(blog post by Andrew Thorp)
When a prospective customer asks the salesperson, “Can you tell me about ‘X’ product?” what they get back is normally information. After all, that’s what they asked for, isn’t it – features, dimensions, cost, availability?
But has there actually been any selling going on? Or is the salesperson wrongly labelled – are they merely a human search engine?
There’s a huge void between information-giving/order processing and the more persuasive aspects of selling in its purer sense. It’s a different skill and it’s relatively rare in sectors like high-street retail or hospitality despite the frequency of opportunities to influence buying decisions. Perhaps it’s because of the rather seedy associations with the word ‘selling’. We’re comfortable answering factual questions, taking money and handing over the goods. But when it comes to persuasion – well, that means having a conversation, doesn’t it? Too scary by far!
But it can be done, and done in a way that’s pleasurable (yes, “pleasurable”) for both parties. A while back I was mentored by Chris Allen, co-founder of the online booking service Laterooms.com, and I recall a lovely story he told me.
Chris has a background in hotels and was dining out with his wife and a couple of friends. He’d been out of the industry for a while but still retained a keen eye for great customer service. After the main course the waitress came over and asked if everything had been OK with the meal. It was, and she proceeded to ask them about dessert. The diners rolled their eyes, patted their stomachs and indicated they were far too full to eat anything else. At this point she could have given up, but instead she added, “Well, it’s a little known fact that humans have 2 stomachs, one for savoury and one for sweet. And when you see the amazing puddings the chef has conjoured up today I reckon you’ll find some extra room.”
Two diners ordered desserts and Chris had to be reminded by his wife that he actually couldn’t poach the girl for himself because he wasn’t in the hotel game any more!
A little cheeky charm can go a long way in such circumstances, making the experience more fun both for the customer AND the sales person. It just takes a little courage to engage in conversation with customers rather than robotically answer their questions.