In light of current events digital marketing has taken the forefront for many piano dealers as the most reliable source of new potential sales relationships. This articles intention is to accurately couch the situation at hand and in the end find some strengths and solutions to focus on. The first opinion I want to express is that now more than ever MUSIC IS AN ESSENTIAL and that dealers should exercise the right to operate by appointment (regardless of government urging) all the while honoring all the CDC guidelines. This my friends, is survival.
Please forgive the thoroughness, depth of detail, and set up that follows. Since we have never lived through a time quite like this, it deserved some sincere research and explanation. By providing the context correctly in the beginning it is our wish to make you feel optimistic about the solutions and methods recommended after you get past the considerable, but critical, minutia on the front end. I think I’ve said this before but in light of our “new normal” this may indeed be the most important writing we’ve ever offered up. Here we go…
In October of 1929 the stock market imploded and on the 29th of that\ month, now referred to as “Black Tuesday”, the Great Depression was ushered in. It lasted five years. Having music in your home was a means of inexpensive entertainment and a way to keep your spirits up while the country tried to find its way back to solvency. Most historians agree that the overreaction to the stock market crash caused a severe lack of confidence in the economy causing extremely high unemployment and widespread bank closures. During that period of time, admittedly, some piano manufacturers went out of business, yet over 250,000 pianos were sold while many waited in bread lines.
The US went years including through the second world war and far beyond without a notable financial dilemma but previous to WWII an interesting social occurrence took place on October 30,1938. Orson Wells narrated an adaptation of the H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds.” Instead of taking a step back and fact checking what was being broadcast over the airwaves, a huge segment of the American population (many of whom missed the introduction) mistook the broadcast as an unfolding current event and widespread panic, then anger at the radio broadcast ensued. It is an example of how when masses of people believe a thing, it creates a historical event. It’s a good thing the story wasn’t about the economy. Who knows what the over-reaction on Wall Street would have been!
Flash forward to the 1973 OPEC Embargo when gas prices quadrupled. It was considered the first major economic crisis since 1929 and Time magazine warned in the days after it started, “it could easily lead to cold homes, hospitals and schools, shuttered factories, slower travel, brownouts, consumer rationing, aggravated inflation and even worsened air pollution in the U.S., Europe and Japan.” During that year over 250,000 pianos were sold.
Black Monday in 1987 marked the single largest (-508 points) drop in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The entire nation was paralyzed with worry and concern. For years we’ve heard that “as goes Wall Street so go piano sales” yet in 1987 approximately 174,000 pianos were sold in the face of all the financial uncertainty.
1993 marked the entry of “electronic units” as its own column in the piano sales record books. It is the year the first Pentium chips are shipped by Intel, the year the word “spam” was coined and version 1.0 of the Mosiac web browser was released. Computer sciences were becoming more deeply ingrained in the business fabric of America, soon to trickle down to the small business sector. The advent of more technical – recreational options and competition for those dollars, not the lack of consumer confidence, was fueling the decline. The world was changing. Entities previously dominant, that were no longer cutting edge, were feeling the change. The economy was strong but changing, evident in the fact that IBM announced a $4,970,000,000 loss for the year previous (1992), the largest single-year corporate loss in United States history to date. It was the first year in sales records that less than 100,000 pianos were sold… this figure includes the new “keyboards” being built.
In 2001 the Dot.com Crash was fueled by speculation in tech and Internet Stocks. This crash lasted a while and volatility was the norm on Wall Street which paved the way for the early 2000’s recession. During the years of 2000-2002 well over 250,000 pianos were sold in the US.
The purpose of examining these events and numbers? To illustrate that even in the worst of financial times music does not become unimportant and piano sales continue. Every single one of these financial problems was exacerbated by a “lack of confidence” in the economy and a subsequent radical reaction.
Before we submit some selling solutions, verbiage and some discuss Methodology let’s (since very few in the media tend to) put the current pandemic into some sort of context. The most deadly viruses in the world in order to date have been:
#1 HIV which leaves your immune system unable to fight kills an average of 3.1 million people annually, globally.
