About Clueless Customers?

This post is originally from 8/15/07.  It’s a still a silly example, but it still makes the point.  Sometimes sales people have to pass on a sale.

Bnet.com’s Sales Machine asks the question, "Is your customer clueless?"  While the article is directed at business-to-business sales, the same principles apply to retail as well.

You know the drill.  For whatever reason, the customer is convinced she needs a particular item.  Either she’s been influenced by advertising, or word-of-mouth, but she knows what she needs even though you, the professional, know better.

Let me illustrate with an example.  To stay industry-neutral, let’s say you’re running a bakery.  The customer is planning a hamburger cook-out.  She asks for three dozen hot dog buns.  Her good friend, who she considers a gourmet cook, has told her that hot dog buns are the best way to go.  Nothing you say can convince her otherwise.  What are your choices?

1.  Bite your tongue and sell her the hot dog buns.  You assume that if she’s so bun-illiterate, chances are there will be other problems with the meal and no one will blame you when the patties hang out over the edge of the bun.   Meanwhile, you’ll make your weekly bun quota.

2.  Continue to try to convince her that your recommendation will work out for the best.   If you’re a strong enough sales person, you might eventually win the day.  Or you might just waste a lot of time.

3.  Pass on the sale.  To quote Bnet, "Why waste your time with customers who, even if they buy, are destined to fail?"  You’ll sleep better knowing you didn’t contribute to a party that’s likely to be a disaster anyway.  Of course, you may lose the customer’s future business as well.  Obviously this is a silly example, but surely you’ve been in similar situations.  Most of us have.

Of course, number 3 is the hardest choice.  We’re sales people.   For us, turning down a sale is like a cat turning down a saucer of milk.  It just ain’t natural! But, at the end of the day, we have to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and see a person with integrity.  While we’re called sales people, our job is really to be problem solvers.  If we haven’t solved the problem, or heaven forbid, we’ve made it worse, we haven’t done our jobs at all.

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