Sell to who the customers are, not who you want them to be


being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being “at one” with another being

I’m sitting next to an experienced salesperson.  Across the table an older couple smiles graciously as we chat.  The customers are older.  He is 89 years old.  His wife is 81.  Their mobile home is orderly and cozy and filled with family photographs as well as the almost required chotchski cabinet.  They need a new air conditioning system.

“You know at 89 I don’t need anything that’s got all the fancy stuff on it.  We just want to stay cool and comfortable…”

The man’s thinking of the end game.  His wife continues.

“And the budget is a big part of this for us.”

Eventually there are limitations that we all face–always time and usually money.

I asked the couple: “Have you budgeted for this project?”  Normally I wouldn’t ask this question but this wasn’t a normal situation.  These wonderful people were undertaking an expensive home improvement project late in life.

“We’d like to keep the project around $8,000,” she answered.  The entry-level system on the salesperson’s price menu was around that price.

As if she’d said nothing of significance the salesperson began pitching a product that was nearly twice that price.  He discussed advanced filtration, zoning, solar options. His “expert” opinion concluded that the couple needed a home comfort system that was upwards of twenty-two thousand dollars.

The couple wasn’t smiling at that point.  “We need to think about it,” she said.

Afterwards the salesperson and I talked about his decision to ignore clear buying signs.  He felt that he’d done right by the customers.  After all, he argued, “knowledge is power.”  Moreover, his straight commission comp plan encouraged him to sell up, sell up, sell up!

Unfortunately he was trying to sell a square peg in to a round hole.  Not every customer is a premium product customer with a keen interest in accessory items.  Not every customer can qualify or chooses to qualify for financing.  Not every customer is staring down the business end of life.  Attempting to up-sell these people not only demonstrated a clear lack of empathy and attunement but jeopardized the salesperson’s credibility.

Sell to who your customer is, not who you want them to be.  Listen–really listen.  Listen for understanding–not simply as a trigger to another canned answer.  Pay attention to their home, their circumstances.  Exercise the highest level of empathy and attunement.  Serve as a mendicant with disciplined, mindful humility.

Before a salesperson can sell something he needs to be attuned to his customer.  Lacking that attunement he runs the risk of being perceived as a pitch man, hustler, and runner-up.

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