I don’t know about you, but I dread the thought of purchasing a used car, because I don’t like dealing with used car salesmen.
I can hear the howls of protest against my blanket condemnation of all the good, decent, ethical, hardworking used car salespeople out there, so let me explain my logic.
The stereotypical used car salesman trots along on your heels as you stroll the car lot, talking your ear off about the supposed perfection of each flawed vehicle. You can’t shake him off until, desperate, you either buy a car or flee the lot.
Oops. Did I say used car salesman? I was wrong. What I really dread is dealing with someone far more common: the “used car” craftsperson selling his products. Believe me, some of these craftspeople having nothing on used car salesmen.
We’ve all experienced this type of craftsperson, the kind who dogs your heels and talks your ear off, trying to force a sale. And, unlike a used car lot, which, presumably, you visit because you truly need to buy a car, no one “needs” to buy the product a craftsperson is selling.
I can see you all nodding your heads in recognition. We’ve all come across this type of craftsperson before. But – horrors – could you be a used car craftsperson? Could you be scaring your customers off because of your crude or ineffective selling techniques? Do you need to learn good sales techniques for craftspeople?
Selling, as any good salesperson can tell you, is an art form. We found this out the hard way when my husband and I started our woodcraft business nearly two decades ago. Having never tried to sell anything before, we had no idea how to go about convincing people our product was worthwhile buying. Sadly, we became the classic used car craftspeople until we learned how to comport ourselves more successfully.
So what works? What are some tips from successful craftspeople on how to sell their products?
Acknowledge their Presence
Laura Beth Love of Dishfunctional Designs (www.dishfunctionaldesigns.com) advises, “There is a fine balance between being available or accessible to customers and being too pushy or overbearing. Your presence should be felt by the customer, but not forced onto them. Customers who approach your booth should be acknowledged (never ignored), yet you do not want to hound them by way of too much conversation or following them around. Don’t sit; stand. Remember why you are there. Nothing sells itself. Have products priced. When a customer approaches your booth, be standing, be friendly, and say ‘hello’ and something simple such as, “Let me know if you need any help.” It’s okay, and even good, to offer some brief, relevant information about your product, such as, “All of my items are made from recycled goods,” but keep the exchange light. It’s important to be able to read the cues given by customers, but this takes practice.”
It’s All about Attitude
“For me, it’s all about attitude,” explains Benjamin John Coleman of Origami Bonsai (www.origamibonsai.org). “I need to be positive and approachable. I try to keep a smile on my face. I’ll wear a funny hat or a funny coat. Anything that makes customers feel at home. I say things like, ‘If you find something you’re interested in, we can work on the price,’ rather than saying, ‘No reasonable offer will be refused.’”
In this economy, craftspeople who sell higher-end items often find themselves facing customers reluctant to part with the premium price, even if the craft is worth every penny. So what’s a vendor to do?
Don’t shortchange yourself in an effort to make a sale. “A better strategy is to reduce a customer’s price objection by reframing the item’s value,” suggests retail marketer Mike Johnson (http://vexxt.com). “To get around pricing issues, always offer an item or service that is noticeably more expensive than your traditional merchandise. For example, let’s say your product has a retail price of $100. Offer a premium version that retails for $200 or more – even if the premium version never sells. This does several things. It offers a relative price scale that can be used to make your bread-and-butter items seem much more reasonable; it adds to your credibility, because higher prices, in a booth setting, connote expertise and specialization; it might actually sell – and drive up your average selling price; and, pretty soon, your customers will be thinking,
‘I’m saving a hundred dollars by not buying the more expensive one!’
Finally, just because you have a premium-priced option doesn’t mean that you don’t want to sell it, as well. In fact, you should continue to market your highest-priced option as a valuable solution. Sometimes, people will buy your most expensive (and most profitable) item.”
Go the Extra Mile
PJ Heyman of Village Artisans Gallery (www.villageartisansgallery.com) knows what it takes to handle customers in both a crafts fair and a retail environment. She suggests, “Make the customer feel welcome and not pressured to buy, but be available for them. Know your product(s) so that when you see them handling a particular piece, you are ready to tell the story behind its creation. And always go the extra mile to make the customer feel good about their decision to buy your work.”
So what turns customers off? What discourages them from lingering?
Several craftspeople mentioned the same thing: cell phones! As in, put them away. “I can’t tell you how many sales I saw fellow craftspeople lose at a recent craft fair due to cell phone use,” notes Benjamin John Coleman. “The Facebook and e-mails can wait; it’s time to put the cell phone away and sell!”
PJ Heyman confirms this. “Don’t appear more interested in your cell phone than the customer. Don’t be too busy talking to your neighbor to notice a customer. And never complain to customers about anything; they are there to enjoy themselves!”
Laura Beth Love sums it up nicely. “As a shopper, there is no greater turnoff than a vendor who is too busy sitting and reading a book to look up and say, ‘Hello’ or ‘Welcome.’ Don’t go into long-winded explanations, as this can be a turnoff. There is also no greater turnoff than to be stalked (followed around) by a vendor when you are trying to shop. Allow customers to have some personal space.”
The Real Deal
So what advice would a used car salesman – a real, honest-to-goodness used car salesman – offer a craftsperson trying to learn the ropes of selling? I caught up with Sean Gray of The Auto Mart (www.cashfortrucks.com) and asked his advice on what works when selling used cars. His advice is every bit as relevant for craftspeople as it is for car salesmen.
“When a customer first walks onto our car lot, we initially greet them,” notes Sean. “Ask them if they need help finding anything, and let them know they can ask for our help if they have any questions. The key point, though, is do not be pushy. Do not follow the customer around asking questions. I’ve seen this time and time again, and it makes customers feel very uncomfortable. We like to give the customer a relaxed experience, and if they like the car, they will buy it.
“Honesty and trust is key. Honesty is essential, and it actually brings us a lot of customers. For example, don’t sell someone a car that you know has problems. This will leave your company with a bad reputation, and a customer angry. As a result of honesty, we have an immense amount of repeat customers, and also referrals. A customer who feels trust is more likely to purchase a car, as they have faith in the car they are buying from you.
“Give the customer what he wants. If a customer is looking for a car that is good on gas, do not try to sell them a car that is not fuel-efficient. Furthermore, we’ve actually convinced people not to buy a certain car which isn’t suited to their needs. You might think that makes us crazy, but it actually helps in the long run. They know you aren’t just trying to make a sale.
“Always allow for a pre-inspection of a vehicle. We know we are selling good cars, so we always let our customers take the car to a mechanic to have it checked out. This also gives the customer reassurance that the vehicle they are purchasing is a good one.”
And what does Sean suggest you not do?
“Over the years, I’ve learned that the worst thing you can say is, ‘If you don’t buy it today, the price will go up,’” he says. “Most individuals are smart enough to realize that you are just trying to push a sale on them. These are just bad business practices, and it becomes annoying to the buyer.
“Do not lie! Some shady car dealerships will lie about warranties just to make a sale. In the short-term, it might work well for them, but, in six months, if a customer comes back with an issue, it will become a headache. Furthermore, it completely ruins your businesses reputation.”
Salesmanship is an Art
As Sean’s advice demonstrates, good salesmanship is good salesmanship, whether the product is crafts or used cars. The bottom line is respect for your customers. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Don’t lie or mislead your customers. Keep off the cell phones. Be honest and up front.
See? Used car salesmen – at least successful ones – don’t deserve a bad reputation. Rather, they should be applauded for the finely honed skills they’ve mastered in the art of sales.
Now, go sell your crafts. Just don’t be pushy about it.