We’re all aware of the salesman stereotype, particularly if you’ve had any involvement in sales. Pushy, arrogant, greedy, but mostly unhelpful. Which is particularly disheartening since this career is supposed to be centered around helping people. The standard image that comes to mind when someone says ‘salesman’ is the fat, balding guy in an old, tan suit standing in a used-car lot, his grin revealing his one gold tooth. The reality of a good salesman is a little different than that, though.
I have spent many of my adult years in vocations that were largely driven by sales. Through the years I have had many different bosses pushing their many different ideas and techniques on ‘closing that sale.’ Most of the techniques are centered around ‘gotcha’ tactics that almost try to trick or corner the customer into a position where they have no other alternative but to buy, or at minimum buying would be against their better judgement. While having techniques on approaching the customer and asking for the sale aren’t inherently bad or ineffective, there is a core ingredient that must be present to have any sustainable, reliable business. We’ll look at what that is after a couple experiences in my life that highlight the need for this element.
There was an off-and-on two year period in my life that I worked for the electronics retailer, RadioShack. I worked in our city’s least-visited store that was across the road from a rent-by-the-week motels and an adult store. Needless to say, we were frequented by people intending to steal something almost as often as we were people intending to buy something. In other words, the odds were not ever in our favor.
Coming into my second year in the store, we had a change in leadership (I won’t mention which role to protect their identity). As is the case with most people stepping into a new leadership role, she was ambitious and ready to implement new systems and techniques to increase the sales in her area. Again, not a bad idea, but the correct focus has to be there. She made her rounds to each of the stores in our area and let us know that we were to do the following:
Shake each person’s hand
Greet each person with an informal and relaxed greeting
Ask them open-ended questions about their wireless service
Ask them questions that pointed to our wireless services as the answer that they couldn’t logically say no to
Close the sale – Every person leaves with a new or upgraded cell phone plan
The idea here, again, is to back them into a corner where they can’t logically say they aren’t ready for a new or different cell phone service. You know, because they needed it and just didn’t know it. Voila! Our sales would go through the roof and every customer is happy with the service they didn’t know they needed! Right? Well, not exactly. In fact, she was kind enough to offer us a demonstration and tried her technique on a customer. The man promptly left the store without the items he intended to buy, never to return again. Or at least he didn’t return while I was still there.
The primary focus in sales is to introduce customers to a product or service they aren’t aware of that they need or could benefit from. But when you trick or corner a customer into making an impulse purchase, you tend to leave a bad taste in their mouth and often times lose them as a patron, if they don’t outright deny you as in this case. As most of us know, it is much easier to keep a customer than to gain a new one. Building loyalty takes time, money, and hard work.
So what key ingredient was that sales technique missing? How do we keep customers who have given us the time of day? The answer is so simple it may seem insulting:
You may be thinking of ending your reading there, but you would be missing the point of the article if you do. I’ll expound on how that trait ties to sales to show you exactly what I mean.
During my time at RadioShack, my numbers didn’t start out at the top. I wasn’t the shining star to anyone but my manager right off, because my sales didn’t look like much in the beginning. It didn’t take long, though, for that to shift. Where some other salesmen were plateauing or declining, my numbers steadily went up. My manager appreciated my willingness to work from the get-go, but really began to appreciate me shortly thereafter when my sales began to really climb.
The best example of keeping this key ingredient in all of my time in the sales arena came later in my tenure at the store under a different manager who bought into the bully mentality heart and soul. I had a customer who had visited the store shortly before her contract was up with her wireless carrier. Her phone was broken, and since she wasn’t eligible to upgrade to get a new phone, her only option was to buy a new phone outright for upwards of $600. That was her only option through us. Using integrity, though, I saw the customer’s need, and told her about a used phone shop up the road that would sell her one to get by for much cheaper. She thanked me and left the store.
Outrage! Business blasphemy! I didn’t corner her into a $600 sale! And needless to say, I got a death glare from my manager.
Fast forward a couple of months now, though. That same lady returned when her contract was eligible for upgrade to renew. Who do you think it was she asked for? You got it. And every time she had a electronics question or need, she came back to talk to Shawn Bain at RadioShack – across from the adult store and pay-by-week hotel. The sale was even greater than if I had talked her into the initial $600 sale too!
The key here is that, as a salesman, you aren’t looking to force a customer into a sale. The product or service that you have is not a good fit for everyone! No matter what your boss tells you. When they say it is, nod your head and go on the floor knowing that isn’t always the case. Your real goal is to find the best product-fit for your customer, or the customer that can truly use the product or service that you offer. If you don’t have it, and know someone who does, point them in the right direction and send them with your card. Next time they have a need in your area of expertise, you are who they will call. You may not have made the sale in that moment, but you will most likely have made many sales to come.
Identifying the customer for your product is where your primary focus should be at the onset of your conversation. You have to take the time to truly listen to what they are saying and ask qualifying questions if their explanation isn’t clear. In the electronics world, questions would be “what is your TV doing now?”, “what do you like/not like about your cell service?”, or “what noise or thing makes you think your product isn’t working correctly?”. Just make sure they can’t answer your question with a one-word answer like yes or no. This forces them to expound on their reasoning and gives you a clearer picture of what their need really is, especially if they don’t know.
At the end of the day, keeping honesty in mind when you are selling will not only grow your business and help your customer, it will also ease the sting when someone tells you no. You will continue to build a good rapport with people and a steady customer base. Remember, your product or service isn’t for everyone the same way a square peg isn’t made for every hole. For the holes it was made for, though, there is no better fit. And that is where your sales come from.