For all the changes I've gone through since I began my entrepreneurial journey 40 years ago, I'm still essentially what I was back then--namely, a salesperson--and I suspect that, whatever changes you've gone through, you are too. Most of us who start businesses are salespeople--in part, I suppose, because we couldn't get anywhere without selling. Aside from selling products or services to customers, we have to sell our idea to investors, creditors, and other people.
Fortunately, I like selling, especially if negotiating is involved. Not only do I like it, but I also like to watch other people doing it, which makes me a prime target for ropers, as I call them. Those are the people whose job is to round up potential buyers for selling sessions staged by marketers of condos, time-shares, cruises, exotic vacations, and the like. I'm never actually a potential buyer, but I'm happy to pretend to be one so I can get inside and see how the marketers are getting prospects to commit to the purchase. Sometimes, I start negotiating right there on the street. It's a game I play. The roper will stop me and say, "Can I offer you a free dinner for two?"
"Dinner for two?" I say. "No, no--we have six of us here." My wife, Elaine, has watched me do this so many times that she just stands there and laughs.
But I have the most fun observing great salespeople in action. Linda Pagan is one of the best I've seen recently. You may recall her from my previous column about her hat shop in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Last spring, Elaine and I were in the area and decided to stop by to say hello. The shop, which is tiny, was packed with customers. Linda, who was busy helping them, said, "I'll be with you in a minute."
"Don't rush," I said. "We're fine." We found a spot off to the side and sat down.
I was happy to watch what Linda was doing. She knows everything there is to know about her business, from the history of different hat styles to the science of hat selection. She also has a wonderful way of handling people.
There was, for example, a woman looking for a hat for a friend of hers with cancer. "She's on chemo, and she's losing her hair, and she doesn't want to wear a wig," the customer said. "So I thought I'd get her a nice hat she can wear when she goes out, something that makes her feel good about herself."
"I have the perfect solution," Linda said, and started rummaging through boxes on the floor. She pulled out a hat that wrapped around the head like a turban and could be shaped easily thanks to a built-in wire support. "I'll make a video for your friend to show her how she could wear this," Linda said. The customer thanked her, paid for the hat, and left smiling, obviously satisfied with the purchase.
In fact, everyone left smiling. Linda has a gift for reading people. Another customer wanted a hat for a friend who never wore hats. "Let's look at some starter hats," Linda said. She brought out a couple and showed how they fit.
So it went for at least an hour, until Linda felt she could take a break and came over, apologizing for having kept us waiting. "No, no," I said. "I had a great time. That's quite a show you put on."
"It's what you have to do these days," she said. "It's how small retailers compete with Amazon. The show, the information, and the experience are what's missing when you shop on the internet. So I create an experience for everybody who walks into the store."
She was, of course, absolutely correct, although I hadn't taken it in before she told me. And that's another reason for watching great salespeople in action. You just might learn something.