#2 Ebola which is incurable and takes approximately 100 lives a year. The scariest thing about it is that the mortality rate is 50% or more.
#3 The Rotovirus which kills a half of a million children yearly, primarily in third world countries.
#4 Thank God and medical science that Smallpox which killed approximately 4 million was eradicated by the time the 21st century arrived.
#5 Influenza is the current world traveler which kills 500 million a year. It is the worst pathogen in human history. “If there is a virus that keeps me up at night, it’s influenza. I put it at the top of the list from a worldwide standpoint,” says Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California—Berkeley School of Public Health. The main reason: This virus mutates every year, making it virtually impossible to fully defend against.
And the flu’s total death toll rises annually. “There are lots of bad actors out there, but influenza comes every year,” Swartzberg says. The CDC’s estimates through March 7 include upwards of 51 million flu infections, 24 million medical visits, 670,000 hospitalizations and 55,000 deaths, including 136 children, just this flu season alone, and just in the U.S. “That’s pretty horrific, but because we live with it every year we have gotten used to it,” he says.
We’ll finish the list, and not complete it, because the above is enough to provide the context we need for this article. Here are the final two examples: Hepatitis C infects approximately a quarter of a million people annually and takes 56,000 lives which equals a 22.4% mortality rate, and the measles for which we do have a vaccine still takes 197,000 lives per year.
By comparison, the *CDC reports that as of this writing at 1:10 on 3-23-2020 there are 33,404 total Covid-19 cases and 400 deaths in the US. It remains to be seen where this CoronaVirus will end up ranking but suffice to say never has our country been so enthralled and concerned about a virus, justified or not, in our history.
Truthfully, there are and have always been strains of flu which are infectious and deadly and unfortunately new ones will surface. We agree that we need to act safely and pragmatically so as to contain the spread of any virus yet the irrational behavior of the world leaders and society where this one is concerned is baffling when it is lined up against its predecessors. This virus has created a HUGE media obsession and panic, some believe politically motivated, in an election year. Social media has also fueled this pandemic more then previous ones, as it has become an ingrained, regular part of every part of our culture. In this instance it has NOT been a friend of reason.
Maybe the silver lining is that when people interact through social and travel activities in the future they will take the value of cleanliness and hygiene much more seriously. We as a country and society can’t afford to have this type of healthcare event on a regular basis therefore my prediction is that in the “new normal” more common sense practices to protect ourselves and one another will become the norm. In the long term that is a good thing. Things will go back to normal. They always do. Humans are relationship seeking beings by way of their innate DNA. We will once again interact and play music and “live” music will continue to be an important part of our culture. It is necessary for our sanity!
Yes, The Novel Coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, is bad and a scary thing. Yes everyone needs to take it seriously, yet placed into context the current paranoia is unmerited and counterproductive. Whether you, yourself personally come down on the side of believing that “all the reaction is overblown” or if your opinion is that “folks aren’t taking it seriously enough” the die is cast. The entire world has it under the most intense magnifying glass ever afforded a virus and whether it ends up in reality to be so devastating or not it doesn’t matter at this point. The leaders of our country
on the federal and local levels have been so frightened at its potential that the world is shutting down to battle it. As unimpressive as it stacks up to the biggest and baddest killer viruses in history, it is believed to be by enough experts, that it is, at least temporarily, crippling the world economy. People’s perception is their reality so we must deal with the consumer mindset as is.
