Something interesting happened to me as I was fuelling my car recently. A hawker walked towards me and politely asked if he could tell me something about my wipers. Intrigued, and not being much of a car enthusiast, I agreed.
He went on to show me how worn out the rubber part of the wiper was and the damage this would eventually do to the windscreen. He then led me to the rear window which he also pointed out was not the right size and would leave a mark every time it is swiped. He further invited me to spray both windows with water to find out for myself what he was explaining. I did.
He was right on all counts: both my windscreens left a mark in the shape of an arc a clear trajectory where the wipers had passed. It was clearly evident that if this persisted, the arc would turn into a scar. He then went on to show me the right size and type of wipers for my car. Of course, he was selling some. He named the price and also offered to fix them.
I was deeply fascinated by his sales technique at this point and was totally sold. Being human, however, I raised an objection. “I don’t have the money on me” I sheepishly stated.
But this did not deter him: “It’s ok, Sir. Since I don’t want your windscreen to be grazed, let me fix them. You can then send me the money via M-Pesa,” he said.
This threw me off balance slightly but I quickly recovered. I protested that I didn’t have any money on my M-Pesa account and that I wouldn’t want to trouble him. Surely this would put him off, or so I thought. His next statement gave me a technical Knockout— I never saw it coming. “It’s ok Sir. Because I know you need the wipers, let me just fix them. I know you will send me the money.”
I was speechless. He was willing to fix and sell the wipers on credit to a total stranger!
That aside, his last two statements were loaded. The mention that “he doesn’t want my windscreen grazed” and that “he knows I need the wipers” was a very subtle yet deeply effective admonition. What he was saying in essence is that even with the evidence right in front of me, I still don’t care about my windscreen, which is foolish; and because I don’t seem to care, someone should-him; a hawker. By the time I recovered from my speechlessness, he had fixed the wipers and was sharing his cell phone number with me. I always challenge sales people to stretch their thinking beyond their product or service and learn from any opportunity where selling is demonstrated.
For me, this episode got me thinking. What lessons can be learnt from it? Many, but I will limit myself to a five.
First, the man’s approach was near text book in execution. Because it was professional, I didn’t feel intimidated; I welcomed it. How the salesperson approaches a prospect could determine if the sale will continue and in what tone it will. What kindergarten children call magic words i.e. Excuse me, Please, May I, Sorry, Could you and Thank You, are truly magic and not for a moment, but for all selling eternity. And remember-you are always selling.
Second, understand your product well to be effective in selling; to impress upon the prospect its import as a solution to his needs and not how deep you know it. If the hawker did not understand what he was selling, how it works and most importantly, of what benefit it would be to me, I doubt the conversation would have gone far. Likewise, if he had chosen to expound on the whys and the wherefores of the workings of a wiper and proceeded to demonstrate his knowledge of the tool with the sole view of impressing me, the sale wouldn’t have happened either.
Next, when selling a product (as opposed to a service) nothing beats a demonstration it is difficult to argue with a demo. A written manual can be condensed into just a few minutes of explanation via a demonstration. Think how much easier it is to learn how to use a new electronic device under the pupilage of your son or nephew compared to reading its operational manual. In my case, the demonstration happened twice-to lay bare the urgent need for replacing my wipers and to exhibit the solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had. And he did both so successfully he got my full attention. There is truth in this quote by Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
In addition, listen keenly and study the unspoken word. Here was a hawker ready to replace a stranger’s wipers with new ones, and this is the lesson here, on credit! Why? Because he trusted I would send him the money. I believe this is not something he does for every Tom, Dick and Harry. He was able to tell that I could be trusted to honour my part of the bargain.
Tell-tale signs of buying can be googled but even then, what you read can only be appreciated at a conscious level. But the connection I’m talking about here is at a subconscious level. He must have sensed I was impressed by his presentation, that I’m not a wiper guru and also that I had acknowledged a problem for which he had a solution. Most importantly, he must have sensed that he could trust me. This I believe could only have come from the many interactions he has had with prospects and learning from them. It is possible that he is not always 100 per cent right about his customers, but the small percentage that defaults pales in significance to the larger one that does not. Such decisions can only be appreciated by one who has had many customer interactions; if one hasn’t, one tends to argue by the book. “The policy says this”; “we’re not allowed to do that”; “his loan appraisal doesn’t meet our threshold”. Interestingly enough, even the model lending institutions use to determine whether to lend or not starts with, “what is the character of the borrower?”
The final lesson is that a sale interview is a courtship. Doubts, disagreements and differences are a normal process towards marriage and in fact determine if it will indeed occur. These reservations, misgivings and fears manifest themselves in the sales process as objections. They can take the form of “I’m not interested”; “It’s too expensive”; “Let me think about it”;
“I don’t have the money on me”; “let me ask my wife” and a myriad other forms. Objections are not a personal affront to the salesperson as most of them who have hung their boots say; objections are a desire by the prospect to explore, dig deeper, feel comfortable, allay fears and experience a connection. Objections are not to be feared, only understood.
So prevalent are they that even after a successful demonstration, objections will still arise. Progressive sales people know this and in fact look forward to objections for two reasons. One, it assures them that the prospect is listening which means he is interested. Just like during dating, the girl will not always accept the man’s invitation to coffee but this doesn’t mean she isn’t interested! Far from it! It’s the exact opposite-she wants to determine just how serious the man is. The second reason why progressive salespeople like objections is because experience has taught them that these objections remain the same across prospects, and the core ones rarely get to eight.
So they have gone ahead and sought suitable responses to all of them which they have then mastered the art of responding to. It is unfortunate that most salespeople get stumped by objections to the point that they give in. It’s unfortunate, not only because a solution exists, but also because the converse would stump them still. Imagine seeking and getting an appointment at first contact and presenting and closing without a single query in the next contact. Doubt would settle in. If it’s a cheque he paid with, you will cast aspersions as to whether it’ll go through. Should you happen to be a distributor, you will wonder whether they will pay in the 30 days or if they will ever do so. It’s unrealistic therefore to complain about objections; being part of human interaction, we feel something is amiss if the interaction is without a hitch because that is unnatural. Armed with this knowledge, we must therefore anticipate objections because handling them moves us further along the sales cycle, while failure to do so kills the process.
Such are the sales lessons the hawker taught me. And in case you are wondering, two hours later, I sent him the money.