I thought I do some regular posts about the secrets of selling I learned during my career as a sales representative in my twenties and thirties. I worked for a book publishing company so a lot of it was relationship selling rather than cold calling. The company would publish a new list of books every month and the sales team would visit bookshops and wholesalers in their territory on a regular sales cycle to sell the new titles and also pick up reorders for stock items.
We would be encouraged to do some cold calling if a new bookshop opened, or if we were particularly ambitious to look for new markets for specialist books. More about that in future posts.
On the face of it, selling to the same people several times a year seems like an easy sales job, but like all sales jobs it required special skills. First, there were dozens of other book publishers selling to these same customers and each had only so much to spend per month. Not only that, but space on shelves was limited, so not only were you competing for a bigger share of a buyer’s budget but also space.
The key to selling in a situation like this is to understand the strength of your product is only part of the value proposition. Sure, if I had the most exciting books that month I was sure to get decent orders, but would I get the quantities I needed to reach my targets? Would I get a window, or in-store displays?
I discovered early on in my sales career that the better my relationship was with a customer the more buy-in I would get and the more they would trust me.
I also began to realize that each buyer was different; some enjoyed a joke, others wanted to get down to business immediately, others wanted to be taken for coffee. Some liked a lot of information, others less. The key was that every single buyer was different and if I treated them all the same then I would only be truly ‘reaching’ a small percentage of them.
So, I became a chameleon; I related to each and every buyer differently – I sold to them in a way that made them feel comfortable, in a way they understood, in a way that made them look forward to my visits, in a way that was special to them.
Of course, you can’t be best friends with everyone and I had a few buyers where there was little love lost between us, but I can honestly say that I had a phenomenal relationship with 95 percent of my customers.
In future posts I’ll provide some specific examples of how I managed to build honest relationships with every type of buyer from a much older, very conservative ladies and gentlemen to young buyers my own age.