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Revved-up Reaves rocks Business Forum

AFTER NTEA president Vic Tedesco delivered a brief introduction, Chuck Reaves walked briskly to the stage and said, “No one is ever going to pay you what your product or service is worth.”

He paused for effect, then repeated the same words.

When the room had a chance to digest it, he added: “They'll pay you more than that or less than that based on what they think it's worth — and we control their thinking.”

It was an attention-grabbing opening to a riveting 90 minutes of “Value-Added Selling,” the convention-concluding Business Forum delivered by Reaves without the aid of videos, Powerpoint slides, or any other high-tech gimmicks.

Reaves, who speaks to more than 100 audiences a year and is the author of The Theory of 21 and Never Take Money From a Stranger, prowled the unadorned stage, gesticulating while offering tips on how to differentiate products and services in a crowded market.

Reaves said value-added selling is different from commodity selling in that you can differentiate your product or service in the customer's mind to the point where the customer will give you whatever price you are asking.

Reaves listed five principles behind a successful value-added sale: positioning, listen, unique, solution, and help, which form the acronym PLUSH.

  • Positioning.

    “It's not who you are that counts — it's who the customer thinks you are that causes them to make a buy or no-buy decision,” he said. “If they choose to buy, the amount they buy is based on our positioning. Positioning is every contact with every customer.

    “It's also every activity your customer does. Ever heard a customer say, ‘All you people are alike. What's your price?’ What the customer is saying is, ‘I'm slotting all of you in the same place.’ We have to be able to position ourselves or re-position ourselves differently.”

    Reaves said he has worked with numerous companies on their mission statement. Five days later, he'll ask them to recite it, and few can.

    “I recommend coming up with a one-sentence ‘elevator explanation’ — (meaning) you could explain what your company is all about between floors on an elevator,” he said.

    How is a company positioned?

    He said that with a sole provider, there is no question who the customer is going to buy from: you.

    A preferred provider says, “We're going to give you most of our business. Every once in awhile, we're going to shop for somebody else. You understand, don't you?”

    An alternative provider says, “You know, we've been buying from one of your competitors for a number of years, and call me crazy, but we're going to place this order with your firm. And I can't promise anything, but if you do a good job, we've got a lot of business for you down the road.”

    Said Reaves, “What is the customer saying to you? ‘My regular provider can't deliver. We forgot to order. Somebody made a mistake.’ The worst thing you can do is meet his price point, meet his delivery interval, and make him so happy that he'll order from you again. What's the price point going to be the next time? Same or less. How about the interval? Same or shorter.”

  • Listen.

    “It's amazing what people will tell you and give you if you just ask,” he said. “The human mind cannot not respond to a question. The Forrester Group released a study at the end of 2002 which it said it believes 75% of selling is done at the subliminal level. So an awful lot of what we're communicating to the customer is not just the words, it's the intonation of the voice, body language, eye contact.”

    He said sales people need to get into the habit of asking more questions and making fewer statements. He said many customers simply don't know what they want. To illustrate that point, he gave this example: A man walks into a hardware store and asks for a quarter-inch drill bit. What does he want? A quarter-inch hole. You take him over to the display and show him your assortment of drill bits. He says, “I'm trying to hang a ceiling fan.” And that is your opening.

    You ask him, “How about a plate to go on the ceiling behind where the old light fixture was? How about your ladder? Is it tall enough and strong enough? You have all the tools? How about a rheostat to control the speed from the wall? How about a remote-controlled rheostat?”

    Said Reaves, “There are still people who will say, ‘No, no, that's being a pushy sales person. If he wants a drill bit, sell him a drill bit.’ Well, would there be any advantage to asking him one more question: ‘Why are you hanging a ceiling fan?’ Suppose he says, ‘I'm trying to sell my house and I thought if I put a few amenities in it, it would sell faster and I'd get my asking price.’

    “At that point, you say, ‘Why don't we come by and do a walkthrough and see if there are more projects that will make your house more sellable?’ We drive out and pull up in the driveway and the first thing we notice is that this house needs a coat of paint. Can the customer see that? No. We watch our paint fade one day at a time.

    “When that man came into our hardware store and asked for a quarter-inch drill bit, what did he really want? 20 gallons of paint. Most of your customers don't know what they want. What they're trying to do is their job better, faster, and at a lower cost. You show them how do to that and then they will buy from you.”

  • Unique.

    Reaves asked the attendees to list three things that would set their business apart from the competition, then gave them time to do it.

    “If you wrote down the word quality, draw a line through it and take it off your list,” he said. “If you wrote down the word service, draw a line through it and take it off your list. The word has lost its meaning in our culture.

    “How often do you go out and gather up the accolades? That's contrary to your nature. But whenever a customer buys from you — especially in the case of a significant order — wait about 30 days, call the customer, thank him for the order and say, ‘I'm just curious. How did you pick us?’ The answers will astound you.”


“Solve the customer's problem, not yours,” he said. “You're in the problem-solving business. You understand many of your customers' problems better than they do because your area of specialty is outside their core competency. You're a strategic alliance. You become co-branded with them. Could you become so elite that people are proud to have one of your units?”


“I will submit to you that virtually every company at this show is coming up short in this area,” he said. “Helping is doing everything the customer asks — and then some. It's the hidden quality: The customer is never going to see it, but I'm going to build it anyway.”

Reaves gave an example: At 4:55 pm Friday, a customer calls you and says he has to have an upfitted truck by 7 am Monday. You say, “No problem.” You find the people and parts to do the job. You deliver it by 7 am, and when the customer says, “Thank you,” you say, “No problem. Glad we could help. My pleasure.”

Wrong things to say.

“What does the customer think it was? No problem, easy, your idea of pleasure,” Reaves said. “Their idea of pleasure might have involved golf clubs, power boats. The customer at that point becomes very confused. He thinks, ‘I need to place another order with you, but I guess I'll wait until Friday so that I can please you again.’

“What we have to do is tell the customer what we went through to make this happen for them: ‘When you called me at 4:55 on Friday, we all understood how important this order was for you. And trust me, we all know how important you are to us. We had some people come in this weekend. They're just like you and I. They had plans for the weekend: soccer games, picnics. But they understood how important this was, so they came in and we got the job done for you. When you have a moment, would you jot a letter on your letterhead that I can hang up in the break room so that the folks will know you appreciated the extra effort?’”

Reaves said most sales people are not skilled at letting the customer see the value their company has.

“The average person is aware of one-fifth of the people he influences,” he said. “One day, someone will come up to you and ask, ‘How did you get to be successful?’ You're going to want to say, ‘Aw shucks, it was nothing. Blind, dumb luck.’

“Please understand that may be the cruelest thing you could say to this individual. This person has finally decided he wants to move up one notch on the ladder. Have your answer ready. If you say, ‘Aw shucks, it was nothing,’ they're going to say, ‘Well, if you're here and I'm (down) here, and if you're nothing, what does that make me? Sub-something.’ Or if you say, ‘It was blind, dumb luck,’ you know what they're going to say? ‘Well, I'll go back over there and just wait for some blind, dumb luck.’

“Until you come up with your own answer, use this one: ‘I had the chance to quit, and I didn't take it.’”

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