Earlier this week blogger, author and podcaster Chris Brogan sent out his usual Sunday morning email. His email on the weekend is almost always thought-provoking and usually has a different feel from his weekly blogs or podcasts.
His weekend post started with a story of his grandfather – a candy salesman in Augusta, Maine. After reading his recollection of spending time with his grandfather on the “sales circuit,” it reminded me of some special times I spent with my grandfather on his sales calls in South Florida.
I was a young boy who was lucky enough to go visit my “Pop” in Jacksonville, Florida for a week. In addition to the surf and sun I was going to enjoy at his beachfront property in Ponte Vedra Beach, I was in for a lesson that I wasn’t going to appreciate until 25+ years later.
Like my older brother did a year before me, I was going to go “on the road” with my grandfather as he went on a sales trip. A long time shoe salesman for Clarks of England and Florsheim, My Pop helped me pack my bags – including a shirt and tie. Then we loaded up his samples in the trunk of his Cadillac (which I would later determine was a requirement for salesman in that generation) and we headed south.
As I think back to those “sales calls,” the neat thing is, I don’t recall my Pop ever “selling” anything. Sure, he made lots of sales but I don’t ever remember him having a script, dialogue or “pitch.”
Usually at each store we’d visit, we’d park in the lot behind the store, pull out the two suitcases of shoe samples, tighten up our ties and get ready to head inside. My grandfather would stop and tell me the name of our next “appointment” along with some information that I needed to know. It usually involved the clients hobbies and interests, whether or not they had kids, if they golfed or not and anything else I should be listening for. After pulling his small black comb from him coat pocket and slicking his cool gray hair into place we’d walk inside.
I never know how he did it. We’d walk in, my Pop strutting confidently. He’d shake hands with every employee along the way while I was always a few steps behind. Of course I was a few steps behind; I was dragging the two heavy suitcases of quality hand-crafted shoes behind my 12-year-old frame, sweating and smiling, unsure what to do.
As my Pop was building rapport and setting the stage for his meeting, I was opening the trunks and laying out the samples just like Pop had taught me back in his garage in North Florida.
It was showtime.
Pop asked questions. His customers answered.
Pop asked more questions and his clients would smile, laugh and continue their side of the dialogue.
It was almost the same every time; Shake hands, ask questions, listen to the answers and then fill out the order form.
Then we’d pack up the samples, roll out to the car, head down the street to the next shoe store and do it all again.
Like a great magician, he just kept asking his clients to “pick a card” and after some flash and showmanship, he would smile and say confidently, “Is this your card?”
Cha-ching! Another ordered secured.
Happy customer. Happy salesman.
It’s easy to look back at those days in the late 70’s and realize what a magician my Pop was. He wasn’t tricking anyone into a sale. Knowing what I know now, he was actually “listening” people into a sale.
He asked questions. He demonstrated his product’s features and correlated them to the benefit the end-user would experience if they made the purchase. He identified potential problems. He showed value in his product and his service. He consistently reinforced his competence with confidence which created trust.
His clients liked him, and therefore, they liked his product. The product lived up to the expectations that my Pop set. My grandfather did his job by focusing on the customer, not the sale.
The Tricks of the Trade
Great magicians understand that their first priority is to entertain their audience. They are committed to their trade so they practice and rehearse their routine over and over again. They realize that they are showmen. The hardest trick must seem simple and the simplest of tricks shouldn’t seem like a trick at all.
That’s what good salespeople do every day. It’s never about the difficulty of the illusion, it’s about creating an illusion of difficulty. It’s about making the easy seem hard and the hard seem easy.
How good are you at building relationships, solving problems and having fun?
It easier said than done, but then again…most magic tricks look that way.
Photo Credit: StevenDepolo via Creative Commons
Photo Credit: Kyknoord via Creative Commons