On Sales

Last year I had the amazing opportunity to experience a few educational events. Being having to leave my apartment for a few days the one I most value. It’s surprising how one can construct an artificial world, as put by a lovely friend, around ourselves that can be really disconnected from what is going on in places where “stuff” is happening or the things that people has to do everyday, such as housekeeping, cooking, washing clothes, et al. So, I was just out there, on the streets. Quite shocking at the beginning but enriching in the long run. I recall how I did enjoyed watching everyday events when I was a child. Like a scientist trying to understand subject’s behavior and interactions. So, there was me watching events on places I was remotely familiar with –those are the best to learn–. So that’s what I did, and continue to do: Get out there, learn and engage with people.

Markets, like farmer’s markets that we still have in Peru, can teach you a lot about sales. You just need to pay attention. I was so used to go shopping to supermarkets that forgot how things work on say Arequipa’s San Camilo. Close to my house there is such market. It even expands itself every Wednesday and Sunday all over the streets around it. The expanded market resembles, as I picture them, those farmer’s markets that Inca or pre-republic societies had for exchanging goods when there was no money involved in  transactions.

In such markets you can see different patterns on how people –producers and retailers– approach the process of selling. Take the guy who comes every day, has his established spot, places his products and just sits there waiting for someone to come and buy. Take the lady who does the same but in addition to that packages her products in a way that makes it easier (or sometimes hard) for the customer to actually buy, like PEN 1.00 packs of tomato, onion or broccoli. I cook, so most of the times such packs are really convenient since I don’t happen to have a large herd to feed, yet. But sometimes I need only half of it. At this point I, as the customer, have to deal with the “buy the pack and accept you will lose the other half” or “negotiate with the vendor so that she can adapt to your particular demand” shopping decision. One of the mistakes I made on my previous company was the “sit and wait” guy. Like there was some sort of Google for new companies that the market actively searches to find the amazing me. Then, I naively dreamed, that the phone will start ringing and I’ll be making lots of deals. Huge mistake. Lesson learned, adapted, moved on.

Back to markets.  You can also observe these people who come and make a big time show of themselves. Like this guy explaining the benefits of some sort of magic medicine that will heal all people’s aches. To support his words, delivered over a megaphone, he displays very dramatic –and certainly shocking for sensitive people– pictures of people at the very worse level of the disease. There is also a lady who basically shouts a price. You may not understand what does she sells but one thing is clear: it costs you PEN 5.00. There is also the guy who goes around showing his products and at some point shouting the price. If you are looking for something he sells and you happen to actually find him among the crowd then business may take place. Common denominator on all sellers is little product differentiation, limited stock, but most importantly a large number of suppliers competing to get the same buyer’s money. The latter is basically what triggered my reflection, as it happens that such markets can resemble almost any market.

Selling patterns seen at the farmer’s market can also be seen at other markets. Take some time to think a bit how it is conducted in your current industry. Selling is a crucial component of a company’s life, and also a nice skill to have — whatever you do. No sales means no income. No income means bankruptcy (being there, done that). So there has to be actual money going your side. Few days ago I listened a radio interview to a couple of  representatives for a well-known software company local office. One thing was clear to me: the company’s product line had nothing to do with the program’s audience. You could tell by audience questions on the phone, but primarily by host taking the lead and focusing on anecdotal conversation. Waste of time or lack of expertise on PR?

As a company or just a person trying to sell something you have to understand few key concepts. While shouting price for sure attracts people thinking about price as their primary shopping-driver, normally those are the ones ready-to-buy today. According market data, less than 8% of the total available market for your product. The fear model can work well in situations where the consumer is poorly educated about the actual benefits of the product. It can be you or anybody else, fear is fear. Fearless consumers exists, and no doubt we normally know what we want and have made some research on the market. The “traveling salesmen” model also works for occasional buyers, say selling ice cream on the beach, or going around on conferences et al., but what you want is repeatability on business from the same costumer. So having a known geographic location where they can find you is vital.

Every company has to find a proper model for conducting their sales process. But even before finding one, what you need to identify is who is your customer, where she is, how can you reach her. Knowing who is your customer is more important than knowing where to place your products. Say you sell toys for kids from 4 to 6 years old. Some people may think that all marketing and sales efforts should target those kids. Let me tell you something: those kids don’t have any money! Same scenario can be seen also on B2B sales. People trying to sell services to the wrong executive, who has time for you but little buying decision power. This lead us to another key aspect: prospecting. Prospecting is the ability  to identify whether a potential customer is the right customer for your product and, more importantly, has the money and decision power to buy now. You don’t do prospecting you end-up chasing a customer for years with no real action happening. Think of when you were trying to date that special one…, see my point. Time is money, so don’t lose it! To summarize: Know who is your customer, prospect and kick it.

Of course there is more about sales. It does have some basic principles but depending on the company, product/service equation it could involve more complexity. I like selling, so I anticipate I’ll be writing more about it. Like when I sold some software to a well known bank and they met the sales guy, the manager and the wiz tech guy who delivered the product all-in-one person (that is me). Lots of fun times.