How not to sell


Most days, I like to get my exercise by walking in one of our few remaining shopping malls. I like the fact that my walking surface is flat, and the environment is air conditioned (and I get a first-hand look at the death spiral of bricks-and-mortar retail, but that’s another post).

But mostly, I like that it gives me an opportunity to witness some interesting things.  Take, for example, the guys that run an independent store that sells skin care and beauty products for women. Apparently, these men have a clearly defined sales process, from which they cannot deviate– regardless of how ineffective it is.  In fact, their sales technique seems to have a negative effect.

These young men station themselves just outside their store entrance. When a woman approaches, they step out and offer her a free sample of  . . . . something.  They speak so quickly that it’s hard to understand exactly what they’re saying or just what the sample is. The vast majority of the women they approach attempt to wave these beauty product salesmen off with a shaking head and a series of hand gestures.

But that doesn’t stop these guys, as they begin to walk alongside their target, trying to explain how wonderful their sample is and how if the woman would just accompany them back to the store, they could show her the full line of beauty products.

Almost without exception, the women decline. Yet the beauty product guys persist. And it is at this point that the excuses begin to fly.

“I’m sorry, I just don’t have time. My mother/daughter/sister/friend/boyfriend/husband is waiting for me.”

“But it will just take a minute,” the salesmen lie. By this point however, the women have begun to pull away, and the salesmen stop their pursuit. With a final look to their now escaped quarry (a look that can only be described as “why have you broken my heart”), they turn around and head back to their store to await their next victim.

Why do they continue to use this technique? Surely they see that women familiar with their technique will cross over to the other side of the mall just to keep from walking past their storefront.

The answer is probably a combination of several things – of being resistant to changing their sales techniques, or an overwhelming focus on the number of contacts they make (the numbers game), or maybe it’s the need to feel like they’re doing something – whether it’s effective or not.

While these beauty product salesmen represent an almost comically extreme example, how many of our organizations suffer from these same issues?

Do we hold on to processes and routines that have long since outlived their usefulness? Are we unwilling to try new things because “this is what we’ve always done?”

Do we continue to believe that if we just make more sales contacts, we’ll eventually begin closing more sales?  After all, not everyone can tell us ‘no’ (spoiler alert: everyone CAN tell you ‘no’).

How much of our sales activities are simply to show (ourselves or others) that we’re doing something? Activity doesn’t equal productivity.

The marketplace is always changing. We cannot afford to hold on to methods and processes that no longer give us the results we need. We must be willing to step out of our comfort zone, and try new things until we find what works for us now. And finally, we simply do not have the time to waste being unproductive.

Find what works, and start doing it.

It seems so simple and simplistic, but for some of us, it’s an idea that we just cannot wrap our brains around.