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Let's say you want to buy a laptop. I have a new Compaq laptop I want to sell. Things are looking good. You say, "How much?" I say, "$2000." You think its a little high, and decide to see if you can find a better price. If not, you'll buy my laptop. The only real roadblock in your mind is the price. If I'd offer it for $1500, you'd take it without delay.

Now, imagine the same situation. When you say, "How much?", I say "$300." Silence. Why? It's far less than you wanted to pay. But now alarm bells are going off in your mind. Why is it so cheap? Is it stolen? Is it defective? A new element has entered the sales picture -- doubt.

Doubt is different from incognizance. When a customer first examines a product or service, he holds back judgment while gathering facts and impressions. Unless something sets off an alarm bell, active doubt doesn't play a big role in most buying decisions. In general, we take the psychologically easy avenue of approaching each purchase with the attitude that the seller is an honorable person offering a trustworthy product or service. If we didn't, a lot fewer people would be eating at fast food restaurants and shopping at discount stores. We trust a Big Mac bought at McDonald's, but would we trust a Big Mac offered to us by a guy in the park, even if it was free? How about a Sears TV being sold out of the trunk of a guy's car?

Doubt is nearly always created by the seller through sensory cues like the location, appearance of the store or product, location, smell, unexpected sounds, and so on. Sometimes it is created by a third party, such as a competitor's ad or a news story. The good news is that the creation of doubt is usually under the control of the seller. If you are aware of what may produce doubt, and move to eliminate those sensory cues, you can prevent the buyer from throwing up walls of doubt which may be difficult to overcome.

Doubt is one of the "fear" motivators we've discussed before. You probably already know that fears are some of the most consistently effective motivators a marketer can use to sell a product (for example, ad slogans like "Ring around the collar!" "Even your friends won't tell you if you have bad breath!" "We bought a telephone system that's already obsolete?!")

It is important for marketers to think about doubts for several reasons:

1. You need to be prepared to overwhelm any doubts the customer may raise.

2. Countering common doubts will give buyers a stronger sense of security in their purchase, increase your positive image, and, most importantly, encourage "fence sitters" to buy.

3. You need to be ready to respond to doubts created by your competitors' advertising.

Doubts usually fall into two areas of concern from the buyer's perspective. First, "Is everything I've seen and heard truthful?" ("They say it will get 40 mpg, but my friend only gets 15 mpg.") Second, "Are they keeping anything from me? Have I forgotten to ask some critical question?" ("The ad says ‘fully equipped,' but now they're saying the radio is extra. What else is extra?")

As you can see, the buyer's conscious mind sees doubts as information-based concerns or discrepancies. They say this, but I see or know something different. Even buyers would agree that their doubts can be erased by the addition of new information. For example, the salesman might say, "Your friend only gets 15 mpg because he selected a far bigger engine." Or, "The radio is extra because Malaysian cars aren't made with radios." People get bamboozled all the time because they believe the explanation, even if it is farfetched. ("I've only got 100 share left of Rocky's Gold Mine that I made my boss save for you.")

But even after offering legitimate, logical explanations, many customers will still decide to "look around." That's because doubt often cannot be simply erased by new facts. It is more complex than that.

Doubt, at its core, is not logical at all. It is emotional. I may have a perfectly logical explanation for my $300 laptop, but many buyers would still have a vague, emotional unease about buying it, just like they would about buying a Big Mac in the park ("I bought two and could only eat one. I'll sell the other for 50-cents. How about it?")

To overcome buyer doubt, you must focus on both the logical and emotional components of doubt in the buyer's mind.

First, determine what doubts your target buyers could have. Look at your store, your product, your sales staff, your location, your price, your promotional materials, and so on -- from the buyer's point of view. Is there anything that could raise doubts? Look at your competitors' advertising for negative insinuations. ("A Diehard battery won't leave you stranded in the rain.") Think about your history. Anything there, like a bad press story, which may raise doubts? Brainstorm with your staff. Ask some of your trusted customers. Ask those who decide not to buy to fill out a short, anonymous survey with boxes to check and a "comment" line. A few will take time to do it. Most important, listen carefully to what potential buyers are saying. Listen for their mental roadblocks.

Second, break down each doubt into the components that created it. For example, if a customer says to you, "I'm afraid this weed cutter won't stand up to hard use," that's a judgment based on what specific observations? Does the handle look flimsy? Does the motor seem too small? Is the plastic housing too thin?

Third, examine your product. Are any of these doubts well-founded? Can they be fixed within your cost-price parameters? Make whatever adjustments you can. You can use these adjustments to extoll the virtues of the "NEW and Improved Weed Cutter" in your ads.

Fourth, write down a simple, declarative sentence to address each component of the doubt. Each sentence should make buyers more comfortable with what they see (for example, if they think the motor is too small, you might write, "The new high-tech motor uses the latest chip technology to create maximum power with minimum weight and size.") When you're finished, you'll have a series of persuasive sentences which should cover all their logical doubts. You'll find these ideas are useful for your advertising and collateral materials, too.

Fifth, counter the emotional component of their doubt. Remember, even if you tell the buyer everything you just wrote down, she will still have a lingering, unfocused emotional feeling of doubt. You must also knock down that emotional wall of doubt, which exists in a different portion of the brain. It's like finding a rotten onion in your pantry. Once you remove the onion, the smell still remains, so you use some air freshener to eliminate the smell. With doubt, you can do both at the same time.

One of the best ways to eliminate an underlying, unfocused emotion, as Sigmund Freud recognized a century ago, is to bring it "into the light." By stating in words what a buyer is feeling, the emotion of doubt is changed into something which is managable by the seller. Every good salesman knows this trick. ("You're WORRIED about the price, aren't you?" "This little motor makes you NERVOUS, doesn't it?" You're DOUBTFUL about a computer that's only $300, aren't you?") The key is to put a name to the emotion, and make the buyer think about it by asking a question. Remember, there's a big difference between saying, "You THINK the motor is too small" and "You're WORRIED the motor is too small." Make them think about what they're feeling. They already know what they're thinking.

Once you bring the emotion "into the light," you can use logic and facts to eliminate it, using the persuasive sentences you've constructed. Afterwards, you should address the emotion again, making sure you've eliminated it. ("Does that take care of your WORRY about the motor?")

Consumer doubts are often forgotten until it is too late. By preparing a careful analysis and response beforehand, you can be prepared to overcome doubt and make the sale.




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