When I started teaching, too many years ago, I used to make the joke, “I’m so bad at sales, that if I were a prostitute, I’d starve.” Yep. Not all that funny.
In my life I have had a number of jobs aside from teaching. I have been a baby sitter, a custodian, a welder, an assembly line worker, an assistant cook, a waitress, a lab assistant, and a clerical worker. None of these jobs had anywhere near the appeal of teaching, and only one of them involved sales in any way. I was terrible at table service. I couldn’t tell who could be trusted or who could read or who had any money in his pocket. My only other experiences with sales were as a Brownie and a member of the marching band. At various times I had to sell cookies, posters, soap, hard candy, enchiladas, and gargantuan milk chocolate bars.
Now I face the challenge of starting my own publishing house, small though it be. In the past year I have had the chance to observe people working in the publishing industry, and I realize that I am only now beginning to understand what sales are.
My first truth of sales has to do with the product. You can’t miss with good material. If the product is worth the money, it will sell itself, the second time. So, this is especially true with things like wine and soap and exercise pants. I will admit I have done repeat buying, at premium prices, for these items. I need them, and I use them, and I am willing to pay a little extra for the good stuff. Here are some things I put on this list–Imperial Kir at the Pecos Flavors Winery, Thymes Lavender Soap at Tinnie Merchantile Store, and Starfish exercise pants from Land’s End.
As a publisher, I see the value of good product, but how does one sell books? People are changing the way they buy books, and books aren’t wine. You can’t use them up. Finally, how do you sell anything the FIRST time?
I think it may involve a RELATIONSHIP. Sales is more about meeting people where they are and giving them encouragement to try something–something new, something unknown, something…(dare I suggest this) pleasurable. The first time someone buys a product, it may be as much about the sales rep as it is about the product. The moment of a sale is the establishment of a conversation, and the great sales people consider it only the BEGINNING of the conversation.
This week I’m going to watch Robin Williams in Cadillac Man, again. I have a feeling it will give me useful advice about how to sell. I just thought it was a funny movie, but there may be more to it.