5 Do’s and 5 Don’ts for Selling Skis (or pretty much anything)

The missus and I geared up for ski season this weekend.  We’re pretty stoked.  There are four good mountains within an hour or two of our home.  We hardly took advantage of them last year.  So this season I took my dad’s recommendation for a local, family owned shop in Twisp, WA. that carries a small line of quality merchandise.  The experience was something of a master class in how to sell someone a discretionary product as it was how to not sell.  Here’s how it shook out:

1.  DO: Listen more than you speak.  After we met the shop owners (a father and son team) and did the small talk we got down to business.  The shop owner’s son did a great job of asking us both a lot of solid questions (by “solid” I mean having to do with our skiing interests rather than, say, football).  He wanted to know how we liked to ski, where we liked to ski, what level of expertise we currently have, how frequently we’ll ski, if we like to ski together or apart, if we like to be on the front of technology, favorite terrains, any problems we’ve had in the past (cold feet, for example).  It was a nearly perfect example of a well-designed discovery conversation.  He took his time, didn’t rush us, and moved on only after we were finished sharing.  Well done!

2.  DON’T: Try to sell the customer something they don’t want or choose not to afford.  The first products that we looked at were boots.  The missus has cold feet when she skis and I’ve not had boots for 20 years.  Anyone who skis will tell you that comfortable, well fitted boots make all the difference between a great day on the slopes and a crummy day rubbing numb toes in the lodge.  The young man brought us each two pair of boots for fitting.  I was good with the second pair.  Tight but not too tight, didn’t squish my toes.  My wife, however, couldn’t get the fit right.  After two attempts the young man disappeared in to the back room and returned with the most expensive boots in the store.  I’d made it clear that we weren’t buying mega-expensive gear as we’re not mega-crazy skiers.  Nonetheless, the salesman pushed his agenda on us.  It was a turn-off.  All of the work he’d done to learn about us and somehow he’d missed my saying “we’re not buying this or that.”  Happens all of the time.  A great salesman listens and reflects.  An average salesman listens and superimposes.  We decided he was too pushy and left shortly thereafter.  No bueno.

3.  DO: Know how to recover from a misstep.  After the high-pressure “yuck” feeling passed we came back the following day.  Same young salesman.  However, this time he only had one pair of boots for my wife.  He’d inserted a liner in them to improve the fit for her ankles.  The super expensive boots were nowhere in sight.  Smart move.  He spent more time with her fitting and, together, they were able to find a very comfortable fit.  It was nice and it was low pressure.  The missus felt like the choice was perfect for her needs and her comfort.  Well done Padwan!

4.  DON’T: Get overly technical unless the customer wants to go there.  When we moved on to skis things got a little muddy.  The young man, rightly proud of his craft, launched in to a lesson about camber, reverse camber, total edge, core composition, width under foot, and on and on.  This is not to discount the importance of any of these things.  But I’m interested in having a blast skiing with my wife and I want a reliable ski that I can grow in to as my skills improve.  That’s pretty much it.  At some point I tuned out.  And, because it’s been years since I’ve purchased skis, all of the options seem light years more sophisticated than anything I’ve ever had.  Keep it simple and keep the benefit statements reflective of the customers interests.  Sometimes an overwhelming technical presentation can alienate or frustrate a customer and prevent them from making a decision.

5.  DO: Keep it simple.  After the young salesman finished his explanation of wax varieties, binding tensions, and edge angles his dad stepped in.  His dad had been watching his son sell and finally took control.  “Guys, let’s keep it simple.” he said.  “Skiing is about fun.  What we do is help people have fun, have the best time on the mountain.  Some of the skis you’re looking at are fine and I’m sure you’d enjoy them.  But these skis, man, I have to tell you…you’ll have the most fun on these skis.  When you’re in the crud you’ll float over it like you’re in a Cadillac.  When you’re on the groomers you’ll carve railroad tracks.  When you’re in the power you’ll be on cloud nine.  If you’re going to make a decision make a decision to have the most fun so you’ll want to keep skiing.”  Sold.  People don’t buy products, people buy how products make them feel.  

6.  DON’T: Keep talking.  After the “Maximum Fun” story I was ready to roll.  The dad hooked me back in and both my wife and I were smiling.  The young man, however, had different plans.  He shared yet another overly technical description of yet another ski.  There’s always a point at which a sale is done.  Having the moxy to recognize that and close the deal is something that newer salespeople don’t often recognize.  Know when to stop talking and close.  Otherwise you risk talking yourself out of a sale, the customer getting cold feet, or the customer selling themselves down the scale.  Rookie error.

7. DO: Tell great stories.  Stories are magic.  They send a message without battering the listener or customer over the head.  Great stories are subtle, have interesting characters, are fun to listen to and allow the customer to project in to the narrative.  When the shop owner and I laughed about the days when skiing on 205s or 210s was cool it was nostalgic and helped me understand why current technologies allow shorter fatter skis instead of ultra-stiff planks.  When the young man talked about an epic day at Whistler I was suddenly back in my teens again on a road trip with my family.  It was easy to see my wife and I doing that again and again.

8.  DON’T: Sell things that aren’t important to the customer.  As we were checking out the young salesman asked if we had poles.  We didn’t.  He ran for the poles.  “Ever heard of swing weight?” he asked.  No.  Hadn’t heard of swing weight.  From his point-of-view it’s very important.  I think it means that some ski poles are lighter than others.  Regardless, I don’t care.  For someone like me poles are just poles.  Were I a sponsored skier I’m sure I’d pay close attention to something like that.  But I’m not.  When a salesperson pushes products that aren’t in-line with a customer’s priorities, regardless of how small the detail, it creates friction.  We’re not on the same side of the table.  You versus me.  The first person who talks…loses.

9: DO: Know your audience.  It wasn’t an accident that the shop owner brought his wife with him the second day we shopped.  Nor was it an accident that the young man brought his girlfriend.  It was a great way to connect women skiers who appreciate good gear to a new female customer who is learning to appreciate new gear.  Generally speaking women communicate far better than men do.  Tailor your message and the medium to your audience.  It makes connections happen much easier.

10: DON’T: Forget to say thanks.  At the end we were totally set up.  New skis, boots, poles, and gloves.  More importantly, however, was that they were very grateful and said so.  They have a boat moored near our home.  We agreed to stay in touch and have dinner on the lake this summer.  We exchanged phone numbers.  I joined their mailing list.  We made plans to ski together if timing allows.  And it felt like more than lip service.  None of those niceties had to happen.  I hope we do stay in touch and it reminded me that so often a salesperson’s next best lead is the last happy customer and his or her network.  It doesn’t take much to stay in touch with your best customers!  Be a person who sells, not a salesperson.

Now if it’ll only snow…

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