When last we left our unlikely protagonist … yours truly … he’d just walked into a small shoe shop in Burnaby, BC where he unashamedly proclaimed himself to be the representative of 30,000 human feet. He confidently stated that some of those feet needed shoes and he could bring them there.
The proprietor … both amused and bemused by this unorthodox introduction … reacted as any normal, level-headed businessmen would do, or for that matter probably as you and I would do … with a skeptical, yet tepidly hopeful “And just how do you propose to do that?”
A rational question deserving of a reasonable response.
But our worthy proprietor received a polite dodge, “Well, I’m not exactly sure yet, ’cause I don’t know enough about your business. How long you been in business?”
To understand how our hero navigated from his bold, positive, opening declaration into a closing the deal mode, we need to veer a little off our straight line narrative into the briefest of tutorials about salesmanship.
But have no fear, this class contains no confusing nomenclature, charts, statistical regressions or anything of the sort … just a few scraps of common sense is all.
Great salesmanship rests upon two foundation stones. They may appear to conflict with conventional wisdom, but if you look closer I think you’ll agree they make sense.
The first of these foundations is empathy, or the ability to put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes (pardon the shoe pun). A healthy dose of this vital elixir enables you to understand the motivations and needs of your prospective customer.
Without empathy a sales pitch (brief exposition of the benefits of a service or product, generally followed by an order for (known as a close) has about as of much of a chance succeeding as does a dart thrown in the dark.
The second of these foundations is listening. The everybody’s buddy types like Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, who rely on connections and faux friendships; or the slick, fast talking used car salesmen of Cadillac Man may make great fiction, but not great salesmen.
What makes a great salesman? The insight and complete knowledge that selling is simply the language of questions.
With that belief and both feet firmly planted on selling’s foundation stones, that is provided the person can deal with uncertainties in life (e.g. blind optimists), you have the makings of a great salesman.
After all, the consummation of a sales presentation ultimately depends on the ability of the salesman to find out three essentials bits of information … what the prospective customer wants; what the customer needs; and what the customer can pay for.
Good questions will get the info quick.
Not just any questions though. Not those that can be answered with a simple yes or no … they’re closed questions. You want open questions … they’re the kind that take more than a monosyllabic grunt to answer.
If you think about it, it’s not much different than getting from Olympia, Washington to Sublimity, Oregon without a map. You have to ask questions to get from here to there!
An invaluable ally will pop up in all of this … the human ego. There’s no subject we love to talk about more than we love to talk abolut ourselves. When you start asking someone about their opinions or businesses or hobbies, it soon becomes obvious the biggest problem you’ll have is how to stop them!
And as he reached this point, our young, blind optimist said to the old shoe salesman who’d been spilling his guts out for 10 minutes or more, “I’ve got it! I know how to get those feet to walk in feet here!”
“How?” the proprietor replied, failing to mask his enthusiasm … not a good negotiating tactic, but an understandable reaction. However he’d warmed up, and now that he’d sized up this young pup dressed up like an attorney, somewhere deep down inside he thought, “What the hell. But it could be he’s on to something here.”
You know, something almost magical has just happened. All of a sudden our salesman has become a possible solution to to the shore shop’s cash flow problems, or to overstock problems, or who knows what!
Our hero has transmuted from an unwelcome interruption into a solution. From an intruder into a potential ally.
“Oh. I couldn’t tell you how. We work with print, with the eyes. That’s all we’ve got.
I couldn’t possibly tell you. I’ll have to show you,” replies our dressed-for-success young man. “Tell you what. I’ll sketch something out to give you an idea. What time’s best for me to see you again, afternoons or mornings?”
Those of you savvy in the ways of salesmenship may have spotted a couple of tried and true sales techniques in these concluding remarks.
First, our man gave the prospect a choice between a yes and a yes (afternoons or mornings), not between a yes and a no. Second, by giving the shopkeeper the opportunity to chose the next meeting date, the prospect now has taken a tiny bit of responsibility for the sketch, not to mention the time and trouble of the return visit.
Some might even say that the prospect now feels a tiny bit obliged …
Does he close the deal? Find out in our next exciting episode of “Finding my way … The Burnaby Mirror, part 4, or DID OUR BOY CLOSE THE DEAL?
Disclaimer: this was a snapshot in time taken long ago. Today Burnaby is a thriving, integral part of the Lower Mainland, filled with commerce and gentle, loving inhabitants … who love hockey and beer!
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