It is now time to tie all this back into what we do for a living – place music in people’s lives. We have an important story which still needs to be told and told more effectively than ever before if we are to not simply to survive but be profitable. Let’s address that next…
Many of the suggestions I will provide next are pragmatic, therefore many of you will instinctively have already not only figured them out but already employed them to battle the current selling landscape. It may however be helpful to have some good sales ideas together all in one place, so let’s take a good look at the story we now have to tell and how best to tell it… Looking at any selling situation through the lens of the 5 Steps to Successful Sales process has been a dependable practice for me and one I will continue and strongly suggest you apply to our current selling environment. If you would like a refresher before we continue please find it here: 5 Steps to Sales Success
Step #1 Establishing Credibility just became more challenging and important than ever before. While you are introducing a prospect to your company and brand names… years of company experience in the local market in finding the right piano inside the right price range yada, yada, yada, you must now not only tell the prospect how great of an experience it is to find the perfect piano for them at your gallery but also how paramount health safety for your employees and visitors are to you/your company. How all precautions are taken to not only tune and prepare but sanitize the instruments so that the playing experience of those shopping for a piano will be risk free and as enjoyable as possible. Harken back to the title of this writing, “Selling Confidence During a Psychological Storm.” Relative to Step #1 Establishing Credibility – to effectively sell confidence (which builds your credibility in the prospects mind) you must sell safety and your concern for another human’s health as an integral part of the first territory you cover with a new prospect. As time goes by and we place his current health scare in our rear view mirror you may not need to hammer on it so hard but during this particular juncture in time it is best to paint a picture of controlled, isolated exposure to instruments that cannot hurt but only bring joy to them.
The verbiage will vary a bit per sales associate yet the comfort level of the prospect needs to be achieved if you are to talk them into a “live” visit in today’s world. You must paint a picture of your company being the most conscientious choice in town! In fact, unless the competition hits on health safety as well as you do, you may have no competition! Do not hesitate to mention you are willing to wear a mask, keep a socially accepted distance, and go to whatever level of protection the prospect desires. Being willing to mention the willingness to create a stress-free shopping environment so
that in many instances the result will be yours is the ONLY visit they decide to make.
An example of a safety infused vm intro would be: “ Hello ____________, this is ____________ from ________________, the most friendly, stress free, and safe place to find the perfect piano in your price range…
An example of a safety infused text would be:
The same verbiage – then I would keep my texts short and to the point and end them in a question such as: “Would talking on the phone, a text or email be the most convenient way for me to provide piano information to you?” or “What type of music are you most interested in playing on a piano?”
An email affords you the opportunity to be a bit more verbose but don’t get too lengthy. The encounter should still end with a question and always bear in mind that the goal of your first attempts are simply to create dialogue and start a relationship so you can…. once more “Sell Confidence During a Psychological Storm.” NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO DISPLAY DESPERATION if you are to sell confidence. DO NOT PUSH. DO NOT try to move the relationship out of the prospect’s comfort zone. The achievement you strive for in these troubled times is simply to become the trusted concierge so you have the opportunity to talk them into a selection… be it virtual or in person, and in person is always best. If you get the cart before the horse it will most certainly get away.
Step #1 Establishing Rapport This is the step where you should attempt to be on a more personal level with the prospect. In “live” and phone encounters the conversation doesn’t even need to be on topic, just relationship deepening and there certainly is much too discuss in our current climate! In texts and emails your goal is to work your way into a relationship deepening position so gaining permission to continue the conversation is goal number one. Firmly establishing credibility will afford you the opportunity to deepen the relationship and be successful in step #2. As always, abiding by the chronological order of this 5 step method is crucial to your success.
This is the perfect time to get a little personal and encourage them to empathize with you. How? By explaining that it has become critical for your safety and the safety of your customers to work by appointment. It is ok to state that you long for the days when the doors were constantly revolving with walk in traffic but that in today’s world we deliver a more controlled therefore better and more safe shopping experience when working by appointment. I do not recommend that you go into ALL the benefits of shopping by appointment on the front end but simply impress upon the person you are in dialogue with that you provide a pristinely safe environment and abide all the necessary, recommended guidelines to do
so. If they encourage a conversation about health safety certainly oblige them because it is a sincere, built objection/concern that should be addressed as soon as they need it to be.
