Thursday, June 08, 2006

Do People Actually Sell Anymore?

I've been dealing with an increasingly-irritating eBay seller this past week. The item I ordered did not work. I requested a refund; the seller pointed me to some obscure return policy he obviously hadn't written himself as justification for not giving me one. I informed him that I would be reporting him to eBay if he tried to refuse me a return of a dead product. He suddenly coughed up 90% of my money and acted like he was doing me a favor.

No wonder a couple I know loathe buying from eBay!

Mind you, these are a couple of very price-conscious people. The fact that they are willing to pay more - sometimes a good deal more - to avoid dealing with snotty eBay merchants is telling about overall eBay sales.

Don't get me wrong - I think eBay is a wonderful place to find things. But like chefs will say, it only takes one bad egg to spoil the bread. (That's not actually what they say, because I'm not a chef, but you get the idea. Hope I don't have any overzealous chefs in my readership!)

Having come across a decidedly bad egg, I'm thinking about salesmanship this week. More specifically, how poorly it's regarded AND practiced all too often. Now, I am not one of those guys who can sell refrigerators to Eskimos. But I think I had a good grasp of an honest way to sell.

So I thought I'd make this week's post about clarifying a few of my sales principles. They may sound odd or maybe even counterintuitive to "sales," but I find they work for me.

1. Selling takes thinking.
I'm not talking about product details here. I'm not even talking about studying your audience's needs and wants, either (though that IS very important to sales.) What I'm talking about here is the moment-by-moment sales process. The interactions that occur while selling's done.

If you're face-to-face with a potential buyer, you need to be studying him. What he's saying. What he's not saying. How his body language goes. Is he getting nervous? Are you being welcoming and putting him at ease, or scaring him off? The back of your mind has to be going during any sales interaction. Relying on rote pitches and reflexive objection dismissals might have worked years ago, but nowadays it's not going to reflect well on you.

Since I'm a copywriter, I'm usually not face-to-face. So what I do is envision the customer as he'd reading what I write. Would a certain passage confuse him? Will what I say fit into his desires at the right time? Would I say such-and-such if I WERE sitting across from him? Thinking like this does help a lot with honest sales. (Takes longer to write while I'm doing it, but the end result's well worth it.)

2. If you're pushing, you're losing.
The harder you push against a potential buyer, the more they'll resist. Law of nature. Pound a mallet harder into a wall, the wall's resistance increases in proportion.

This one might seem so common-knowledge, it would be redundant to even mention. Well, I'm mentioning it anyway. Why? Because it's definitely not that common-knowledge, in my experience. The "Hard Sell" is alive and well in America. I've seen people use pushy, almost disrespectful sales tactics to sell everything from motivational books to boats.

If you're selling, and you find yourself in a situation where you want to push, you need to stop and backtrack. How did you get there? If selling in person, can you defuse that line of thought (hint: ask the customer what they're thinking. It gives you a new track.) If selling in copy, go back and find where the line of thought started. Can you revise it to be less pushy and more divulging? Adding solid information always helps me here (yes, I slip up like everyone else).

3. Hiding behind clouds won't make them trust you.
In my eBay seller's case, the cloud was a jumble of legalese he tried to push off on me. I immediately thought he was playing on a perception - that I was too impatient to read through legalese and/or too dumb to understand it. Which totally destroys any credibility this seller had.

Pick up any good book on sales, and it'll talk about trust. Trust is essential. Trust has to be in every stage of the sales proecss. Would you buy a house from a guy with a Condemned sign hidden behind his back?

Despite its critical nature, many people think trust can be manufactured. Or worse, assumed because of the salesperson's role. And when this assumption is challenged by the customer, they try to use things like ignorance, obscure policies, or outright belligerence to shove the customer back into the pigeonhole.

How masochistic would you have to be to appreciate being treated like that?

4. It's always a simple exchange.
One-two. Buyer/Seller. Online sales have shown beyond doubt the value of treating sales interactions as a one-on-one conversation. Regardless of medium (but especially in your sales copy).

A fellow writer posted one of her favorite writing tips on the illustrious Well-Fed E-Pub some time back: "Write like you're talking to one person." How true it is. That's what sales is, at least to me - a conversation between two people where both intend to come away with something they want. If they do, it's a successful sale. If not, one or both of them miscalculated on what the other one wanted.

Common sense? Maybe. But as I like to say whenever I run across an exception, "Common sense is far from common."

Going back to the topic, I guess I think of the tactics I've mentioned as undesirable as more "subversion tactics" than sales tactics. The whole point of sales is to find the customers that do want what you provide, show them why you're the right choice among the competition, and trust them to make a decision. Being respectful, up-front and always honest. That's the kind of sales I want to see.


P.S. - 10 Flagrant Grammar Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid I run into at least three of these every day in articles online, blogs, or emails from colleagues. Maintaining good grammar isn't hard, if you keep common slip-ups like these in mind. Reeeead, my Web friends. Reeeeeaddd!


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