Selling (Badly) What’s Too Complicated

I was in a Radio Shack the other day and got to hear first-hand an inquiry and sales pitch regarding Satellite Radio.

And it wasn’t pretty.

It went something like this:

Customer: “I’m interested in Satellite Radio, but is it just for the cars or can you use it as a regular radio on a table?”

Salesman: “Well, you can get the car Satellite Radio and we sell an adapter you can use for a table model.” (huh?)

Off they go for a demonstration.

Customer: “Well I’m interested in Satellite because I don’t like…”

Salesman: “Commercials?”

Customer: “the static! But commercials, too. Plus why do I have to be limited to local radio stations? What if I want to listen to radio from Baltimore or something?”

Salesman: “Right.”

Customer: “Do they have ones that you can play CD’s on?”

Salesman: “No.”

While they talked price, never was there a mention that the fees only begin when you leave the store with your new radio. As it happened the customer left the store with no new radio in hand. And, I’m guessing, she left with more questions about Satellite Radio than answers.

Why do I share this story? To drive home a few points – and not just points about Satellite Radio, but also about the much heralded HD Radio.

1. Consumers know almost nothing about anything that is the least bit complicated. We live in a world where simplicity rules. The success of the iPod, for example, isn’t so much a story about the success of new technology as it is about the success of simple, elegant technology – the kind that has always been Apple’s hallmark.

2. We are over-estimating the ability of listeners to know anything complicated and over-estimating our ability to sell them what’s complicated. Both HD and Satellite Radio fall into this category, but I would argue that Satellite is infinitely simpler than HD.

3. People buy stuff because of what it does for them. And they can only understand one or two simple things that it does. This, by the way, is why content is so important. If I know that Howard Stern is on SIRIUS and only SIRIUS, then I have one good and simple reason to buy a SIRIUS Satellite Radio. And that, my friends, is all I need. Not 100 channels of la-dee-dah. Just one channel of what I really want.

4. The people who sell audio technology products do not necessarily know their asses from their elbows. And that goes double for the folks at the car dealerships who are charged with bundling these products into your new auto purchase. If you’ve ever been in a Radio Shack or a Circuit City and expect to find a technology expert, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This, my friends, is the front line in the battle for the audience’s ears. If the sellers don’t “get” the product, on the shelves that product shall stay.

Think about all this as you consider how to create a future for a medium that already reaches virtually everyone, is simple, has a broad selection of content, and is familiar, comfortable, and very well understood.

And tell me again why we need HD Radio.

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