How 3 Days As A Necktie Salesgirl Taught Me About Selling Success
I used to think that being able to sell was something you either have. Or don’t have. It’s a talent. I couldn’t articulate as to what it exactly entailed. But there was something I thought I knew for sure. I didn’t have that gift.
When I was in high school, in order to earn some extra pocket money, I tried peddling festive greeting cards with my friends during one of my school vacations. We would carry up to 20 packets of such cards in our backpacks and scour through the residential estates, going from household to household, repeating that same sales pitch to every person we saw over and over again. It was really hard work. I would consider myself lucky if I manage to sell anything at all. Even though I was really lucky once, selling more than 10 packets on one day, I never repeated that feat. Since that vacation, I told myself not to get a sales job. Ever.
In University, I was having a difficult time finding a suitable vacation job and a friend asked me to try telephone sales. For a few dollars an hour, I worked as a telemarketer in a financial planning firm. We were given a list of prospects and for every lead we generate from the list, an extra commission would be given. And if that lead converted to a sale, we would get an additional bonus. For the 2 months I worked there, I didn’t earn any commission or bonus at all. It certainly didn’t feel good. But it worsened when I knew another friend got a commission on the first day she worked!
I started to see these past incidents as an indication that I didn’t have the talent for sales. It was probably that same underlying negative belief why I didn’t want to go into networking marketing or other brick and mortar businesses when I was researching on a new career. I hated the rejection in the face.
Imagine my dilemma when my sister and brother-in-law asked me to help out at his neckties pushcart? On one hand, I really wanted to help him as he was facing a resource crunch. On the other, I was worried about affecting his sales. Even though I was still an implementation consultant then and giving software product sales presentations wasn’t new to me, selling neckties was a bit of a challenge. Not just because I knew nothing about neckties. Or because my previous experiences convinced me that I sucked in sales. But also for the fact that I had pretty bad fashion sense.
“What if the customers want me to give fashion advice?” I remembered asking my sister. Her answer was simple and straight to the point. “Use your instincts”.
Yeah right. If my instincts were that sensitive, I wouldn’t have been such a bad dresser myself! But guess what? What she said really worked. Using my instincts, I managed to persuade a couple of customers to leave their name and telephone number so that we can keep a customer database to encourage repeated sales. Using my instincts, I followed up on a request from a regular customer who ended up purchasing more neckties when my sister tended to him. Using my instincts, I accidentally broke the highest sales record for the pushcart, which till now, is still unbeaten! But where was that instinct when I first started selling festive greeting cards and doing telemarketing?
That was almost a year ago. But the memory is still so fresh that whenever I thought about it, it brings a cheer to my face. I didn’t break a multi-million dollar sales record but the lessons I brought home from the small selling success was much more valuable than that! Here’s what I’ve learned :
Past Failures Hone Your Sales Instinct
While working at the pushcart, I realize that my past failures as a lacklustre festive greeting cards peddler or an under performing telemarketer actually helped in improving my sales instinct! Coupled with my then working experience as an implementation consultant, I was able use that instinct to take the right judgment call based on the customer’s feedback, voice tone and body language. Ironically, without those failed brushes to do sales in my life, I wouldn’t have become a better sales person!
Many people have rejected opportunities in their lives because they couldn’t do something right for the first or even the second time. Myself included. I admit I took up the stint only to bail a relative out. But what did it end up? A sweet selling success that would likely to give me confidence that I can do it again. As long as I put my heart and soul to it!
Don’t Just Sell. Presell Too
My brother-in-law did a great job with the pushcart design. He covered the showcase area with expensive looking black velvet and laid out all the different neckties on it so that anyone walking past would be able to view all the available, beautiful designs at once. Even though there were more than 5 to 6 carts vying for attention at that time, his really stood out. The style and design of the cart, coupled with the wide range of selection, immediately augmented the perceived value of the neckties. Some people were so impressed when they were told the very competitive prices that they bought 10 pieces at one go!
I would love to say I’m a great salesperson but it’s a fact that I didn’t have to do much selling at all. While I was tending the cart, almost 80% of the customers who came to me asking about the prices were already completely presold. All they need was a trigger – in my case, the price – to ignite the purchase impulse.
