Revealed! Six High-End Audio Sales Strategies and How to Counter Them!
Selling high-end audio gear can’t be easy. The stuff is pricy, many consumers don’t see the point, and the consumer pool is small. When someone comes in to listen to speakers, you really want to make a sale. That’s why shopping for high-end audio gear feels so much like dealing with a used car salesperson. The tactics are dirty, the experience feels stressful, and, in the end, you are not sure if you got played or not. For your edification, here are some of the high-end audio sales strategies and how to combat them.
Sales Strategy 1: Confirmation Bias
One of the oldest tricks in the high-end audio sales strategies book is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to interpret events in a way that confirms their previously held beliefs. When shopping for audio gear, the high-end salesperson will use this to make sure you are impressed with what you are hearing.
The process is simple:
- They tell you what you are about to hear.
- Next, they play some content.
- Lastly, they ask you if you noticed what they suggested you’d hear.
In my personal experience, I was sat in front of speakers and told that the female vocals would sound fantastic—as if the woman were in the room with me. The salesperson played the track. Afterward, he said, “See! She totally sounded like she was in the room!”
There are a lot of psychological reasons why this high-end audio sales strategy works. You are not only primed to believe what the salesperson has said, but you are paying more attention to one aspect of the experience over any other. Have a speaker with a mediocre bass response? Tell the consumer to pay attention to the treble extension. Have a speaker that rolls off the top end? Play something with a lot of bass and point that out.
There are two ways to counter this tactic. First, you can just ask them to stop talking. That will sometimes work. If you call them out on what they are doing, they may stop. Second, bring your own music (when shopping for home theater speakers, we suggest this no matter what). They can’t prime you for something if they don’t know what’s coming next. In the end, they should be willing to let the speakers speak for themselves.
Sales Strategy 2: Can’t Play your Content
This one drives me crazy more than anything else. If they really wanted to sell their gear, they would make sure that every speaker, every amp, could be paired with any source so that consumers could hear their own music. Instead, too often they’ll fall back on the excuse that the speakers, amps, or receiver you are interested in isn’t connected to a CD player. Or can’t stream from a USB thumb drive.
Most likely, it is all bull.
They could hook up a CD player for you, but they don’t want to. They want to have complete control over the listening experience. If you use your own music, all they can do is sit back and let you listen. That’s no way to sell a speaker!
Walk away. Unfortunately, that’s all you can do in this instance. If they insist that they can’t play your content on the speakers or gear that you are interested in hearing, then thank them for their time and head for the door. While they may very well let you go, that is likely for the best. If you want to ensure you are buying the perfect gear, you have no choice.
High-End Sales Strategy 3: The Bait and Switch
This is done most often in a room that is full of gear. You’ll see a couple of pairs of speakers at the front of the room, a few subs strewn around, and a bunch of electronics on a fancy rack. They sit you down and play you some music out of the largest speakers in the room. Wow! Doesn’t that sound great? Aren’t you impressed with these speakers!
Psyche! We were actually using these small speakers you didn’t even notice!
The bait and switch is a time-tested method that works. You expect a big sound from the big speakers so you are totally impressed when you find out they were using the small ones. Now they seem like a steal compared to the other speakers. But get them home and live with them for a little while and the luster quickly rubs off. Your expectations tainted your experience, and now you are really hearing your speakers.
Even worse is when they play some speakers/gear for you and don’t tell you everything else that is in the signal chain. Remember, there are subs in the room. Are those playing? When they are switching between speakers, are they keeping everything else the same? These differences can have more to do with your evaluation of the different speakers than any actual difference in performance.
Ask a TON of questions. Make sure they are using the same gear for each speaker chain. Don’t be afraid to get up and move around the room. Make sure that there aren’t any subwoofers playing when they shouldn’t be.
High-End Audio Sales Strategy 4: Volume
One of the easiest ways to fool a person into thinking one thing in audio is better than another, is by playing one louder. Unless the speaker is distorting in some way, the louder speaker will be perceived most often as being “better” by the listener. This is a well-known phenomenon, and it is why audio reviewers always talk about level-matching speakers before comparing them.
If you are in a high-end audio shop and you are listening to two different pairs of speakers, you must make sure they are level-matched. That means that if they are asked to play a note at a certain volume, you will hear it at the same volume from both speakers. This is imperative if you want to make an informed decision.
If they don’t know, or won’t reveal, if their speakers are level-matched, you’ll have to test it yourself. Whip out your trusty SPL meter (or download an app for your phone), and ask them to play some test tones. They claim not to have test tones? No problem! You can download some from AudioCheck.net. They are free and you can burn them to a CD to carry with you.
Audio Sales Strategy 5: Changing Rooms
If you are going to compare speakers, they should be in the same room. There are other considerations, but changing rooms (or even changing seats within a room) can have a huge effect on your perception of sound. We’ve talked about the importance of your room a number of times. If the speakers or gear you are interested in hearing are in two separate rooms, moving between the rooms is not the answer.
Believe us, the more expensive gear is in the better room.
In the end, you should audition any high-end audio purchase in your own room before you buy. If you are comparing products at a store, you should make sure the comparison is as fair as possible. Having the speakers in different rooms creates a long delay as you walk from one room to another. With that delay and the differences in the rooms, it is nearly impossible to make an accurate evaluation of any differences.
They have to move the speakers. If they won’t, you should ask if you can take a pair of each home to test in your own room. There are real, psychoacoustic reasons why it is impossible to compare two speakers that aren’t in the same room. And they know that. If they are refusing to let you compare, you will need to assume that they know one won’t stack up to the other. And it is probably the more expensive offering.
Audio Sales Strategy 6: Guilt Trip
One of the more nefarious tricks in the high-end audio sales strategy handbook is the guilt trip. This often takes the form of a very direct and somewhat accusatory question or statement. “You want good sound, don’t you?” “Even a deaf person could hear how great that bass response is!” These questions and statements are designed to force you into agreeing with the salesperson. They are constructed to put you on your heels and forcing you to say something you may or may not agree with.
The idea is that once you say “yes” or agree with them, you are more likely to do the same later. This leads you down the path of trusting this person and, more than likely, making a purchase.
When you hear these sorts of statements or questions, you’ll feel an urge to agree with the salesperson. Resist this urge. Say nothing or, if possible, disagree. This will let the salesperson know that you can’t be manipulated in this way. In the end, you want the salesperson to help you, not manipulate you into making a purchase you will later regret.
High-end audio gear is very expensive and a purchase that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Recognizing some of the high-end audio sales strategies and how to counter them will help you make the best decision you can.
Interesting. In the UK, many high-end independent audio resellers will let you audition speakers, amplifiers etc. in your own home for a week or two. I’ve always gone into a showroom knowing what I wanted to test. The first set of speakers I tried at home sounded ‘too big’ for the space. The smaller bookshelf speakers sounded great. Audio is reproduction is greatly affected by the room itself. You can never know how something will really sound, until you hear it in your environment. Fortunately, I’ve always been impressed with the helpfulness of the sales assistants and they have never tried any of the ‘used car’ sales techniques.