I am rare, and there is value in all rarity; therefore, I am valuable.Og Mandino
We are all here to serve our fellow man and woman. If you are an employee, you serve your employer. If you are an entrepreneur, you serve the customers of your business.
I’ve run numerous businesses–both my own and that of others. If you ask me to choose between being a CEO of a large corporation and the owner of a brick-and-mortar retailer that’s buzzing with customers, I will always choose the latter.
I belong with the people. My place is with the common man. I cannot bear the idea of having to get dressed up each morning, being forced to wear a suit and having ‘to behave myself’ and fall in line with the dictates of decorum.
I’d much rather run a store–or several stores–a franchise if you will; where I interact and spend time with a wide variety of people from all walks of life. To some, that big corporate office is paradise. But to me, it is a prison.
I am happiest when I am with my customers. I can handle a team, deal with staff, manage finances etc. These are all skills that I picked up and developed along the way. But for me, there no greater joy than seeing a human being walk through the shop door just waiting to be served.
I want to know who they are. I want to know what they’re after and what they don’t know they’re after. I want to know how I can best serve them and meet their needs in a way that is mutually beneficial.
Whether you’re an employer, an employee, a retail shop owner or even a CEO–you have to know who you want to serve and how you wish to serve them.
In countries and cities all over the world, there are enclaves, suburbs and even streets where large groups of people congregate and gather for a particular purpose. High-end designer shops form clusters in a city’s prime shopping district. Independent jewellers start up shop next to each other on the same street. Law firms congregate in the same locality.
The market is everywhere. There are always people everywhere who’re waiting to transact with someone who has what they need. Scarcity is what drives us to form relationships and connect with one another. As the adage goes, no man is an island.
If you fear competition, it might temporarily make sense to open shop somewhere where there is little competition. If your business is highly niche, then it doesn’t matter where you open your business. But in the event that you know what you offer and who you want to offer it to–then you know exactly where you need to go to be a part of that ecosystem.
I belong where large groups gather for a particular purpose. I am a salesman and proud of it. I know–without any semblance of doubt–that this is what I was born to do.
One of the reasons why salespeople are often mistrusted is because they feel nothing when a customer walks into the door. Perhaps some of them don’t want to do it at all. They would rather be doing other things than deal with what they have dismissed as ‘difficult people’. One perennial truth of life is that it’s near impossible to get people to do things they simply don’t want to do. That’s when people become difficult.
When building a business–or even going for a job interview–one should always strive to create a solution that benefits the person who is parting with their precious dollars. In an earlier post on Redefining My Customer, one of the writers on The Mercantile candidly shared how he tanked two job interviews by focusing on himself–and how great he thought he was–instead of focusing on the needs of the employer.
We all have dreams, visions and aspirations. When it appears that there are no takers, there are one of two reasons. The first reason–you’ve approached the incorrect person. You don’t go to a jewellery shop and expect to be served a happy meal. Similarly, you don’t approach a customer in the market for a phone and try to sell them a shoe. If they really like your shoes, they may purchase them–but the probability of that happening is very low.
From the bazaars of the Silk Road to the online retailers of the internet age, the world has always been a crowded and noisy place where people are competing with each other for attention. As far as the marketplace is concerned, I don’t buy into the idea that the market has changed.
Yes, it is noisy. But it has always been noisy. Yes, it is crowded. But it has always been crowded.
But the master salesperson will do what he or she has always done. They rise above the noise to close a deal.
Whether you are an entrepreneur or an employee, you build a compelling offer by first understanding your customers, their problems and their existing alternatives.
Once you have that down, defining a solution becomes a lot easier. Why should they choose you over all the other competitors out there? What do you offer that meets a specific need? An employer gets thousands of interviewees for a spot on the team. A customer is the same predicament. They have to weave through a gazillion options before they arrive at a choice that meets their needs.
As a born-and-bred salesman, I am the middleman in the transaction. I facilitate this process between the customer and the business. I may own the business–but make no mistake–I too; am an employee in my own business. We all have to serve someone or something in this world.
By following this approach, I avoid spending needless time, money, and effort putting out an offer that I hope people will buy. Instead, I focus my drive and energy on offering a solution that I know people will buy.
