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Service Is Our Business chapter 7

ANYONE interested in improving his human relations has much to learn from the art of salesmanship as it has developed through the years. To begin with, the operation of selling is almost universal. The human relations of professional men, for instance, are largely with patients or clients—customers, if you please of their services. Every producer must seek a market, even if it be through an employment office or an advertising column or a business letter. To the schoolteacher, the pupil or the parent may well be represented as a purchasing agent. Even the clergyman has a selling job to do. Selling is a two-way process: a buyer is also involved, and all people are buyers. The mistakes, the temptations, and the insights of salesmen are present to some extent in all these occupations.

Salesmen, furthermore, have had the courage to recognize their mistakes. More intensive study has been made of the problems in selling than in any other field of human relations. Much can be learned from these pioneers.

Why do people buy? What do customers want, actually? How is the salesman equipped to satisfy these wants? Even those whose occupation is far removed from selling can apply these questions to their relations with business or professional associates.

Why do people buy? There is no denying that price is a great consideration. A recent survey in the United States showed the importance of impulse buying, the kind of buying people do when they happen to see something that appeals to them and decide to buy it on the spot. Fifty-three per cent of all purchases in chain stores is impulse buying. Forty-two per cent of department-store business, and even twenty-four per cent of grocery purchases come from buying on the impulse. Nothing freezes an impulse so much as high prices.

Prices, however, are by no means the whole story. People desire quality, too. Often they are apt to think that quality makes an article economical at a higher price. A salesman who was encountering among his prospects a good deal of price resistance found that a frank admission was his best approach.

“Our service is not intended for any but the better rugs,” was his initial statement. “I have called on you because I understand that you are the owner of very good rugs…” If the lady of the house did not agree that her rugs were better than most people’s, the salesman gracefully withdrew, because he could spend his time to better advantage talking to other prospects who were interested in quality.

But more important even than price or quality is imagination—imagination of the circumstances, the needs, the motivations of the buyer. “Were You Mistaken?” was the arresting caption of an advertisement in a Rotary club publication, which lead: “So you thought we were jewelers! Well, well, does it not beat all how these ideas seem to get around. Just because our vaults are bulging wide with diamonds and precious stones, with quaint and beautiful pieces of gold and silver and platinum (and because we have mentioned it from time to time) you naturally jumped to the conclusion that our only business was selling jewels.

And now we have to tell you that you were perhaps mistaken. What we really sell is something quite different than you think. We sell the most precious, the most fragile, the most beautiful things in all this world. We sell Love. We sell Romance. We sell Adventure. We sell Loyalty that lasts through the years undisturbed by time and tide… . We traffic in old-fashioned gardens with great hedges of lilacs. We are guardians of your Memories, the makers of the only dreams that last” And so on to the genial conclusion: “Everything else in time grows old but love and truth, and jewels.”

Who would dispute the insight of this advertisement into the real desires of the prospective customers? Pearls of greatest price are those personal associations which they wish to commemorate.

A salesman who has the imagination to project himself into the mind of another person to discover his real needs performs a high function, for often the other person is not quite aware of them himself. The salesman is able to crystallize vague desires perhaps, or he actually creates a value not intrinsic in his product, but none the less real since it was born of the salesman’s sincere interest and perception.

How much better for the salesman to study the actual needs of his customers than to try to get business by mere assertion of his own will and desire for an order. Baked beans were a drug on the market in one city where the housewives had the habit of baking their own. All the rival manufacturers had done was to clamor: “Buy my brand!”

Then one of them had the imagination to present the housewife’s side of the picture. His advertisements told of the sixteen hours required to bake beans at home and why home-baking could never make the beans digestible. He pictured home-baked beans with the crisp beans on top, the mushy ones below. Then he showed how the factory selected their beans, used soft water, and steam ovens. A free sample was offered for comparison. The customer was even invited to “Try Our Rivals Too!”

Success attended this selling campaign because the salesman did not argue anything for his own advantage, but unselfishly considered the needs of his prospective customers. People respond to the unselfish, imaginative approach—by purchasing.

What do customers want, actually? First and foremost, they want to make up their own minds. They do not want to be browbeaten or tricked or persuaded. They want information that enables them to decide for themselves. The salesman has to let them buy. They cannot be sold.

The salesman who sets out to provide the needed information as lucidly, conveniently, and completely as he can, is the successful salesman. A store that gives the impression of placing all its cards on the table, face up, receives the gratitude of the customers and their respect. They feel that no available information is being concealed when every article has the price plainly marked, and when they are able to wander about making up their own minds without the hot breath of the salesman forever hounding them for a decision. Oh yes, they want him within reach ready to answer their questions, to share his experience, and to help them make comparisons. But he is wanted as a friend, not as an antagonist, as someone they can trust to furnish an authentic background for their purchases.