An aside – a web site article espousing all the benefits of selection by appointment would be an appropriate thing to publish. Playing “Mr. Obvious” here are some of the benefits that could be listed:
A) Spacing out visitors and assures controlled contact.
B) Operating by appointment allows for time to police the sanitization of the gallery and instruments in between visitors, ensuring a risk-free environment.
C) The selection/shopping process is a much better shopping experience in that there will not be any distractions.
D) You will not show up and have your representative already busy therefore you will get the advice, answers and service we intend for each customer to receive.
E) Your instruments can be not only be tuned and properly prepared but sanitized was well before your arrival.
F) Anticipating your visit, your piano specialist can procure the very best “out the door” price (including taxes, prep and deliver) for the instruments you are considering.
I’m sure we could craft some more but you get the jest… the entire attitude needs to be one of installing comfort and confidence in the exchange between your company and the potential buyer. The above were benefits to consider posting on your web site. Let’s infuse the value of the appointments into a conversation which can be an extension of the first one conversation or a separate one at a later date, however the dialogue takes place, be sure you are selling the opportunity not the piano…
Dear ____________, for the sake of honoring your time and mine I’d like permission to ask you a few breif questions about the type of piano you may be most interested in and here is the reason why. Because we are the regional representative for __________________(name of anchor piano brand) we have many responsibilities to service and care for our past customers along with organizing all of the increased (critical word to use) need for people who are needing music in their lives. In times like these music becomes an emotional lifeline for countless people.
You can understand the need for us to organize all of this interest so that everyone safely gets what they need. Then proceed with your fact finding and making them feel like a “live” appointment to look at pianos properly prepped is one of the very best, healthy and stabilizing things they can possibly do for themselves. This will hold true, not only in these troubled times, but this positive lifestyle enrichment would end up benefiting them from here on out and the rest of their life.
Knowing exactly what you are selling is critical to the success of any sales pro and/or company. Years ago I was working with an Army/Navy Outdoor store having a challenge with their image. When I got them to quit focusing on solely promoting their inventory they understood that they needed to sell the intangibles and agreed to a slogan which simply stated.” We Sell Fun!” My point is that people don’t buy a thing, they buy what a thing does for them. The attitude change did their image and sales staff a great favor. They began being unique to the big box store competitors and provided a better experience and expert advice that allowed them to recover much of the market share they had begun conceding.
In the piano industry, even before the current epidemic, we had fallen into some “nuts and bolts” selling habits. Habits that had us speaking volumes about the capabilities of the instruments long before the benefits to a prospects life had been nailed down in the exchange. We aren’t selling the approximately ten thousand working parts in an acoustic piano first my friends, or even the exciting and sophisticated technical capabilities of some of these new instruments and player systems. In today’s world we are selling SO MUCH more than that. We are selling SANITY. Therapy. Mental Health. Emotional Health therefore a bridge to better Physical Health. We are selling Self-Esteem. We are selling Music, Spirituality, Escape. We are selling Happiness. Pianos are simply the beautiful tool of expression that acts as the conduit to an advantageous lifestyle.
Now more than ever, the consumer population needs what we do and there is a no faster path to financial recovery for a piano dealer than having your sales pipeline full of friends you can talk to about making their world a better place. We will be challenged but we will persevere. Our commitment is to journey with you and come out stronger on the other side of this than before.
I am not personally sold on the magnitude of our current pandemic as you probably could tell earlier, but as I stated the leaders and marketplace have bought into it, therefore the sensationalism will continue until it burns out. People’s perception is their reality. This current circumstance does not change our mission and that is to evangelize an immutable fact, the piano is very healthy choice. Our job still is and will continue to be to convince as many people as we can that whatever world they live in, life is always more fulfilled and best lived with music in it.
Wise men put their trust in ideas and not in circumstances – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Past financial event information was referenced from:
Past piano sales numbers are referenced from: http://www.bluebookofpianos.com/uspiano.htm
The information at about Orson Wells come from:
Information about viruses was sourced at: