At Your Service: August 26, 2009

“Try the steak, it’s so good that we can’t seem to keep it around,” the waitress smiled in a soft voice accompanied by a twinkle in her eye. Someone else might have enthusiastically offered, “The steak is so hot it’s flying out of here.” The art of closing the sale is always a matter of personal style.
No matter what kind of enterprise you are in, one way or another it is dependent upon sales. This is obvious in the for-profit world where the goal is to make money; it is equally true in the domains we think of as being unrelated to money. What varies is the remuneration and reward. Good teachers sell their students the value of the subject they are presenting and their reward is a vigorous interest in learning more.
Closing the deal requires us to be good at influencing people. Those who do it well, know a lot about themselves and others – they have a style that works. What we think of as the “hard sell” is a style that works for certain personality types in situations where the goods or services being offered are more tangible. But the “soft” sell can be just as effective when delivered with sincerity. The “cash for clunkers” program has been a perfect tool for those who influence by instilling a sense of urgency.

Making the connection
The success of a sales pitch is keyed to the ability of the seller to connect with the buyer at the moment the decision is to be made. Telemarketers, and others making cold calls, consider themselves successful when as little as two percent of their transactions result in a sale; their results are tied to volume. Any retail operation selling to only two percent of the customers walking through the door would be closing the doors fairly rapidly; their first line of sales is the marketing effort that invites people to the store.
Whatever the venue, sincerity is likely to be a critical factor. Sincerity in this context is about being true to our own nature. Those who think there is a script that can be followed to generate results are often disappointed by this reality. The words that are most likely to influence are those sourced from experience. People who instinctively draw from their personal well to relate to others are often thought of as natural salespeople. We will buy almost anything from them, from the sermon on Sunday to our car.
The waitress in a local eatery used both of the statements in the first paragraph the other evening. When she was addressing one set of customers, she seemed quite gentle in her presentation; at the next table she could have been teaching P.T. Barnum. She cleverly tailored her delivery to the style of each customer. The steak was one of the specials and it was a big seller that night.
The same skill set can be applied to any situation. In this instance, the waitress wanted to deliver the message that the steak was a popular item. She assumed that people would be more likely to purchase something endorsed by others; she applied different styles to the same basic message. Someone else might have altered the message – selling the quality of the cut of meat to one customer and the special pricing to another.
The trick to consistent sales hinges on an ability to modify our style and message in response to the listener. We can sell a steak or we can provide motivation by selecting the message that resonates for us and delivering it in a way that touches a nerve among customers. It is the combination that makes for win-win deals.