At a time when technology is multiplying the supply of goods available, the estimate that 70 per cent of sales lost result from indifference on the part of salespeople assumes an importance vital to the whole economy. When questioned about their product or service, they are prone to shrug their shoulders as if to say: “Don’t ask me. I just work here.” Or they are like the salesman who offered a fine pair of shoes priced accordingly. To try him out, the customer exclaimed: “That’s highway robbery’” Did the salesman tell him that he had other good shoes for less, but this was the finest produced? Did he point to the additional costs in manufacturing quality shoes? Not at all. He blamed the manufacturer for “holding us up” in a tone which implied:

“That’s your problem. I couldn’t care less.” Such indifference is a sure way to irritate a potential purchaser and to frustrate all the ingenuity and passion for perfection that has gone into the production of the goods. Only a genuine interest in the products and a genuine desire to help the customer equip salespeople to play their vital part in an expanding economy.

Salesmen who go out. of their way to teach customers how to make better use of products or get. longer wear from them may lose immediate sales, but they are watering the delicate flower of confidence which blossoms in repeat orders—the most profitable kind of business. A wire-brush manufacturer found a way to double the service of a brush used extensively on a certain kind of polishing-machine. So he made a point of visiting every purchaser of this brush to show him personally how die saving could be accomplished. It looked like plain suicide for the manufacturer, but these visits enabled him to demonstrate also other uses for his brushes. He clinched many profitable accounts and profitable repeat business followed. This was not plain suicide, but the salvaging of a threatened relationship, for, sooner or later, someone else would have discovered the saving and confidence in the manufacturer might have been shaken.

Like the fabulous Janus of Roman mythology, the salesman is always looking in two directions to improve his knowledge of what people want. He is the channel of information that conveys the needs and desires of the consumer to the producer, as well as a source of expert knowledge to the buyer.

Such, ideally, is the vocation of the salesman when he is convinced that service is his business. But actually… ? How does the salesman become equipped to satisfy the needs of customers?

Training—specialized training—is the answer. The employer of the salesman should be his teacher. To be a teacher, the employer should be utterly genuine. If he is thinking of profit rather than service—it he is putting pressure on his salesmen to “produce”—then his attitude will be reflected in the salesman, whatever the teaching.

The employer who is genuinely interested in improved service can inspire his salesman with that sincere interest in people and their needs which spells successful selling. The salesman will be trained, not to win arguments, but to ask questions—to make the other person feel that he is the important factor in the transaction.

The salesman will be trained as an expert in his line, as a mine of technical information about the background of his products—not for arrogant display, but as necessary equipment for feeling his way toward the actual needs and interests of the customer. An old lady listened patiently to the long sales talk that a clerk had memorized. Overwhelmingly, he set forth all the fine points of a stove, its many “gadgets”’ its chromium plating, and the like.

At last, timidly, as he paused for breath, she ventured a question: “Will it keep an old lady warm?”

No small part of the salesman’s training comes from his experience with customers. Arrogance, insincerity, and downright deceitfulness may and often do merely reflect the kind of reception accorded the salesman by those whom he aspires to serve. It is uphill work for him to develop a wholehearted devotion to the interests of his customers if they snub him, keep him waiting fruitlessly, and behave generally as if he were an enemy and a bore to boot. Like begets like. The customer who shuts himself off from these sources of information is not serving his own interests. He is needlessly increasing the cost of serving him. He is failing to realize that buying and selling are operations, not opposite in character but essentially alike, combined operations to achieve more efficient distribution.

Reproduced here is a card which is prominently displayed at the receptionist’s desk of a company that interviews many salesmen. How encouraging to the salesman a visit to this organization must be. So much depends on atmosphere in a business or in a town. Every gesture of courtesy lights a torch that is passed from hand to hand, lighting for each one, new vistas of opportunity for better human relations and greater service.

What has been said about the salesman’s problems and purposes applies to the buyer in equal measure. He, too, is vitally concerned to secure a source of supply on which he can depend. His main function is also the provision of accurate information to his source about his plans and problems, so that together they can work out solutions beneficial to all concerned. If all the facts cannot be disclosed by the buyer, at least he will be frank in admitting it. He will never attempt to mislead the salesman by exaggerations, hedging or half-truths, for such insincerity is fatal to the atmosphere of cordial cooperation which is his chief aim.

In the creation of this atmosphere, Rotarians can play a great part, not only by their personal conduct and influence, but through club activities. An interesting attempt to get Rotarians to look into the mirror —as employers, as salesmen, and as buyers— was made in a Rotary program where a salesman and a purchasing agent lore the problem of their mutual relations apart in terms of “My Pet Peeves” and “The Kind I Like!’ As members of the club joined the discussion, a richer understanding of the common task of these two vocations emerged.

The same idea is stimulated by another Rotary club which sponsors a so-called “peddlers’ picnic” to which each member invites a salesman for a day of better acquaintance and jollity at the country club. Or there is the project of a “courtesy contest” undertaken in many towns by Rotary clubs which offer prizes for letters describing special acts of service by salespeople. Any Rotarian can make it his business to suggest projects of this kind to his club, and any club that undertakes them can be sure that the effects will be far reaching.

An unexpected result of a courtesy contest, for instance, was that several local firms and a hospital started courtesy contests of their own for their employees. The town as a whole became conscious of the possibilities for improvement in human relations, and the results quickly became apparent to visitors from other towns.

What steps are you taking to improve your buying and selling relationships?