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BirdsEye View

what makes a good sales person

We recently spent some time in India. As you can imagine, the place is replete with hawkers selling you anything and everything. I'm not a big shopper to begin with, so this scene certainly didn't appeal to me at all. However, they do have incredible workmanship, so I agreed to visit a weaving factory and see whether there's anything that we might buy. I had minimal intention of buying anything. Dick and I aren't textile people.

We left the factory with ten pillow covers, two silk shirts for Dick, one cashmere scarf, two silk scarves I specifically asked them not to show me, and a bed cover with matching pillow cases. We spent way more than I thought we would. I started pondering why. How did this happen???

As a statistically insignificant consumer, I am not emotional about almost any purchases. Nothing is important enough to buy, I feel. I have my family, my health, my work  these are my riches. Which doesn't mean I don't covet things; I do. But at a price. So it has to be the right thing at the right price, and also the right environment. I can't abide hoverers of any kind, least of all salespeople who follow you everywhere. It makes me uncomfortable. I also prefer salespeople who are genuinely helpful as compared to the many who will tell you anything looks fabulous on you.

With that in mind, Dick and I revisited the question, how did we end up buying all this stuff? As we thought about the question, it occurred to me that the parallels to banking are strong.

  1. Good personality. There is no substitute for pleasantness. Some people are natural smilers. They just like people. That's half the battle. A good salesperson truly enjoys the customer interaction and really wants to help.

  2. Sincerity. A salesperson can mouth all the right stuff but their insincerity will seep through their body language, furtive glances at the watch, or even just through the delivery of the lines. Sincerity is critical to building trust, which is the underlying foundation for relationships and many purchases.

  3. No hovering. The merchandise matters, but all too often, at least in my case, an annoying salesperson will cause me to leave the store even if I desire the item for sale. It's too uncomfortable. Too much pressure, too much friction. Plus the implicit presumption that I require supervision lest I steal something&

  4. Demonstrate value. We all know value and price aren't the same. In my case, there is a price for anything above which, whether the value is there or not, I will not buy the item. Most buyers have a price in mind (or, in banking terms, a rate) and a product in mind as well (be it the color or style of the garment or the features offered in the mobile banking app). A knowledgeable salesperson can figure out the value proposition from the buyer's viewpoint and match that with the appropriate items (or banking products in our case).

  5. Listen. This is the most important skill a strong salesperson will posses. It is number one. Too many salespeople have a "speech" which they give regardless to the buyer's needs. It's a solution looking for an answer. It's far more likely to sell someone what they need and want rather than what you THINK is best for them without any information on their preferences. This does not mean that, if you have a fantastic product the buyer is not aware of, it should not be presented to them. It is key to find out where the buyer is coming from first, though, and what they value.

    At the weaving factory, for example, the salesperson showed us his best (and most expensive) product. We didn't like it. He then asked some questions to narrow down our preferences, and then proceeded to show us what he had within those guidelines.

    At the same time, he had a scarf he insisted on showing me. I told him not to waste his time. He still opened it and put it in my hand. It was the softest thing I ever touched. I was hooked. The point: sometimes the product speaks for itself and you need to let it do the talking. This is very difficult in banking since our products are intangible, but compelling value does speak for itself.

  6. Be fair. I find that salespeople who maximize their revenue on the first sales often find it is their last sale. Giving up a little revenue (but not without attribution; Marty Cohen and I don't believe in anonymous giving) is an excellent investment. On this trip we were in another store with the kids. The price didn't suit me. I said, "The maximum amount I'll pay is X rupees." The salesperson said, "No, you will pay less than that", and quoted me a price that was lower than my bid. Guy, my son, thought this was insanity. But, in reality, not only did we buy the item but we are now looking for another transaction with this seller. It would have never happened without that concession.

    The very same thing happened here, at the weaving factory. At the end I said, "OK, I don't like it but I'll pay you Y. I think the price should be Z". The salesperson didn't take me up on my offer to pay more. Instead he sold me something else and the total became his desired revenue.

Much has been written about salesmanship; far be it from me to add to those volumes. At the same time, this specific experience showed me that a good salesperson is a good salesperson, regardless to what they sell. And their technique, while highly individualized, incorporates similar elements and themes across product lines and continents.