I hate shopping. The experience of venturing to a mall where bright artificial lights shine down on me the moment I walk in is my idea of a living nightmare. When I finally do meander into a store, I am typically greeted by one of three options.
- The salesperson eyes me up and down… and then decides not to serve me.
- The salesperson tells me how wonderful/revolutionary/amazing the product is in an attempt to sell me something I don’t want or even need.
- The salesperson plays on my emotions in order to sell me something that is significantly higher than my budget for that item or service.
All three scenarios are uncomfortable, awkward and sometimes even downright sleazy. Most people don’t like or trust salespeople for a reason. I’m not looking down or making a comment on the profession. I have a lot of respect for people who work in customer service. Being on the frontline can be downright difficult.
All I’m suggesting is that as far as making a sale goes, there is a magical fourth option. It is the magical fourth option that exponentially increases your chances of solidifying a transaction that seals a win-win deal for both the customer and the business. But for that, you’ll need a savvy salesperson.
The Importance of the Sale
In English, there is an adage that the Customer is King. The Japanese take it one step further and say that the Customer is God. There is a reason for these sayings. The sales stream is the lifeblood of every organisation. Without it, a business cannot stay in business. A sale is a transaction and an exchange of energy that takes place between the business and its customer.
If you ask me, there’s no point in making tall claims that your product can do something it can’t. This inevitably leads to buyer’s remorse. You can be rest assured that they won’t be coming back again. Or worse–that they come back and ask for a refund.
To me, the real question when it comes to the sale is–how do you create a sale and how do you ensure that a customer keeps on coming back?
To illustrate this, I’d like to tell you a story.
My Mangy Old Sandals
I stare at my mangy old sandals. They’ve been soaked in rain countless times over. Have I mentioned that I’m one of the few strange people I know who actually relishes the experience of taking long walks in the rain?
Despite the aesthetically unappealing state of my mangy old sandals, I still love them. They’re comfortable. I don’t care if they get wrecked any further. In the event that I have to remove them when I enter a place of worship, I never fear that they will get stolen. Please don’t judge me by the shoes I wear. What can I say? I’m a no-frills kind of gal.
But today, my sandals finally had it. My right sandal split apart at the sole as I walked to the bus stop. My mangy sandal days were over. It was time to do one of my least favourite things in the world.
I must be one of the few women I know who actually hates shopping.
I walk into a mall with artificial bright lights that shine down on me the moment I enter. Oh dear… here it comes. The dread fills up inside me. I have to go somewhere and painstakingly look at a gazillion options to find something that I actually like and is within my price range.
To me, there is nothing ‘fun’ about the whole experience. I don’t buy for emotional reasons. I am not someone who cares about fashion fads. And lastly, I am not the sort of person that likes to bug a salesperson and then decide not to buy.
Nevertheless, every customer with a need is a potential transaction just aching to take place.
I finally meander into a shoe store. It’s one of those big brand names. The salesperson gives me the once over. The moment he sees my mangy sandals, he darts out of my way and goes after another customer.
A bad decision on the part of the salesperson.
A potential customer is someone with a need that the business is trying to fill. A woman with a broken sandal is a far more likely prospect than someone who is wearing designer shoes. It is not always about the dollar amount that someone has in their bank that makes them more likely to pay. People pay to solve problems. And I definitely had a problem that needed solving.
Money is money–no matter who or where it comes from. Whether it comes from me or the person who is already wearing the fancy shoes makes no difference at all. A prospect doesn’t refer to your ideal customer or your target market (although it could very well be that person).
A prospect is simply a potential customer who has a need that your business can meet.
I walk into a second store. Admittedly, this is one of my favourite shoe stores in the whole wide world. Before the COVID era, when I had to physically leave the house, I bought all my shoes here. They’re comfortable, professional and they last for ages. Prices are reasonable and the quality is good.
The moment I walk in, the salesperson tells me about the end of year sale they’re having. If you ask me, discounts and price cuts can only encourage or expedite the buying process. People have to want to buy in the first place. It is one of the reasons why I’ve always been of the opinion that discounts don’t really work as a marketing strategy.
I stare at a bunch of sandals. They’ve mostly got platforms on their soles and I’d prefer flats.
“Oh, this pair is pretty,” the salesperson says. “It goes really well with the bag you’ve got.”
