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Sell Value, Not Boxes

By R. Andrew Hurley, Ph.D.

December 5, 2018

width=300It was a hot summer in the Southeast U.S. And after sweating through much of it, I decided it was time to level-up my HVAC. As any savvy consumer would do, I Googled “HVAC” and familiarized myself with the language: terms like SEER rating, BTUs, tonnage, and refrigerants. I checked out pricing—and felt prepared to go head-to-head with the sales rep. I envisioned the conversation: I’d call, a salesperson would show up, I’d receive a few brochures with the good-better-best unit lineup, and be pressured to buy top-line.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

At first glance, my “salesperson” didn’t appear as I anticipated—he looked like an installation technician. Clipboard, uniform, name patch, and certified details. Looked legit. After a brief introduction, Jim, my HVAC-certified specialist, asked questions about my current installation and permission to take measurements. Jim walked throughout the house and measured each room, used various instruments, checked the attic, and literally crawled through the crawl space. I was impressed.

After 25 minutes of inspection and notetaking, Jim said he was ready to discuss. He plainly laid out his findings on a well-prepared template. But, it was how Jim articulated the decision that was impressive; he asked me to describe how much control I wanted over my comfort. We discussed allergies, temperature fluctuations, and all sorts of conditions that became variables across a decision that I needed to make.

I’m telling you this story because Jim sold comfort, not HVAC units. He related his product to a value that I (the buyer) needed to define.

I’ve watched a lot of packaging sales folks focus on the features and benefits of cartons and containers versus the value brands are seeking. Most board companies make great board—so this strategy usually turns to a discussion on price really quickly—making you (the salesperson) the bottleneck in the decision-making process.

What are customers really asking for when buying packaging? I think it’s one thing: certainty. Just as the HVAC unit provides comfort, packaging must bring certainty and confidence to my launch. Knowing the why behind a sales call can be understood by asking questions around common values. Jim understood this when he asked me how long I want to wait to reach my desired comfort level, just as you should be asking what transport hazards are important to defend against, whether high attention to print is desired on shelf, and about the importance of an unboxing experience. All of these concerns can be addressed through the tools we have as packaging professionals (transport testing, eye tracking, structural design, and proper material selection). The sophisticated packaging solutions provider communicates packaging merit and keeps the conversation on value, not the box.

width=150R. Andrew Hurley, Ph.D., is an associate professor of packaging science at Clemson University. He can be reached at