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How to be a Good Salesperson When You Aren't a Natural Salesperson
There's nothing that irks me more, at the moment, than people who give you bad advice. I'm not talking doctors or lawyers...I'm talking about those truly vapid little dolls that work in department stores.
I am not a dainty woman. Thanks to my mother's Slavic heritage, I'm tall in stature, broad of shoulder, wide in hip and if I'd been born about 300 years earlier, there wouldn't be a worry if the family ox was having a bad day and couldn't manage the plow.
Don't get me wrong, if the situation calls for it, I can be as feminine as any woman. But don't expect me to go the ruffles and lace route. You wouldn't put something pink and frilly on a the neighbor's pit bull...so please keep those girlie little scraps off me...in fact, don't even suggest them.
As I stood there stiffly in front of a dressing room mirror wearing a god-awful concoction of "catholic school girl gone bad," the salesgirl ooohed and aaaahed telling me how adorable it looked. Did she want to make a sale THAT badly? There was no way I was going out into the world dressed like that...
The fact that I hadn't even ASKED for her opinion had obviously escaped her.
One of the many careers I've had involved the sale and design of granite and marble stonework for interior use. I never planned on having such a career...it just happened accidentally. I started with a small company as their office person and as they expanded, so did my duties. One of these was running down the stairs to their new showroom every time the door went ding, ding!
My photographic memory and thirst for any form of knowledge, soon had them replacing me in the office and putting me permanently in the showroom to work with potential customers. I am not a natural salesperson. However, if I love and believe in something...well then I'm convinced it can pretty much sell itself.
I was pretty good at it...at least it seemed so. Before long I had clients asking personally for my help, interior decorators and architects referring their customers with directions to see nobody else but me and businesses asking my boss to borrow me for the education of their own sales staff. I loved it! Every minute of it! So many beautiful homes to work with, the owners so excited about their new project and best of all not a dime of it was coming out of my own pocket. Who wouldn't love that type of job?
There are definitely some do's and don'ts to being a good salesperson...when you aren't a natural salesperson. Here are a few things that I've learned that helped me to be the best salesperson that I could be....
- 1. Know your product - You live in the information age...use it. Educate yourself on every facet of it...from creation to use. My customers were forever asking me the country of origin for their materials. Knowing their new fireplace originated from Greece or Turkey thrilled them completely. There was one gentleman that actually wanted to know all about the difference between igneous and metamorphic stone. A day after making the sale, he called the company and asked for the owner. "That salesperson of yours is good! " he exclaimed to my boss, "I'm a geology professor and she knows more than I do on the subject!" The point is...you never know what will make a sale. I don't care if you sell hamburgers or cars, a customer is always impressed by a salesperson that cares enough to know everything they can about their product
- 2. Know your competition - Likewise, take the time to know who your direct competitor is in the market. Being aware of the pros and cons of your product and the competitor's is important in your sales. Beware falling into the "my competition sucks and here's why" trap. You NEVER want to make a sale based on the flaws of your competitor's product. You come out sounding jealous, petty and churlish. The best way to circumnavigate this issue is to make sure you say something nice about your competitor...but then point out in a conversational tone how despite this niceness, your product is a better value in the long run. If at all possible, have samples to show your client.
The bane of my existence working in the granite industry was Dupont Corian. I spent months perusing their web site, reading blogs from customer and representatives, spitting mad over some fallacy that they were printing about natural stone. At an open house, I came face to face with a Corian advocate. To my delight, she had brought an armload of cutting boards made out the material and when I asked for several, she chortled with delight that she was converting me to the dark side. I then took them home and beat the snot out of them. I was fair about it...my own kitchen was formica, so that was test surface one. Test surface two was a granite cutting board that I had brought from work. Test surfaces three through five were various colors and grades of Corian. After a few months of treating them all equally...two of the three Corian surfaces were beat to hell. The third to my surprise fared rather well...even though it was white. The granite remained unfazed. My landlord was a bit pissed about the formica...but oh well. With the samples in my showroom however, I could actually show customers the results...and no, I didn't exclude the Corian that had survived rather well. It was only fair to show them honest results.
- 3. Give realistic expectations - While what you are selling might be the next greatest thing to sliced bread, it's not going to cure cancer...unless of course you are a pharmaceutical representative actually selling a cancer cure. Your customer has every right to be made aware of anything that might impact the sale...from availability to difficulty of installation or even further down the road, daily use and long term value. I'm a firm believer that an educated customer is the best customer. Why? Because you want them flapping their gums all over town, to all their friends and neighbors, about what they now know. You want to turn each and every one of them into your own personal pyramid scheme and send them out into the world selling for YOU. The best way to do this is to pile a bunch of knowledge onto them...it gives them something to talk about and makes them feel intelligent. They didn't just buy a bunch of rock...they bought an igneous stone from India that is somewhat porous but with the application of a good sealant will last them many years with minimal fuss and ultimately add to the value of their home.