I’ve rarely ever heard a salesperson say that their products are terrible and send you to the shop next door. There’s no point in telling someone whether something is good or not. That person needs to decide for themselves.
And… coordinating my shoes with my purse was the last thing on my mind.
I walk into another store where I am a frequent customer…for work-related purchases. COVID has turned our lives upside down and I have no real need for work shoes. They’re ordinarily the shoes I’d wear to the office day in and day out–which is why they needed to be sturdy, reliable and comfortable. Not the sort of stuff you’d want to scrimp on.
“Oh… why don’t you treat yourself to a pair of these delightful blah blah… blah blah blah…”
Condescension rarely works in making a sale. My self-esteem is not that fragile. I may have a broken sole, but I don’t have a broken soul.
Sales and marketing people often appeal to our emotions. And there’s nothing wrong with that. People can and do buy for emotional reasons. But if you ask me, making a customer feel bad and then telling them your product will make them feel better is simply not the way to go.
The Savvy Salesperson
I walk into a store that isn’t a brand name. The lady behind the counter is eating her lunch. She promptly gets up to greet me.
“Oh no, please don’t,” I say feeling slightly embarrassed.
Like I said, I always feel for people who work in customer service. It isn’t easy–standing on your feet all day long and having to deal with a vast assortment of life’s many ‘colourful’ characters.
I look at the numerous shoes on display and can’t make a decision. But I have a gut feeling that I’ll find what I need here.
“Are you looking for the same colour as the ones you currently have?” she asks as she chews on her pork chop.
Ah yes… It was a question. It was neither a statement nor a pitch. The first step in selling is to figure out what your prospect is in the market for.
“I can see you liked these shoes very much…” she continues. “Are you looking for something similar to replace them?”
I nod. Oh yes. Someone finally understands me. The lady points over to a pair that’s pretty similar to my mangy old sandals.
“This pair is cushioned and very comfortable,” she says. “Why don’t you try it for yourself?”
I smile. That’s the second part of making a sale. You can tell me it’s the best thing in the world–but I need to decide that for myself. I slip them on and she’s right. They are really comfortable. I could easily walk in them all day. I’m all for leather soles in terms of comfort, but they spoil easily and definitely cannot withstand the rain.
“And the sole is slip-proof,” she adds.
I laugh. Oh yes, I definitely need slip-proof shoes.
“I really like these,” I say. “But I don’t think they’re waterproof.”
She quickly brings out two pairs of rubber sandals. One pink and one black. I don’t usually buy pink anything. It is simply not a colour that ever finds its way into my wardrobe.
“Just try them on,” she says. “If you don’t like it, you can get the same thing in black.”
I smile. She’s presenting me with an option I hadn’t considered. I try on the pink ones, still highly dubious.
“Take a look in the mirror,” she says.
I walk over to the full-length mirror and am pleasantly surprised. I actually do like them.
“Try on the black, too,” she says. “See which one you prefer.”
I put them on and although I do like the black, I decide I like the pink ones better. That’s another thing a savvy salesperson does–they show you options you hadn’t considered and make you wonder why you never you considered them in the first place. It’s part art and part science. She first appealed to my personal tastes and then proceeded to show me other viable options.
I was in the market for a pair of shoes, but quickly decide to get two pairs. One for my long walks in the rain and one for smart casual daily wear. I was a clear prospect–she understood that. By honing in on what I was looking for, she instantly grabbed my attention and moved me into making a transaction.
“Oh and we are currently having 30 percent off,” she says when I reach the cash register.
I was already going to buy them… but that was a pleasant surprise.
Selling is not about selling. It seems counterintuitive, but that’s what it is. For a transaction to take place, a business needs to provide a prospect with something that they’re looking for… or something that they didn’t know they were looking for.
By asking questions–as opposed to snubbing customers or doing a fancy sales pitch–we are more likely to increase our chances of creating a sale.
I wanted a pair of shoes. I ended up buying two.
I discarded my mangy old sandals and welcomed my new soles.
About the Author
Dipa Sanatani is the Publisher at Mith Books and the author of The Little Light and The Merchant of Stories. In The Merchant of Stories, Dipa takes the reader on a personal journey–narrated through a series of candid journal entries–on what it takes for entrepreneurs and creatives to start their very first venture.