How 3 Days As A Necktie Salesgirl Taught Me About Selling Success

By Ellesse

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.

business success selling success
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?

If you’re reading this article from the RSS news feed or via the email alert, please understand that this is my way of keeping up with you. My ardent reader. The “Customer” of my writing business.

Yes! Thank you for supporting Goal Setting College all this while!

** Photo By Heiwa4126


10 Responses to “How 3 Days As A Necktie Salesgirl Taught Me About Selling Success”

  1. Al at 7P at 8:31 am

    Hi Ellesse – I really enjoyed reading this article! Your past experience in sales is proof that sometimes failures are not really failures at all, but instead they are learning events.

    I too came to an early decision that sales was not something I could do, because I tend to be too honest and would sabotage my own sales effort. However after some initial failures, I realized that I just really needed to tailor my style to suit my personality.

    This was a great article because it also points out that sales techniques can be pretty general as well, whether one is selling hospitalization insurance, working in the IT industry, or simply attracting readers to a blog. We all need this skill at some level. Thanks for the great read.

  2. Alex Blackwell at 10:46 am

    Great article Ellesse. I have found that effective selling is really all about building effective and mutually beneficial relationships. People buy from people – give them a good reason to buy from you!

  3. Carole at 12:15 pm

    A little maturity…a little experience…and a little creativity. That’s the winning formula!

  4. Jennifer at 1:01 pm

    Excellent article! Honestly, I am much better at networking due to my experience as a waitress. It’s amazing how the memory skills and the ability to pick up on nuances helps in the accounting field. I’m the youngest person in my department and the supervisor.

  5. Lorraine Cohen at 1:27 pm

    Loved this article Ellesse

    It’s rich with so much wisdom. What jumps out at me is how my own business has grown that echoes so much of what you wrote. The first thing people buy is YOU before they buy your product or service. It’s all about relationships and the connections we make with folks. We make those connections by being real and listening to what people need rather than trying to sell them.

    Happy customers and clients will want to share you with others. That’s the best way to grow your business – through referrals of raving fans.

    Having quality products and services, reputation, integrity, values and standards, are also important elements!



  6. Ellesse at 2:20 pm

    @Al, Yeah Al, in fact, selling is part and parcel of our life! When we’re convincing our future employers that we’ve got the mettle to make it in the new job, we’re selling our skills and knowledge. When a guy propose to a gal and talks about their future life together, he’s selling a lifestyle. When we’re engaging in a debate with our friends, we’re selling our ideas.

    I totally agree with you on restructuring your style based on your personality. You know that high flying financial planner friend of mine. Her sincerity and caring nature is what made her a success. Not hard sell. Or plain eloquence.

    @AlexI attest to what you’re saying. Relationship building is indeed an important part of the sales process. But it’s also a double edged sword. A lot of people refrained from going into sales thinking that they didn’t have solid contacts and relationship. But it’s not necessary to START off things at all. You can begin with zero contacts and slowly build relationships. One at a time.

    @Carole Thank you for your words of wisdom!

    @Jennifer Thanks for sharing your experience! It’s amazing to know how much you’ve gained from your job as a waitress. I’ve pretty much my previous jobs to thank for honing my presentation skills as well. It seems “part of the job” at first but only when I left it did I realize I too, gained so much from “the training”. And kudos to you for being the youngest and yet the supervisor, good stuff! You must’ve been an amazing worker!

    @Lorraine, Absolutely! The other day I was reading a very inspirational piece by another fellow blogger of how much his book sales increased without doing any pitching or marketing. He relied entirely by word of mouth, focusing on adding value to his readers entirely, catering to their needs by writing articles that addresses their problems. At the end of the day, if you’re good and true, customers can’t wait to share it with the others. Because a big hearted cause, always deserves another big hearted effect.


  7. Andrea Hess | Empowered Soul at 8:21 pm

    I think to lots of us who work in the healing arts and spiritual development, “selling” is a bit of a dirty word. I’ve replaced the term for myself with “making the most authentic offer” I can come up with.