The second reason why most people fail to get others to part with their precious dollars is because they’re too self-absorbed. If you’re struggling to get people to see what you see in yourself, perhaps it is time to stop looking at yourself and instead turn your eyes towards the people. What do they want? Where do they spend their precious dollars? Why are they spending it there?
As a salesman, I don’t chase the money. If you run a brick-and-mortar retailer and you have no integrity, there is no escape. People know exactly where to find you. If you have a track record of employers who are unhappy with you or customers who are displeased with your product or service, you will have to face the reality.
You have not offered anyone anything they value.
A Transaction of Winners
You don’t go to a jewellery store and demand a happy meal. There are limits to what you can offer and how you are offer it. No one can be all things to all people. Which is why I’ve always believed that you’re better off doing one thing and doing it exponentially well. This is a far superior option to scattering your energy doing a series of different tricks hoping that one of them will work.
If you’re dealing with failure, the root cause is always the same. You have been rejected because you have made an offer no one wants. Coming back to that happy meal; my daughter loves eating junk food. Like a broken tap recorder, I have been nagging her for months to eat more nutritious meals and she’s ignored me entirely. As a concerned parent, of course I feel hurt.
I don’t need to tell you, her or anyone else that it’s good for you to exercise and eat a balanced diet. But it doesn’t mean it’s something we actually want to do.
Perhaps by the time my daughter reaches my age, she might have a different attitude to these things. But for now, eating healthy is simply not on her list of priorities. She may understand and even agree with me. “Yes, Papa,” she said sweetly with a smile that melts my heart. But I didn’t see any signs of a change in her behaviour.
Dad stories aside, we all have our passions. I am passionate about a healthy lifestyle so that I may live to see my grandkids. Whereas my daughter’s passion is a Burger King’s chicken sandwich with coke and a side of fries. We know what is ‘good’ for us–but the top reason why we fail as employees, customers and perhaps even as parents–is by wasting needless time, effort and money putting energy into something that no one values.
By not giving people what they want or need, we fail. Paying customers leave us and go someplace else. Employers promote other colleagues while you stay stuck where you are.
But as a born-and-bred salesman, I am eternally driven by a strong need to fully utilise whatever empathy I have to persuade people. I am not here to coax people, push people or to tell people how amazing I am. I know, in my heart, that all I ever need to do is figure out how to get a prospective customer to willingly agree to my terms and conditions.
The true salespeople persuade others that what they offer is for their own benefit. I had played the role of a nagging parent until that point, but now I needed to treat my lovely daughter as though she were a customer. For the next week, I observed her quietly to figure out what she wanted.
What are the fads of the people of her age? Is she interested in the same trends they are? Not one for frivolity, she quickly dismissed them as utter nonsense. But there was something… There had to be something…
Everyone always wants something. It is what makes us seek out that connection and form relationships with others. I unequivocally believe that we fail in life when we see others as an extension of ourselves and view them as nothing but a conduit to satisfy our own desires.
I stopped for a moment to contemplate what my daughter’s needs were. She was artistically inclined and had once asked if she could take art and music lessons. I told her no without giving it much thought. She had to focus on her career and educational goals and that was that. Despondent and dejected, she never asked me again.
You see, I am more of a school of life, put food on the table and know where your bread is buttered kind of guy. I had seen my daughter as nothing but an extension of me. Although we are incredibly alike in many ways, it took me a long time to realise that we were still independent humans with our own wants, hopes, dreams and desires.
How foolish I had been! I had committed the cardinal sin that I always chided my employees for. I had put my own needs first and had not even considered hers.
With a firm understanding of her heart’s desire–I tried a different approach. I told her that I would take her to Burger King fortnightly as a treat and we would eat at home the rest of the time. I told her that if she stuck to this deal for three months, I would give buy her music lessons. If she kept it up for six months, I would buy her art lessons.
Her eyes lit up. There it was–that look every parent longs to see in their child. I had not seen that joy in her eyes for a long time.
You see, it was that simple. All I had to do was offer her something she desired.
I held out my hand. She clasped it in hers. We had a deal.