Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On Sales Experience

I just finished my job being a salesperson for a pre-Christmas launch of a line of cellphones. The experience has been an exceptional one. I threw myself into it, and came out a little more resilient to the slings and arrows of a profession some people love to hate.

Salespeople. What do you think of them? Fast-talking, bottom-line oriented, persuasive, informing, catchy, phony, sincere, dramatic, dynamic, interactive. All of these adjectives may have described me at one point or another, but probably the biggest thing I learned was to simply do my best, inform customers based on what they wanted to know, and try to understand their needs, budget and expectations to satisfy them accordingly. You can't take things personally, because people will tell you a thousand times "no". So what? I learned to choose my battles, and avoid getting into lengthy discussions with people who were simply looking for a fight. I learned to respect the wishes of people who weren't interested, and draw relations and provide relevant material for those who were in the consideration process. In some cases, when customers were overly anxious to buy, I saw a benefit of cautioning them because it may be one objective to make sales, but it is a longer-term investment to solidify their satisfaction. It doesn't serve simply to make people trust you, you have to trust that you're providing them with the best available means to make a proper decision for themselves. People will associate every interaction they have as part of the "customer experience" back to the brand. This means that as a salesperson, you must provide accessibility, competence, empathy, honesty, quality, and responsiveness.

There are two types of customers, those who are willing to take risks and experiment, and those who are skeptical who will only adopt a product or service when it is accepted by others, ie. the bandwagoners. Both have their advantages, but you need to know which one you're talking to, so that you either stress the sustainability, the warranties, the qualities, the affordabilities, or you stress the new features, the flexibilities, the uniqueness of the product etc.

I liked being a salesperson for the performative function of it. It is startlingly like acting, only substitute every eye for the cameras, and this is not Shakespeare; avoid jargon wherever possible. Euphemisms can be dangerous, but you use them because you have to. Otherwise, if you use layman's terms, it can be equally dangerous. Think of the example where a customer asks you which phone is the "cheapest". You must present the phone with the best "value" because otherwise another customer will hear that your product is "cheap" aka cheaply made or of poor quality which is simply not true. Yes, I believed in the benefits of my product, but I by no means am a representative demographic for all, so it takes thought-work and listening as well as communication skills to get ideas across undistorted. I had to catch people's attention within a few seconds, I had to assess their interest accurately, and deal politely with rejection if necessary.

So, I would go into the store, brochures in hand, and when people walked past, my words had to flow seamlessly. It is easy to get tripped up, but embarrassing to stutter in front of people. I would have to pre-arrange things in my mind, and then rehearse and spout it as if it were off the top of my head, and not just a spiele. (Note to self: if you're rehearsing, make sure no one is around. There is nothing worse than appearing like you have mental disorder because you are talking to yourself). Once I started talking, I would kind of lose myself in the role. When you are acting as a representative, you are no longer yourself, but your muscle memory takes over. So, personal inhibitions would melt away, and I would start to get loose on the sound of my own voice. A sample snippet of what came out of my mouth:

"Check out our sweet deals, we have offers so hot they will melt the snow off of your rooftop. Don't be tied down to contracts. We have none. Don't get confused by complicated billing. Ours is straight-forward. Get yourself an X and thank yourself later."

These remarks compare our services to the competitor's, and provide a promise to the customer. It is not meant to be deceiving but yes, it is meant to be compelling. It invites curiosity. With the thousands of brands competing, you have to be quick. I suppose this is why you have to display information in several ways. We had maps delineating our reception, brochures on the plans, FAQ's, and a kiosk with an icon of the brand which was bigger than my head. I suppose with those dimensions, you can tell what needs to be seen and remembered more: the brand or me.

Anyway, sales is not everyone's cup of tea, and it was a challenge to me as well. I've been told I'm too much of a nice guy, a pushover, or I'm too shy, but I really surprised myself. Sometimes a customer would be walking away and I would say one thing, which would completely re-orient their attitude because it clarified a commonly held confusion in their minds. That's the kind of service you need to provide. Be open and informative, and don't run after customers, but give them everything they need to feel invited. They will come to you.

So now I'm looking for a new job to take up my part-time as I finish school. I'm getting excited now as I enter my last semester of education, hopefully for awhile. I did well this last semester, averaging at the upper-level of my class, so I look forward to the more hands-on classes: some web design, a job placement, and more writing.

It is annoying and a half when you're applying for a job online and your session time expires, forcing you to start all over again, but this has influenced me to copy and paste a lot. My portfolio's starting to get fatter, and I feel more lax about trying to find jobs in diverse areas, so that's good. In the meantime while I'm on holidays, my books are keeping me in a rich fantasy land of fun. I've been having the greatest dreams, and catching up with much-needed friends.

Don't be afraid to sell yourself. You're not selling out if you sell yourself into new arenas to gain new experience and potential. (I'm not suggesting putting on a facade, I just mean hold up your credentials). We increasingly rely on this skill in a world full of quickly moving information, high capital mobility, and referrals. Document everything you do so that you can prove your worth, but don't forget it! The economy needs you. More importantly: you need you.

4 Comments:

Blogger FFFrapgirl said...

Nice post! I completely relate to it all! I have held a few sales positions
and you are awkward at first but find your style quick enough. You definately are acting and the sound of your own voice is comforting..funny you said that... because I always took off on auto-pilot and was amazed when I would make a sell.. You do lose your inhibitions.. I think your training and the trainer is key to your development.. It was in my case. I have found I fall back on that art of "bullshitting" in all aspects of my life now and it helps me get through alot! But conviction and faith in what you are selling is key especially when selling yourself.

3:18 PM  
Blogger MoDigli said...

I think you are one smart salesman. And the type that I would love to buy from cause you keep it real. Sales people provide a service. So it's nice when you hook up with one that's good because they know how to read people, are honest, and know how to sell to what will make the consumer most happy. I think it's terrible when sales people try to hoodwink buyers just to "make that sale".

3:41 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Excellent!

I am happy you enjoyed your newest job, and did not sell yourself short.

5:22 PM  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

candi -it comes in handy ;)

modigli -it's good to know that SOMEONE understands. I know too that there's that very real danger of applying the thumbscrews to potential customers. That's foul play though. Tis better to be helpful than pressuring.

barbarafromcalifornia -Nice way of putting it. Thank you for your mind.

2:21 PM  

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