Perhaps you may be thinking “Nah, that’s not applicable to my industry. I’m selling hospitalization insurance.” Really? Think about it. Aren’t those regular luncheons, courtesy calls or meet ups with your prospects intended so that they would remember to call you up if they do need the coverage? What about name cards? Do you distribute name cards so that it’ll officially introduce yourself as a financial planner or business owner? Whether you choose to believe it or not, these are irrefutably part of the preselling process. And if you do it well, the work is already 80% completed.
Time Sensitive Promotions May Be Cliché but They Still Work
An Indian tourist had finished selecting a necktie when I told him that if he buy two more pieces, he would be able to enjoy a time sensitive discount. He started scanning the showcased selections to add on to the number. By simply reminding the customer of that promotion, I was able to add 2 more sales into the till.
I know there are many skeptics who’re sick and tired of such snake oil salesmen tactics. One time offer, upsells or whatever they call it, looked like sleazy sales tricks designed to squeeze the last drop of blood from their customers. I don’t deny I’m one of those skeptics too. I remember boycotting a particular beautician just because she tried to sell me too much additional stuff I don’t need!
But my short stint made me realize that if this is done without being too intrusive, it’s a great way to increase your supplemental income without destroying the customer’s experience. For example, I noticed that the tourist shortlisted many designs and were mixing and matching a couple of neckties before deciding on that one and only piece. So, I casually reminded him once on the bulk purchase savings, without sounding too aggressive.
If the customer’s really keen – usually reflected in his body language – reminding him once is sufficient. Doing that rampantly and constantly – especially for regular customers – just peeves them off. And you may lose them in the long run. Just like how the beautician lost me as a customer.
Eloquence Flavours The Conversation But Strategy & Sincerity Leaves The Impression
Ask anyone their impression of sales personnel and most, if not all will tell you that they need to speak well. I’ve exactly the same thoughts.
But there’s more to it than meets the eye! Customers nowadays are so adept at detecting sales talk that they will cut you short before you finish your “speech”. As I tested the different ways I interact with the customers, I realize that the success of the deal doesn’t rest on how well the salesperson can speak. But rather how well he can cater to the needs of the influencer!
Let me quote an example. A young trendy couple popped by the pushcart on one of the days I was on duty. Just when I was about to approach them, I noticed that the well dressed female customer started picking and choosing the neckties. She would place a tie on her boyfriend’s chest to visualize how it would look on him. And both of them would burst out in laughter at times over some of the more flamboyant designs.
My instincts told me that the influencer was the girlfriend. She would be the one to decide whether to buy and what to buy even though the boyfriend was the one paying. I thought that since both of them were enjoying the times together and how the girlfriend was so dominant in the choosing process, my intervention might end up peeving her. Instead, I left them alone while standing by the side, offering my sincere service when asked for it. The strategy worked. They bought 3 pieces of neckties after spending 20 minutes going all through the selections!
Networking & Contacts Helps But Aren’t Necessary To Begin With
I don’t deny that strong networks and high profile contacts are important in sales. Especially for those industries which requires more personal interaction such as financial consulting services and wealth management. But are they necessary to get started in the selling game or help you move up the charts? Not necessary.
In a trying bid to boost my sales figures , I sent a mass text message to all my friends and ex-colleagues, asking them to drop by and support me. You know how many people turned up? One. And that friend didn’t even purchase anything. Although I was initially disappointed by the response, the sales that day wasn’t adversely affected. I find myself working even harder to make up for it so much so that the sales was much better than the average. You know something? The day I broke the sales record, I didn’t even ask for any help!
This is also supported by a friend’s observation. A high flying financial planner herself, she told me that she was already working on referral and new leads on the first year she worked. Your existing network and contacts may help you break the zero tally. But what pushes you ahead is your ability to generate good word of mouth and increase repeat or referral sales.
Bearing that in mind and also drawing from what I was already doing online, I took the initiative to ask for the customer’s namecards, email addresses to be added to the records. Customers were so delighted that we bothered to keep up with them and their needs that they gladly obliged. One couple who were migrating to Australia the next day even asked me if we do overseas shipping for our products!
Even though my brother-in-law didn’t continue with the customer list – I carried on this practice in my own business. How?
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** Photo By Heiwa4126