Just yesterday, I was walking through the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle in New York with my son. After getting our free chocolate truffle from the Godiva store, we stumbled into a famous luxury goods store while we enjoyed our little confections. I should note that if you like chocolate, the Godiva membership is one of the few that gives away something for nothing. One need only wait until the calendar changes to the next month to get your yummy treat. You don’t need points; you don’t need to buy ten to get one; you don’t need to spend a nickel – ever. You just show up and get your free truffle.
This isn’t a marketing blog but there’s something there worth noting. I know Godiva fully expects that I’ll buy stuff along the way. But that’s beside the point. While other companies work to build “relationships” with their customers with all kinds of strings, caveats, and quid pro quos, Godiva is acting more like a friend. “Here, have one. I ask for nothing from you.” Seth Godin writes copiously about this kind of behavior toward customers becoming increasingly important in a noisy, information-rich world of companies desperate for your narrowing spans of attention. And Frank Belzer, whose new book Sales Shift is in the running for Top Sales World "Top Sales & Marketing Book" of the year. Vote here.
But I want to talk about the luxury good store experience because we can learn something about selling. We walked in, turned right (just like the research showed we would), and started looking at stuff in the glass cases. Art deco lighters, fancy cigar holders, and thousand-dollar pens were among the items so you get the idea of the type of store we were visiting. The young salesperson walked toward us and asked, “Can I help you find something?” I replied, “No.” He said, “Okay,” and backed away. That was it. Poor “ol’ sport,” I thought, having just seen Gatsby and having not yet completely purged that phrase from my head.
How do you spend a fortune renting retail space at Time Warner on the ground floor, with carefully-designed layout (the result, no doubt, of all the latest in psychological testing), and the best in customer acquisition strategy, and still manage to neglect the part about actually getting the sale? If inbound marketing gets you 70% of the way to making the sale (their figure), in this modern era, the upscale retail shop is designed to go even further. It has to, after all, given the expense of all the bricks and mortar they took the time to assemble. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep building them. Humans, occasionally, like to get up from their computers and move around. We get cabin fever, eventually, and continue our voracious shopping habits in person.
The mentality that led to such poor salespersonship at “Luxury Store” reminds me of the approach that car dealers take, where the role of sales is misunderstood and misdirected. (More on that in another article.) The corporate executives undervalue the role of sales, rely on imagecraft, market positioning, aesthetics, and prestige, etc. and for the most part, it works. People walk into the Honda dealership because they already like Hondas, not because they have no idea what they want and lucky for them, the nice salesperson is there to help them figure it out. Gazillions are spent on advertising to help minimize the role of the salesperson, whose job is to get the person to stay long enough to experience the paper-shuffling, manager-approving Jedi tricks and sign on the bottom line.
The good ones don’t lose the sale. The lousy ones make people furious. Really, haven’t you had that experience, or know someone who has? Don’t you know people who will never buy a car from so and so till the fiery underworld remodels itself as an arctic getaway? But what about real salespeople? Can’t they make a sale where there wasn’t one? Of course they can.
Let’s replay that conversation with Ol’ Sport using a simple conversational technique I learned from TopSalesWorld Hall-of-Famer, Dave Kurlan. “Hi! Should I say welcome, or welcome back?” Me: “I haven’t walked in here before.” OS: “Then welcome. What made you walk in here today?” Me: “You were across from Godiva and I was too busy enjoying my chocolate to notice which store I was wandering into.” OS: “Perfect! If there were a reason to wander in here, what would it be?” Me: “I like cool pens.” OS: “Do you have a pen collection?” And so on, which might include questions like, What’s your favorite pen? Why? Is it sentimental or design or quality? Etc. “You know,” I might think to myself, “I wasn’t expecting to have a real conversation.”
Instead, OS stood back, afraid to say anything more, and eliminated the risk that he would lose a sale that he thinks might otherwise automatically happen. Why is this allowed? It happens because the leadership of Luxury Store, the manager, the marketing department, the board of directors, the finance team, and the sales staff are all on the same page. They undervalue the role of sales. Sales is increased, in their thinking, by the clever product creation, history, story, reputation, design, store layout, inbound strategy and marketing. The sales associate is there to open the glass cabinet, make light conversation, and ring up the purchase, right?
This is a missed opportunity because it’s possible to dramatically increase sales.
- How many of your sales people are falling into this trap?
- Is your company fostering the problem?
- How much pressure do salespeople have to not blow the sale?
- Do your sales people have the necessary selling skills?
- Do they have the DNA to overcome their own weaknesses?
- Can they listen?
- Can they react in the moment?
- Do they have the presence to be the added value themselves?
Maybe it’s time to evaluate your sales organization? Maybe it’s time to look at what you might be missing from your sales team. What are their current capabilities? How much better could they be? What would it take to make them better? And how long would it take?
Someday, I’ll buy a super nice pen because I like pens. When that happens, there was nothing about my experience at Luxury Store that puts them on the short list. But there could have been. It was a missed opportunity to make a sale much more than it was a careful execution to not lose one.