    I don’t really actively “sell,” which to me means trying to convince someone to make a purchase. I just constantly and authentically put my perspective and expertise out there – in the form of my book, my blog, my articles, etc. If it resonates with people, they tend to come into my personal consulting practice.

    Relationship building is my main focus. I’ve had some people on my email list for years before they become customers. Over the years, I feel like I’ve built some amazing relationships through my business that enrich me personally as well as professionally.

    I think it’s always helpful for us to figure out how we like to be sold to, before we try to sell (or offer) our services to others. What ropes us in, gets our attention? If we sell the way we like to buy, we’re more likely to be successful. I buy on recommendation, mostly. Or I buy after I’ve been on someone’s mailing list for a while and know what they are all about. So those are the strategies that work best for me, also.


  8. Ellesse at 2:08 am

    @Andrea Excellent advice as usual! I pretty much buy on the same pretext. Been on someone’s mailing list or RSS feed for some time and got to know and trust the person’s integrity & knowledge before acquiring the product upon his recommendation. I like the way you reiterated the fact that we should always try to understand our purchase decision making prior to offer/sell our products and services to people. “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you”.

    Such a simple concept. But something so easily forgotten. Thank you for your words of wisdom!

  9. Harold at 3:24 pm

    Hello Ellesse, and greetings for a motivational weekend! ;)

    I’m amazed at how far you’ve come… reading your background and how you “stumbled” into this experiential industry – Personal Development.
    I want to send more encouragement to you to persist in your “labour” in this GoalSettingCollege effort. It’s fantastic and inspirational – reading about your life journey and the insights you glean from simple life experiences! ;)

    I’m also a student of Success and am looking into developing a system for achieving success. You may want to explore the “technology” of NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming. It definitely complements and also supplements what you are working at ;) Can share with you more of what I’ve discovered.

    I’m also making preparations for a project, of course also related to Personal Development, that I envisage to impact lives.

    By the way, that was how I came across your College website – cos I was researching and looking for songs that are related to inspiration and motivation (part of my Sg-wide project) – and so i did the google – and yours was the first site i came across so I clicked on! And surprise surprise – I was really surprised that the list of motivational songs was compiled by… a fellow Singaporean! :) Law of Attraction??? You tell me!

    Anywayz, it’s great knowing that you are so into PD and also into your online bizs.

    One (to be) common trait between both us is that i, too, will soon be leaving my 1st career, to start doing what i want to do ;) so i guess i can draw inspiration from you!

    I’ve definitely be re-visiting your site again and again…
    Have a great weekend!

    ps: Dare to Dream BIG! As you pursue your variety of biz…
    pps: May I suggest one tip to enhance your living environment section of your vision board – when you are captioning the photos, use continuous tense words i.e. “…ing” as well as feeling words. e.g. “It is 2 Jun 2011 and I am sitting in the living room of my 10th floor RIVEREDGE condo apartment. I am looking at and enjoying the view of east coast park, the sunrise with sunrays bursting forth and shining on my face…. Opening the windows of my RIVEREDGE apartment on that beautiful sunny and breezy morning, I feel the seabreeze against my cheeks and smell the sea sealt spray, as i am sipping my freshly-brewed cappucino made in my modern white-themed kitchen….”
    Something like that – its like you are living that experience already and are telling your subconscious, and registering the feelings and sensorial perceptions ;)

  10. Ellesse at 8:00 am

    @Harold Oh hi, awesome to hear from a fellow countryman! Thank you so much for your encouragement! It’s words from people like yourself that keep me going in spite of the challenges and difficulties. I’m still keeping well and I will still continue to write :) albeit that less frequent.

    Good to know you’re into NLP and Personal development. This is getting to be a very huge industry in Singapore and I’m sure with your determination and knowledge, you’ll do very well! All the best!

    And thank you too for the suggestions on the Vision Board experiment. Although that experiment has ceased, it continues to be one of the most popular article series on Goal Setting College and I’m sure your suggestions will definitely help those interested in giving Vision Boarding a try. Once again, thank you for your valuable comment and please continue to stop by and give me ur 2cents worth :)


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