Conversely, telling them that it will go in without a hitch within 24 hours and never require maintenance in their lifetime will only have them coming back at you when they still don't have the product a week later, the installers accidentally crushed their pet poodle, Fifi and the house started to settle and the stone is now cracking. Now you've made them look like idiots...and nobody wants to tell their friends that they've been an idiot.
- 4. When it comes to taste...don't offer your opinion unless asked - Occasionally I would have color challenged customers in my showroom. They'd come in with a designer or their spouses and pick different materials that had no business ever being together. When this would happen, I'd retreat as far as I could and mutter under my breath, "don't ask me for my opinion...don't ask...don't ask."
I was not like that salesgirl in the department store. It went completely against my nature to put my mark of approval on something I found visually repugnant. If asked my opinion...I gave it. This can be very tricky...
Sometimes I would preface it with a gentle, "I can see how you would like that choice, but have you considered..." or for the more obstinate, "well to be frank, I'm not the one that will be living there...so it should be your opinion that matters not mine." Occasionally though, I'd blurt out something before thinking...
It was a couple...older than I was. You could just tell the husband would have rather been anywhere else than in that showroom picking out countertops for the kitchen. However, since he had to be there...he was going to make sure that his opinion counted, even if he had to bully his wife into the choice. His wife on the other hand was a rather meek soul...with an exquisite taste for design...and she kept shooting me those "help me" looks...how could I refuse?
I started off with general questions...floor material...cabinet material...walls...appliances? To my horror the entire room was one shade so far. Beige. My mother was décor-challenged. I grew up being told that beige went with everything...and so everything was beige. This sale was like a bad flashback...
When the husband held up a stone that was also beige, my gut reflex kicked in and the only thing that came out of my mouth was "Blech!" At the same time that this took place, my boss walked in the door and was about halfway across the showroom floor when he heard my comment. To his credit, he barely paused...and thinking better of questioning my sales methods kept walking. He would tell me later that perhaps "Blech" was a bit...harsh.
The husband and I argued color theory for about 30 minutes before we finally reached a compromise...not a solution. I had learned from his wife that they were giving a party this weekend...why take my word for it when he could take several different samples home and show his friends? And so he did...
A little less than a week later, as my boss and I were talking in the showroom, in strolled Mr. Beige and his wife. He walked right up to me and extended his hand. I shook it while my boss stood there with his eyebrows raised. "I just want to say thank you," he said, "I took those samples home like you said...and after showing them to my friends and looking again myself...I had to realize the one I wanted looked pretty damn "Blech" to me too!" The wife shot me a look of pure gratitude as she ordered the color that she wanted...and I believe I received about five referrals off of her.
There are a lot of people that will tell you the customer is always right. 99.9% of the time, I'd agree with these people simply because it is good business. However, that .1% of the time is pretty important too. It might cost you a sale...but you'll gain a customer in the long run.
- 5. Listen - Some sales people truly do not know when to shut up already. While it's great to be knowledgeable in your product and the products of your competitor, nobody likes a know-it-all that loves to hear themselves talk. Make conversation, learn something personal about your customer. Do they have a dog...a cat...children? Where did they get that lovely pair of earrings they are wearing (and don't say this if they are ugly as sin...it has to be a genuine compliment). Trust me, it can all be worked into casual conversation without appearing nosy. This makes the customer think they are important...and yes, they are. Also, when they come back...and they will...you can smile and ask them how their daughter, Emily's dance recital went.
One of the highlights of my profession was being invited to homes for lunch, parties for the grand opening of a new home and people who came back to show me pictures of their completed projects. It just gave me the warm fuzzies.
- 6. Body Language - This is the last of the biggies. Even despite all that is known about the silent communication of body language...some people still don't pay attention to it. Because I am not a natural salesperson, I really had to work on appearing comfortable. Having the knowledge helped with confidence, but having to deal with complete strangers every day did not come naturally. Plus, I was selling a rather intimidating product...stone. My customers would wander around the showroom as if it were an art gallery...but I wanted them to see this in their own home and accept it as a practical addition. I was able to solve both problems at once. If I was explaining the merits of a product, I'd hop up and take a seat on the countertop or tabletop as if I was in my own home. Of course, by the end of the day, my butt ached from the cold stone...but no sacrifice was too great for the company.
So watch that body language. Make sure it's not sending one message while your mouth is sending another.