Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Turning it on for Customers. Toning is down for Clients.

The best sales professionals don’t have a ‘sales mode’.  They just speak with prospects and customers comfortably and informatively in line with a plan to move the conversation towards a close or repeat purchase.  That’s great for those blessed with the social graces and intuition necessary for this even-keeled approach to business development and retention, but we mortal product peddlers have to throttle up our pitch to compete for our piece of the action.  We know the scent of opportunity won’t linger forever in our waters, so we shift gears into ‘sales mode’ striking quickly and with full artillery.  Better to overwhelm the customer with the positive attributes of your product and personality than underwhelm and fail to capitalize. If it means layering on the schmaltz, fine.

The problem with ‘sales mode’ is that, while it’s great for bringing on new customers, it’s terrible for retaining them.  In other words, turning customers into clients.  Nobody wants to keep being sold after they’ve already agreed to the sale.  It’s annoying.  “I like you.  I like what you offer.  Quit trying to convince me or I might change my mind.”  The sale is made already, so your goal is now to keep them happy and buying.  It’s time to turn down the heat or risk burning them out. 

Drop the overly animated intonation, and quit trying to impress with tales of conquest in love, athletics and money (Recruiters and real estate brokers tend to be the worst offenders).  Instead, think like an old friend shooting the breeze and ask for an update on a personal matter mentioned during a side conversation.  Send a care package for no occasion other than that you thought they'd appreciate it.  Cut out the buzzwords too, like “motivational factors” and “missing the mark”.  Just stand behind your product as the person to speak with when needs change or problems arise. 

Nobody instinctively wants to change providers of whatever they’re buying.  But people buy from people they like, and likeability can be fleeting when eagerness isn’t.  Back off.  You’ve made the sale.  Now make a friend…or should I say, a client.   

Monday, June 8, 2009

Buying The BrandsMart Way

A sudden change in my housing situation left me stranded in the most unacceptable of social situations - I was a twenty-something yuppie without a monstrous flat panel HDTV in my living room. Simply not OK. Having done my online research and arrived at what I thought was a reasonable approximation of the specifications I wanted and how much I was willing to pay for it, I took off for the suburbs with a borrowed SUV and a craving for the immediate gratification of retail shopping bliss.

The closest major big-box consumer electronics retailer is BestBuy. Noting their CEO Brad Anderson’s recent comment that “rapid and seismic changes in consumer behavior have created the most difficult climate the company has ever seen”, I thought they’d have some great deals and eager sales professionals ready to impress. Maybe I’d even strike early to make it home for a Saturday lunch eaten off the empty box of my shiny new prize piece of furniture. Invigorated, I polished off my gallon of iced coffee on the way into the store and headed straight for the rows of flat screens playing family-friendly high def movie clips in unison. The shear volume of options combined with unthinkably small labeling quickly soured my eagerness into frustration, and I was in dire need of guidance to maintain my momentum. A sale on a platter.

It’s 10:30 in the morning on a gorgeous Spring weekend. If you’re going to sell luxury goods in this economy, this is your best bet to capitalize. I look left. A handful of early early-20’s to middle-aged males milling around in mild bewilderment. I look right. Three employees staring at clipboards or slinking away in some other effort to become invisible. Some people cringe at the thought of being asked whether or nor they “need help finding anything.” I cringe at the thought of not being asked anything at all, and now I’m too anxious and disappointed to be easily cajoled. So I scribble a few prices and model numbers into the memo application on my phone on the way towards the exit. Then, finally, I’m approached by what appeared to be a collegian looking to make a few dollars working retail on his Summer break, who limply asked me if I was “doin’ ok.” I dejectedly grumbled that I was, and made my exit.

Maybe I just like shopping at stores with names that play on the word ‘smart’, but my mood sure did pick up as I exited the freeway into the BrandsMart parking lot. Smiling parking attendants guide me towards the nearest spot amidst the sprawl of vehicles being packed at the loading dock or exited by shoppers of all denominations. I make my way into this red, white and blue behemoth of a building and emerge in a packed theatre of neon banners, flashing gadgets and busy chatter. Huge signs label each section as I scan the facility. Refrigerators. Stoves. Washers and Dryers. Phones. Ahhh, there it is…Big Screens. I can feel the blood in my cheeks again as I march over with as much restraint as I can muster.

“What size TV are you going to buy today?” I turn to greet the outstretched hand of a Danny, who waits patiently for my reply. It’s a great question. Assumptive, yet asked in a sincere enough tone where I feel comfortable instead of defensive. “I’m thinking about around a 50-inch, but, to be honest, I’m just seeing what you guys have available.” Danny sees right through my parry. “What’s your name?” “Brian.” “Brian, today is a great day for you to come by. We have a great deal on Panasonics that I’d love to show you.” He guides me towards the larger TV’s like a veteran salsa dancer leading a young dame through her paces. Several other BrandsMart sales professionals glance briefly in our direction, casually noting Danny’s claim. We wade through neat rows of merchandise individually labeled with hand written balloon letter signs until Danny stops and motions towards a gleaming 60-inch beauty. “This TV is the absolute top of the line, and today it’s only $2,400.” He knows full well that I’m not buying this TV, but he’s gauging my level of interest and buying power, and I play right into it. “I’d love to take home that TV, but I’m not spending $2,400.” Danny, earnestly, “Oh, how much do you want to spend?” “I’m thinking closer to $1,000, and you’re going to have to make me a hell of a deal if you want my business.” He looks almost offended. “Brian, all I can do is show you the TV you want to buy, but we do not have a TV of the size and quality you want at that price.” To make a long story a bit shorter, we find the 52-inch Samsung I’m seeking, and I abruptly take off for another part of the store. Danny doesn’t chase.

Fifteen minutes later I cross Danny’s line of site in the big screen section. He sees me, but he’s on the phone at the sales kiosk presumably looking up whether an item is in stock, and he signals with a finger that he’ll be with me in a minute. The other reps maintain their distance, knowing full well that my ship has sailed for their commission. I burn time perusing units I’ve already ruled out. There’s only one TV for me. Danny approaches. “Should I work up the order?” He asks for the business directly. “You’ll have to do it for $20% less if you want my business.” “Brian, let me show you something.” He clicks away on the antiquated keyboard of possibly the first computer ever made. “You think if you make some more sales you guys can buy a new computer system?” “They don’t spend any money on anything so they can give low prices to you.” Cute. “Brian, look here, you are asking for less than this television cost us to buy.” I’m not folding that easily. “I don’t really care what that antique says. Ask your manager if he can do it.”

The department manager shows up after a few store-wide pages on the intercom. I feel as though I’ve made enough of a scene to practically owe them the favor of buying. “Listen Brian, if I can get this TV for $20% less, will you buy today?” If I…will you. Textbook. I want to hug the guy. “Yeah. We could do business at that price.” He clicks a few more buttons and ponders with a furrowed brow. “The best I can do is $15% less.” He’s got me. “Deal.” We shake.

I back into the loading dock where a massive man instructs me to initial my receipt once I’ve approved that the merchandise is in good shape. He unsheathes the beast. Everything looks as it should, and he somehow slides the whole box into the back of the SUV without any assistance or crash landings. I start the engine and the radio comes on with an infectious jingle that can only make me smile. “That’s why more people sayyyyy, I like buying at BrandsMart USAyyyy.” I roll down the windows and blast the volume as loading dock workers and enthused customers alike join me in a fist-pumping chorus of a finale “Buying the BrandsMart way!!” What a pleasure.