There have been so many courses on selling for so long that surely the world must be producing great sales people at an exponential rate. Or, maybe not. You can do your own experiment any day of the week.
It’s always an interesting experience going out to buy items where you will be dealing with sales people. Most people dread it—they think they are going to get strong arm tactics and the old-fashioned sales squeeze a la Ron Ropeil of Veg-O-Matic late night TV fame.
I was involved as the “prospect” in two sales situations over the past few weeks. The first encounter dealt with seeking space for this year’s Entrepreneurial Leaders Conference in Toronto on November 15th. A natural tendency is simply to go with the previous year’s provider, presuming they did a good job, which they did.
So, as I was planning for this year’s event, I contacted last year’s venue. They confirmed that my proposed date was available and that they would get back to me “promptly” (their words) with a detailed proposal. The weeks ticked by. I was preoccupied with other things, and we had a long way to go before I had to finalize the date, so I wasn’t too sussed with getting a response. But then it dragged on and on.
I thought I might be without a venue for our event. When I hadn’t heard from them for a number of weeks, I then decided to send another email on a Monday saying that I hoped to hear from them immediately---and in any no later than end of the week. I was getting a bit perturbed as it seemed to be an odd situation, me chasing them, in order to ask them to please take my business!
As the week was nearing its end—and still no response—I got a call from a sales person at the Marriott Conference Hotel. I had met this sales lady a few years back when I was doing an initial review of possible venues for the conference. Although at that time I decided not to use the Marriott, she kept my contact information and made a note that ELO had an annual event in November. She had been contacting me every year for the past few years.
So, the sales lady emailed me that very Friday morning asking if I had need of any space. The timing could not have been much better, and by that time I was increasingly miffed and baffled by the lack of response of the other venue.
I told her, yes, indeed we do need space! She checked the booking schedule and confirmed that the date we wanted was available. She sent over the menus and after a bit of to and fro, we agreed on the menus and the space and the deal was done—all within the course of a single business day.
A second example of where I was the prospect in a sales scenario was in the context of looking for furniture. I determined that it was time to get a cushy, recliner chair. They’re not cheap—they can cost up to $2,500!
My wife and I walked into a La-Z-Boy Furniture Gallery. A sales guy spotted us and made his way over. He made some small talk and asked what we were looking for. We described our ideal chair and he showed us a number of models. This fellow was polite, courteous and knowledgeable.
We ended up finding a chair, but wanted it in a particular colour. Turns out they didn’t have it in stock. We told the sales guy that we wanted something immediately, that we would look around elsewhere, and then come back if we were interested. He gave us his card, but he wasn’t pushy and he didn’t ask for our contact information.
So, we walked out of the La-Z-Boy Furniture Gallery to The Brick Furniture Store about 300 steps away. We walked into the store—not a sales person in sight. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted someone who looked liked they worked for the store. Maybe they sized my wife and I up from afar and didn’t deem us worthy to talk to.
We walked in, walked around the store slowly, sat in various chairs, sampled the wares, and then slowly walked out of the store. No one ever talked to us. In fact, besides the one person spotting us, I don’t know if there actually were any other sales people in the store. So, the next day, my wife and I went back to the La-Z-Boy Gallery and placed an order for a chair.
What are the lessons learned?
Sales people can make all the difference. If you are selling convention space you are easily dealing in contracts worth $50 – 100,000. In the case of furniture, a sales person can sell an item worth up to $2,500 within 30 minutes.
Why did I go with the Marriott for this year’s conference? The sales lady practiced some basic sales / business development tools. She has followed up with me every year for a few years and it finally paid off. This sales lady practiced what they teach you to do. Listen to the prospect and follow up! Be persistent. No one else I have met at other venues—probably 10—had ever followed up.
In the case of the furniture, it was the basic skills of going up and engaging a prospect, asking a few questions, not being pushy, building a bit of rapport, and show that he was there to help up make a good decision.
The bottom line is that good sales people are hard to find but no matter the store or the product, and all the investment in physical plant and inventory, nothing is going to happen unless there is a real live person who knows what he or she is doing!