Show Me… What?

I grew up on a farm in Kansas, and as a kid, one of the great things about living on the farm was the trucks. Yes, we had several on our farm, and our neighbors and my extended family had some nice trucks as well. One of my favorites was my grandfather’s 1949 Ford, which is a classic that, to this day, is still sought after by collectors. He also had a 1955 Ford Stepside, and then there was my dad’s International Station Wagon (a forerunner to the modern-day Suburban). Another one that I was especially fond of was the early 70’s Chevrolet Long Bed that my neighbor owned.

To this day, I have had an ongoing obsession with trucks. So, when I saw the story on the CNBC website that Tesla was debuting its new truck, I was excited to see what they had in store. Being familiar with Elon Musk and Tesla, I was not surprised that this truck did not look like anything I had ever seen before. Much to my amazement, one of Musk’s partners demonstrated that this truck could withstand a hammer on the door and a shot from a 9mm bullet and that the windows were shatterproof. The way they showed that the windows were shatterproof was to drop a metal ball from a specific height, and voilà, the demonstration window did not break. But that display was not enough, and they took the demonstration one step further. Next, the Tesla associate took the metal ball and threw it like a baseball at the driver’s side window to prove it would not break. The only problem was that the window broke! Not to be discouraged, he threw the metal ball again a second time at the rear driver’s side window, and of course, it shattered as well – much to his surprise and disappointment, as well as the shock to Elon Musk and the audience of onlookers.

Here are my questions: Why did they want to create a shatterproof window for a truck? And, why was it so important that they would make it a highlight of their presentation? This demonstration really dumbfounded me, and no doubt others, as many people ridiculed them for such an epic fail. Again, I asked myself why that was an important feature to show the public? Unfortunately, I have seen this phenomenon more than once. What is it? It is where a company creates a product or service, and they believe that some obscure feature is essential when it is just not.

Salesperson: “Mr. Rush, check this out – this truck has shatterproof windows!”

Me: “How much does that add to the cost?”

Salesperson: “I am not sure…”

Me: “Can I have regular windows installed in my truck? You know, after the demonstration I saw, I am not convinced that the shatterproof windows work so well.”

This is referred to as over-engineering – designing a product to be more robust or have more features than often necessary for its intended use or developing a process to be unnecessarily complicated or inefficient. When I worked in the software industry, the computer programmers would present a particular feature to our executive group, and I would ask, “When, and how often, will the customer use this feature?” Typically, the end-user was not even given consideration. So, we usually end up with over-engineered products with features that don’t matter, and we never use. Personally, I have owned a wide variety of cars and trucks during my lifetime, and I have never broken a window. Not one time have I shattered a side window. (Thankfully, I have never been involved a severe collision, where this may happen.) All the way back in 1927 automakers began using laminated safety glass, also known as auto glass, for automobile windshields. So, today’s typical auto glass is already of high quality and meets industry standards. Even if I did experience a break in a window, I would call the “#1 auto glass specialist in the country” and have it repaired or replaced.

Let me share the opposite situation involving recent purchases. Two of my latest new cars have several features that I would not want to go without now that I have had them. 1) Automatic unlocking doors. As I approach the vehicle and open the door, it automatically unlocks if I have the “key” in my possession. 2) A 360-degree camera display. I love this feature, especially when it involves parking the vehicle. 3) The blind-spot indicator.  In my current car, it is a signal in my side-view mirror if someone is approaching my blind spot during a lane change. I am confident that this has prevented more than one accident. So, these are the features that a salesperson might want to mention, not that my window can take a steel ball being thrown at it.

What is the takeaway from the bungled Tesla demonstration? When we evaluate features of our product or service, it is important to highlight those aspects that the consumer wants and will use, demonstrating the best outcome using our product or service – not just those that we think are interesting. An essential aspect of any product or service is how the customer uses it and if it meets their needs or desires. Many products and services have unnecessary features incorporated that increase the cost, but the consumer will never use and doesn’t even care if that feature is available.

What is the point? Make sure that when you address the deliverable phase of your sales presentation that you are not explaining an endless list of features that don’t matter to your prospect. Instead, explain features that will help the prospect have a far better experience using your product or service.

Oh, and if you missed the Tesla demonstration you can click here to see it now!

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