Posted on September 10, 2010 by Dennis Snow
The problem with focusing strictly on the product is that you soon find yourself in a commodity environment, and remaining competitive eventually becomes all about price. That's a hard battle to fight and a harder battle to win. Focusing strictly on flashy delivery, however, has its own problems. Flashy delivery of a mediocre product is usually a recipe for customer disappointment. The old "snake oil salesman" comes to mind.
There are examples, of course, of organizations that are successful with extremes of both of these models. But such success is exceedingly difficult and only a few companies excel at those extremes. For most of us in business, there's a better way.
It’s the Steak AND the Sizzle
Most organizations that succeed in the long term recognize they are selling the steak AND the sizzle. Yes, the product must be good, or even great. Yes, the delivery must inspire an emotional connection with the customer. The steak and the sizzle must go together.
Here’s a literal example of the steak versus sizzle metaphor:
A Dining Disappointment
My son and his girlfriend recently ate at a high-end steakhouse that a couple of friends had recommended. Danny and Nikki both enjoy a good steak, so they were really looking forward to the dinner.
The first sign of trouble was the slow service. It took some time for the server to arrive at their table, and then even longer for him to bring them a drink menu, and then even longer to deliver the drinks. (The service never got any faster)
The dinner menu emphasized that salads are made table-side, which is ideal for Danny and Nikki because they’re both pretty particular (fussy) about what they want on their salads. Well, the salads arrived fully made from the kitchen with items neither of them wanted and without items they did want.
When the steaks arrived, Danny and Nikki both agreed that while the steaks were okay, the quality wasn’t really in alignment with the price or with the accolades they had heard from their friends. So much for their much anticipated special dinner. But, they're both experienced in the service business so they chalked it up to an off night for the restaurant.
Nails in the Loyalty Coffin
The first nail in the loyalty coffin came when, at the end of the meal, the server asked how everything was. Danny and Nikki gently and politely said they were a little disappointed because what they had heard wasn’t consistent with the experience. To which the server replied, “Well, your steaks were cooked the way you asked,” and said nothing else.
Then came the second nail in the loyalty coffin. Nikki had a bit of her steak left and, not wanting it to go to waste, asked if the server would mind boxing it up. Typically a high-end restaurant at least makes an attempt at an attractive presentation for the take-home box. The server returned with Nikki’s boxed steak in a cheap plastic bag you'd find in any discount store. Danny and Nikki knew I’d love that, so they took a picture of it. Not a pretty picture or a thoughtful representation of a "fine dining" restaurant.
Now, it could indeed have been an off night for the restaurant or for the server. But that’s not the point. The point is that two customers went out for a much anticipated steak dinner and ended up disappointed. For that night at least, the restaurant was just selling steak with little regard for the sizzle. If the delivery had been strong, Danny and Nikki would likely have given the restaurant a second chance. For that matter, if the steaks been exceptional and the service just mediocre, they may have gone back. But not only will they never return, they’re sharing their experience with others.
The question is not, “Is it more important to sell the steak or the sizzle?” The question is, “How can we excel at selling the steak AND the sizzle?”