After graduating college I was hired as a department manager for a large retail chain that no longer exists. Our store was not terribly successful so we experienced a certain amount of manager turnover.
During my final week as a department manager, we welcomed a new general store manager who viewed credit card applications as a road to success. I hated asking customers for them and the new store manager saw that as a complete failing on my part. It led to my immediate demotion to commission sales in the appliance department at a different store.
The transition was pretty easy. I learned how to recognize buyers versus browsers and I learned how to sell appliances that I had never used and couldn’t possibly afford. It was really fun.
The competition in that department was fierce. There were usually three or four people on the floor hunting for customers. The goal was to snag a buyer and then wall them off from the rest of the sales crew. We all developed our own techniques for doing this. It was a daily competition that only the truly hungry could survive.
I learned a lot about closing sales during that time. First, I learned how to read reactions to statements about price, delivery and product. Second, in order to sell something, you needed a person’s full attention. If the customer likes you, they listen to you. They also are much more likely to buy from you.
The third thing I learned was that if I had to stop in the middle of a sale to ask someone else a question about a product, or if I had to glance at the owner’s manual, the sale was almost always lost. There would be no more customer when I got back. Worse, someone else would step in, ‘help me out’ and take the sale.
I spent time studying the washers, driers, stoves and refrigerators I was selling. I learned how long a cycle took, how much water was consumed and how much power each one used. When customers asked questions, they could count on my confident answers. Sales were easy and upsells were absolutely assured.
Today, I spend a lot of time talking with salespeople about the best way to adjust logos for embroidery. I try to suggest alternatives and edits when possible in order to get the logos to sew most accurately and clearly. A few of my customers pay attention and when they move on to their next customer, they apply what they have learned in order to advise the new buyer. They tend to close their sales much more quickly and profitably. Their customers generally have more realistic expectations of the appearance of their apparel. Sales are faster and smoother and ultimately very profitable. They take the time to learn their product.
On the converse are those salespeople that send a design with no instructions and who expect me to just know what the right answers will be. On the one hand, this allows them to slide away from any responsibility regarding design or quality. If they can blame mistakes on the decorator, they never lose any money. On the other hand, they are not keeping their customer’s attention, they are not closing the sale and they are certainly not going to get value added sales.
The sales profession is a tough one in many regards. It requires a very tough skin and a willingness to have doors slammed shut. Beyond that, a little bit of knowledge and the willingness to advise a customer, ask questions and show some interest in what they are selling.
I learned to sell things a long time ago. Our culture has changed a lot since I started selling and yet the process remains pretty much unchanged. The very best salespeople make their customers into experts, provide them with honest information and deliver as promised. In order to do this, those very same salespeople have to know their product, advise their customers and have a genuine interest in what they are selling and to whom.
Of course it’s much easier to take no interest and rely on someone else to do your thinking. I just don’t understand where that could be a very fulfilling way to pass the day.