I went shopping a few weekends ago. I’m in the market for a new car, and I need a dark rose or burgundy tablecloth for my dining room table. I haven’t purchased either just yet (though I’m moving closer), but two very different sales experiences have offered plenty of insight.
Saturday afternoon, I went to the home department of a local department store and asked for tablecloths. The sales associate (Michele) told me that the store no longer carries tablecloths in the stores, only online. Great, I said, turning away, I’ll take a look.
But Michele wasn’t done.
She asked what size my table is, and what color and fabric I was hoping to find. Michele suggested that I send her the dimensions on my table and offered to make the first cut of the hundreds of tablecloths I’d find online to narrow down to the ten or so that I might actually consider. I can’t wait to see what she finds. It’s an extra step, but how nice to have someone willing to shepherd me through the search and guide me based on my needs. That’s service.
What was right about this sales experience: Michele’s questions and suggestions were directed toward helping me get what I want and need with the least amount of effort and trouble on my end. As a result, I left feeling that she was helping me, not just out to get a sale, even though I’m sure she’ll get a commission if I order through her. Our exchange wasn’t about the sale. It was about the service.
Next story: Sunday afternoon, I went to the car dealership where I take my almost 14-year-old car for service. It’s time for a new car, and my only questions were whether I would choose the 2011 or 2012 model, and whether I could find a color I’d like. I’d done some nosing around online, so I just needed to drive the cars and to get a little more information.
A salesman walked up right away, and I told him I was interested in model XYZ. I mentioned that I’d looked at it online. The salesman said that online research would give me the most information, and he invited me to come back when I was ready to place an order. A bit surprised, I asked whether he was telling me that he’d recommend I decide based on my online experience only, and he said yes. He also told me that stock of the car was limited, so I would need to place an order within the week. As he started to walk away, I mentioned that the colors shown online were rather dull (several shades of grey, black, white, and just one blue) and that there was some suggestion that other colors might be available. I don’t control colors, he said, what you see online is what there is. And with that, he walked away.
After doing a bit of looking at 2011 and 2012 models in the showroom to glean what I could about the differences, I returned to my computer and did a search to see what each dealership in my area had in inventory. And there, in stock at the dealership I’d visited, was a car I loved: “passion red” exterior, beige interior, all the options I’d want plus a few I wouldn’t object to. It was a bit more than I’d expected to pay, but if the salesman had shown me that car, chances are reasonably good that I’d own it right now.
What was wrong about this sales experience: where do I start? First, the salesman sent me back to the Internet without even offering to point me to the most helpful parts of the website or to help me through the page after page of details. He told me, in so many words, that his role was limited to taking an order. And, most tellingly, he didn’t ask the basic questions that would have allowed him to discover that there was a car on his lot that matched what I was looking for.
What can you learn from these stories?
- If you’ve ever dreaded feeling “salesy” when offering your services to someone, consider how helpful it is to take a potential client by the hand to help him sort out his needs. What could be more of a service than helping someone to accomplish something they want to do, whether that’s buying a new car or developing an estate plan to care for her family? Being in service and getting paid for it is not the same as selling something that’s unnecessary in an effort to make money.
- The Internet offers an ideal way for clients to get information before they speak with you, but chances are good that they need to know more before purchasing. Think of your website as an introduction of your “product” — and for attorneys, your product is a combination of your legal skills and how you bring them to the table. But remember that even the best website is only a conversational opener, not the end of the conversation.
- When you speak with a potential client, be sure you ask enough questions to get a sense of her real needs. Not only will you discover what needs you need to address in talking about your service, but also you’ll show your client that you seek to meet her needs rather than offering a “one size fits all” approach that may not be a good fit.