Sunday, October 22, 2006

On sales and trade shows

Not that you'd know it from yesterday's post, but I was in Munich all day teaching my colleagues the finer points of the database system that they have allegedly been selling for six months / two years respectively, in preparation for our appearance at the Art Cologne trade show next month.

It's odd, I have this image of myself as a non-salesperson, could not and should not do sales, not my thing at all; however I must say in all modesty that I am a far better demonstrator and salesperson than either of them. It's clear that neither Georgette nor Biff has ever worked a trade show before, which is not surprising because it is a pretty unnatural thing to do; what does surprise me is that equally clearly neither of them has ever been to a trade show as a visitor.

How can this be? Tell me, if you wanted to open a restaurant, would you not go eat in a few restaurants first?

I learned to do trade shows by being a visitor at trade shows, it was part of Great Big Computer Company's policy that everyone on the stand had a day off-duty during the week, in which they would turn up in dirty jeans and walk around and look at the show - not the other stands, but the show itself: what kind of things do visitors do, what is it that makes them stay somewhere rather than walking on. It was a great training, watching and learning from those interactions was what made us such a successful team.

Well, Georgette and Biff haven't had that experience, so they simply don't know how trade shows work. They hadn't even understood that they must give the visitor a reason to bestow her time and attention on them, must show her something - look look, a piece of data! - within seconds of her arriving on the stand. They weren't even planning to take copies of the sales brochure to give away! Ye gods, it is to despair. And my income depends on them.

I changed the plan after half an hour of listening to the sort of questions they were anticipating being asked - none of which would ever occur at a trade show, with its walk-by casual visitors - and instead taught them how to do trade shows, with the database as the example. It's an uphill battle, what I wrote this summer is still true:
You have to find out what the (possible) customer wants.

People don't buy features, they buy solutions. They buy "make my problem go away."

Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But I cannot persuade my partner or his assistants to do this. They seem to believe that the customer has to be driven to the sale with point├Ęd sticks like a sacrificial lamb to the altar.

What I had to say is just basic commonsense, but it is counterintuitive to people who haven't worked a trade show before. A trade show is not at all like giving a demonstration to a possible customer, it is a specific environment which enforces a specific kind of behaviour on exhibitors and public alike. A customer getting a demo in her own office has made time for you, there are no distractions, no interruptions and no competition for her attention. She wants to know every detail of the product, because she is there for a reason: to decide whether or not to buy.

Trade show visitors are not "customers." They did not go to the show to look at your product! Unless you prove otherwise, you are just one more irrelevant distraction among the hundreds of stands. The visitors stream past at a steady pace, and you may consider yourself lucky if they even slow down at your booth. They are surrounded by distractions and interruptions, and the second they leave your stand they will encounter something even more shiny and exciting. (This is why they MUST take a brochure home.)

You cannot spend a minute explaining how the data is structured, while nothing changes on screen! They'll walk away. You MUST show them the three most important parts of the database, and demonstrate how these link together (look, I click here and this opens up there) within sixty seconds, else you've lost them. If the visitor stays with you for more than two minutes, and most of them won't, then you can go back to the beginning and talk about the details and the structure. But you have to earn their attention first.

Most important of all: it's not a lecture hall, you must engage the visitors! Ask them questions, listen to the answers, show them how the product solves their problem. In my experience, if you can get a visitor to talk for say forty seconds (in total) during the first two minutes, she'll stay as long as you want. People love interaction, we want to be listened to, we want our questions to be answered and our needs to be addressed. If you, salesperson, can do that, then you might turn this visitor into a customer.

Damn, I should be giving courses.

So anyway I was indeed in Munich yesterday. I spent today rather gently, trying not to have a headache, walking on the Blauer Weg as far as the greenhouses. It was a fine day, sunny and warmish, with a gentle breeze which made me think of the South of France. Holiday is a state of mind, not a place: I was on holiday this afternoon.

In related news I forgot to mention the most significant aspect of the visit to Munich (and what would Papa Sigmund say about that?) According to my partner, the Hobbyists are dragging their feet: rather than putting copies of the database into every shop, they now want to fit out "one to four stores" as a test. Well, that's just absurd. What is the point of putting us into their catalogue (which was part of the agreement) if Hobbyist's customers cannot then buy the advertised product? I infer that they intend to reneg on the catalogue too. [Updated: they did.]

On the other hand, the Hobbyists still expect to be granted an 80% markup.

Our development and production costs are basically fixed, it costs nearly as much to print up 25 copies for these four stores, as it would to print a thousand copies. Were they to stock all stores at once, as originally stated, that would cover our production costs plus leaving us reserves for the next production run. If they order only a handful, then we still need to pay all of the development costs right now, plus the dilemma of how many copies to produce. It's a huge amount of money.

We pay all the costs and take all the risks, and they expect to earn the same profit as though they too were taking a risk.

I think I would be ashamed to make such a proposal. That's probably why Hobbyist is rich and I am not.

Partner stated that he would "have to reconsider his involvement" if the Hobbyists back down.

Fuck fuck fuck.

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Blogger CarpeDM said...

Oh, my Lord. Never? That just astounds me. I've never been to a trade show exactly but I've been to a few craft fairs and let me tell you, if I ever decide to participate in one, I know exactly what to do just from wandering around. For example, um, yeah, it would be nice if you had prices clearly marked on the objects you were selling. If I walk by and see something I might be interested in, I'm not going to wait in line for twenty minutes to find out what the price is and then realize that there's no way I would pay 20 dollars for something that would take me 15 minutes to make (slight exaggeration but you know what I mean).

I hope you can get them to realize that you know what you're talking about. Good luck!

October 23, 2006 at 11:19:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Oh well, the joys of depending on others.

October 24, 2006 at 7:45:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Blogger brooksba said...

The art of sales. Actually, sales are not that difficult. Just takes some common sense and your training on going to trade shows and observing the patrons is excellent. Sales is a study of human nature. Phrases I use to "sell" selling at work (we're heavily sales-based at the bank) are "Benefits sell" and "What's in it for ME?" Assume the sale. Engage and get the person asking questions. Once a customer starts asking questions, they're hooked. You'll do fine. Sorry those around you don't realize how they can be of proper assistance.

October 27, 2006 at 11:57:00 p.m. GMT+2  

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