Sales Enablement

The Most Important Skill Salespeople Need to Learn

My wife finally had a chance to replace her 8-year-old laptop, which was starting to function more like a Brother word processor from the late 80s, only not as fast. It was a Dell with 512 MB RAM, and a 80 MB RAM hard drive. It was slow, unstable, and the crank-up handle had snapped off the front. She ended up buying a Samsung Netbook from Best Buy.

Okay, that’s not very blog-worthy, but there’s actually a lesson in it.

Because we didn’t start out looking at Best Buy in the first place.

As an enthusiastic gearhead, I love Fry’s. They don’t have the movie and music selection Best Buy has, but they’ve got more electronics than you even knew imagined. Even the Amish will invariably buy something. Didn’t know they made USB-powered keyboard warmers? I didn’t either, but if they’ve got it, I’ll buy it. And they’ve probably got it.

So I took my wife to the laptop section at Fry’s, after she did some research on Patric Welch’s website, and showed her what netbooks could do for her. Since most of her stuff was online, and because she is fairly mobile, the netbook was her best choice.

As we looked around at the more than 12 choices, she got a little frustrated, because there didn’t seem to be any difference between them, other than price.

We flagged down one of the young salesmen in the area, and Toni told him what she wanted. “I just can’t figure out the big difference between any of the?”

“You don’t want a netbook,” interrupted the sales kid. “You want a laptop.”

“Why?”

“Because a laptop is bigger, holds more stuff, and lets you store music and photos.” (That’s right, a woman who wants a computer only needs to store photos of the kids and her Josh Grobin Pilates workout playlists.)

The budget was limited, so we were looking for something around $300. The laptops were $500 and higher.

We said we would think about it, and walked around the store, while my wife vented about how the guy hadn’t even bothered to listen to what she wanted. I talked her into going back and trying one more time. We flagged down an older guy, who at least let her finish her original question.

“I understand a netbook is appealing, but you really should think about a laptop,” he finally said.

“Look,” I told the guy, “I spend all day, every day online, and I use a laptop. I know what her computer habits are, and I know she really only needs a netbook.”

But the guy persisted. He tried to steer us toward a $600 laptop. “Blah blah blah music, blah blah blah photos,” he said. We thanked him for his time and left.

Discouraged, and after a good healthy rant reminiscent of Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation,” my wife decided to give Best Buy a try. We had just heard from another Fry’s customer that Best Buy had the same netbooks for sale for a lot less than Fry’s ? at least 25% in a couple cases.

I went home and watched the Colts game, and an hour later, Toni came home with her brand new Samsung netbook, that came well under her original budget. This one was $50 less than the very same model they had at Fry’s, and it came with a few extras.

“I walked in, told the guy what I wanted, and asked him which model to choose from. He recommended this one, explained why it was a better choice, and I bought it.”

Simple, painless, and quick.

I was very disappointed in Fry’s sales guys. They could have sold a netbook with a minimal effort. Instead, they didn’t listen to their customer, they pushed their own preferences ? twice! ? and lost the sale.

However, the Best Buy guy just listened, answered the questions, and sold a computer. Not a big deal, I’ll admit, but he made a $250 sale in less than 10 minutes. That’s a $1,500 per hour ROI.

It’s a basic lesson that anyone who sells products or services to other people: listen to your friggin’ customers. Don’t just assume that what they want is all wrong, and that you know better. At least take the time to listen to their reasons, and see if that’s truly what they want. Ask them if they have considered your option as an alternative, and if they don’t want it, don’t force them to buy what you prefer.

If the Fry’s sales guys had done this, they would have seen that all my wife truly wanted or needed was a netbook, and they could have earned her loyalty just by listening. And if she ever decides she needs a laptop, she’ll buy it from the people who did right by her the first time.

Will we be back at Fry’s? Probably. They have cool stuff. Will we go there when we need to make a major purchase? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ll go in there armed with research, decision already made, and we’ll get the item we want, rather than asking the salespeople any questions.

Or we’ll just go to Best Buy. They at least listen.

2 Comments

  1. 1

    I agree. I remember a similar experience from 9 years ago, when my future husband took me shopping for an engagement ring. I had decided I wanted the style of an anniversary band instead of the traditional diamond solitaire. We went to one jeweler and were instantly cornered by a salesperson. We told her we were engagement ring shopping and the style I was looking for. She spent the entire time we were there trying to convince me that I wanted a solitaire. I can only imagine what I would’ve ended up with if my husband had gone in there alone, likely something overpriced that wasn’t my style. Of course, we didn’t go back into that store for future jewelry purchases.

  2. 2

    Great post! Sales pros need to heed this lesson. If someone is sending up “buying signals” don’t steer them away from the sale – make the sale! 😀

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