Secrets of a Sales Rep #2 – Finding Common Ground

In my first “Secrets of a Sales Rep” post I talked about the value of becoming a chameleon when selling. I failed to mention this last time, but it doesn’t mean you should be devious, or try to fool someone into thinking you are something you are not. It’s about respecting people enough to find some common ground. I also promised you some examples and here’s one that illustrates my point well.

Many years ago one of my customers was a Mr. Taylor, an older gentleman, who ran a Methodist Bookshop in a northern English town. Now, in those early days of my career I worked for a somewhat second rate softcover publisher and a significant percentage of what we sold was certainly not suitable for a religious bookshop. I remember titles such as: My Bed is Not for Sleeping; My Carnal Confessions, and Confessions of a Window Cleaner. The sales rep before me had given up on this account, but I was young and keen to prove myself. I visited Mr. Taylor every sales cycle and he was good enough to look through my new offerings, but only bought an occasional western, or something from our small non-fiction list. Financially, it was never really worth my while, but I liked him and in my book, and order was an order.

Over several visits I noticed that he nearly always had a magazine about music systems on his desk. I decided I’d buy a copy of the magazine and see what he was interested in and found a whole new world of hi-fidelity equipment I never new existed. During my next visit I commented on the newly released Bang and Olufsen system which was featured on the front cover of the magazine on his desk. I had read up on this new system and knew enough to hold a brief conversation about it.

This in turn led to a conversation about classical music, which I knew far more about and our relationship changed from being starchily professional to friendly. This went on for a few visits until one day he asked me if he could see my stock book. Now selling stock items was always difficult even with my best customers – most buyers were only interested in new titles or current bestsellers – so I was quite taken aback.

He took my huge stock folder, which in those days was literally thumbnail size photographs of every book we published and took a long while going through it. He discovered that we published the Peanuts carton book series by Charles M. Schulz. Unbeknown to me he was a fan. This led to him installing a spinning rack of these titles in his store and also ordering forty or so other titles to try as standard stock items.

This account went from being almost a waste of time to becoming an excellent and steady source of orders. The Peanuts book became bestsellers in his store. So, a twenty something lad and a sixty something man became business friends – I was even invited to bring my lunch with me to eat in his office prior to our sales appointments so we could discuss music and stereo systems.

This is just one tale of many where building a relationship resulted not just in an increase of sales, but a customer visit I truly looked forward to each sales cycle.