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The Modern Art of Selling to Seniors

There’s a moment you dread. You know it’s coming. You know you can’t do anything about it. You want to think you’ll be calm and rational when it happens, but the cold shock of reality almost certainly will catch you off guard.

Of course, I’m talking about the day you get your first “senior” mailing. It could be an invitation to join AARP. It could be a catalog of pain-relief products. Maybe a free issue of Modern Maturity. But the point is that it’s an offer for seniors and you’re not happy about getting it. Not one little bit.

Why? Because seniors today aren’t like seniors of yesterday. They don’t like to admit that they’re seniors. They refuse to accept the idea that age is defined by the number of candles on a birthday cake. And that means selling to seniors is different now, too.

· Don’t call them “seniors.” That goes double for terms like “old” or “elderly.” Any direct reference to chronological age is a big no-no. People know how old they are. Trust me, you don’t have to remind them. The exception may be the word “grandparent.” Most people are proud of being grandparents regardless of the connection to advancing age.

· Nix the pix of blue-haired ladies. And forget about images of bespectacled grandpas playing checkers. Many seniors are active, independent, empowered, successful and highly satisfied with life. And even if they aren’t, they like to think of themselves that way. Your visuals should reflect that.

· Be direct. Really direct. Seniors have plenty of experience with people trying to sell them things. They’ve seen it all. They’ve heard every pitch. Read every ad. Opened a million pieces of mail. So you’re better off going easy on the hard sell and scare tactics. Just get to the point, solve a problem, make a promise and present your offer. Advertising has been a central part of the culture for a long time now, so today’s seniors are smarter about advertising tricks than ever before.

· Forget those silly short copy rules. You think people don’t read anymore? Nonsense. People probably read more now than ever. But because there’s so much more to read, people are picky about what they read. Seniors especially. People read amazing amounts of material if it’s personally relevant. That means you have to know the difference between “interesting” and “entertaining.” People will read anything they find interesting. People won’t necessarily read something that is merely entertaining.

· Establish your credibility. As people get older, they get more careful about the people they deal with. Who you are is as important as what you say. Credibility comes in many forms, including recognizable brand names, testimonials, the number of years you’ve been in business, the number and type of customers you serve and favorable reviews from respected sources.

· Remove the risk of doing business. Seniors tend to be more careful with their money. They seldom make buying decisions quickly. They’ve been ripped off a few times over the years so they think about the risks before they make a decision. It’s up to you to remove any perceived risk through the use of specific guarantees, information on order processing and return policies, assurances about how personal information will be used and so on. Doubt about any detail translates into risk. Risk causes hesitation. Hesitation stops the sale.

· Provide good customer service. Don’t just say it. Do it. Seniors have long memories. And they never forgive you for treating them poorly. They will tell everyone. The story will grow into a tale of woe and horror, and the business you lose will be 20 times what it would have cost to treat that one customer right.

As you can see, selling to seniors is pretty much like selling to anyone else. You just have to be a little more careful about what you do and say because you’re more likely to get caught if you’re blowing smoke.

One more thing. Don’t be condescending or insulting. Seniors are people, not just a demographic. Show a little respect. Besides, what goes around comes around, my friend. If you’re not a senior now, you will be. The mailman’s on the way, and he’s got a surprise for you. Neither snow nor rain

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