So one good trick is to write next to each paragraph a phrase summing up what it says. Then you can see whether the sequence of argument makes sense.

And here's a point far too often neglected.

Don't ignore old prospects - always true, but ESPECIALLY true with expensive items. As I said to start with, the decision may take a long time - sometimes years.

Often - if not always - old enquiries are your best prospects. For one thing, you have already been educating them about your merits. They are part-sold.

So paradoxically, putting the fury and energy you naturally apply to finding new prospects into existing customers is not just wise - it could well be more profitable. Yet many - perhaps most - marketers still do not do it.

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Drayton Bird

The Chartered Institute of Marketing named him, with others such as Tom Peters, Ted Levitt and Philip Kotler, one of the 50 individuals who have shaped modern marketing. As one advertising agency head commented: “Drayton doesn’t just teach.

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