Selling can be a piece of cake

The aggressive, pushy salesman is a well-known stereotype, and as such, is reflective of a good deal of reality.  I never had formal sales training, but I sure knew what type of salespeople rubbed me the wrong way and was determined to never use the ‘hard sell’ approach at Gettysburg Flag Works.

I do not consider myself a salesman, and I have been able to build my business from selling flags out of my car trunk into a multi-million dollar retail enterprise without resorting to many of the sales processes and tactics that others adopt.

Our secret? To try, in every customer interaction, to understand the customer’s need, and to be gently curious and always respectful in determining that need.  In other words, we are more facilitators than typical salespeople.  Here’s story that illustrates our sales approach:

One day, John, a new hire for our sales team and I went out on a call to a local retirement community, hoping to secure an order for an flagpole as well as American and other flags, and to scope out other possibilities.  He came from the online mortgage industry and was well-versed in many sales processes and sales tactics.  I asked him to join me to observe and to give pointers on how we could improve on our process and approach.

When we entered the facility, we were greeted by “Mabel” the facility manager, who gave us a tour, during which John asked many questions, trying – as he later told me — to ascertain her “readiness to buy.”  Mabel was friendly, and handled John’s product pitch and seemingly bottomless reservoir of questions about their flag-related needs with grace, but without committing one bit. I could see John’s interest waning.  There was no easy sale to be had today.

As we walked along, I noticed the staff setting up for what seemed like a birthday party…”Who’s birthday is it, Mabel,” I asked.  “Oh,” she replied, “It’s our Monday Cake Social.  We throw a party every Monday for our seniors.  They come and listen to music, dance and eat cake.  We have a lovely time.”

“Would you like some cake, Mike,” Mabel asked?  “How about you, John?”

John declined, citing his diet.  “What kind of cake,” I asked.  “Red velvet,” Mabel answered.  “My favorite,” I replied.  And off we went to the party, while John sat in the lobby checking his email.

They were lovely and the cake was great.  I listened to Mabel’s sales pitch: “Mike, you look like you could be getting ready to consider retirement options.”  “That’s true,” I said, “but I’m still enjoying my business.”  She nodded:  “Me too,” she said.

After about 30 minutes with Mabel and the seniors, I left the party with an order for a 50’ foot fiberglass flagpole, several flags, a solar light and other accessories.  A solid, four-figure order.  John was shocked.  “But she wasn’t ready to buy,” John exclaimed.

“No, John, she was ready to buy, but she wasn’t willing to be sold,” I replied. “There’s a difference.”   I could see John trying to work out what I meant. “That’s sure a different approach than the mortgage business,” John said.

“We are a people business, John. We have to connect on a genuine level, not just go through a sales process.  Everyone comes to us for their own need, not ours.  We have to find our what that is.”  It was only after I had shown genuine interest in her and her business, and invested time in her that Mabel told me what she needed.  After that, it was just a matter of guiding her through the process.  Trust had been built.

A large percentage of Gettysburg Flag Works’ business comes in from the phone or internet.  You would think that would necessitate a different approach that used in face-to-face sales.  Not so.  No matter how our customer comes to us…in person or via cyberspace, we treat them all as individuals. I believe that our highly personal, no-pressure approach has been a key to building our business over the last 20 years.

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