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Not selling ourselves short

I love that Rodeo Drive shopping scene in the movie Pretty Woman.

Laden with bags, Julia Roberts turns to the snooty sales assistant who previously wouldn't help her, “Big mistake. Big. Huge … I have to go shopping now.”

I've had my own experiences like that lately. Not the spending of obscene amounts of money, but having been really shocked by some examples of appalling customer service.

I am in the throes of updating a room at home. I have been telephoning around various suppliers for building materials, fixtures, etc. One person I spoke with was incredibly dismissive. He raised his voice and told me I didn't know what I was talking about — which was true; I was actually trying to ask him a question. Another company was just downright weird. I got put through to one lady who grunted at me and immediately transferred me to a man who sounded like he'd just gotten out of bed. He told me, “We don't sell that anymore!” and hung up.

Ouch. Like I would want to buy from either of them anyway, after that. What surprised me most is that both were calls to companies in the US. The land of ‘have a nice day' and ‘do you want fries with that?' seems to be losing its touch.

Luckily, restoring my faith in the pleasure of shopping (although not sure buying taps and tiles really count as such), I have been delighted by the incredible service I've received from sales associates right here at home. Folks have been going above and beyond to help me find the right answers, to make things work, to make it easy. I've received advice, tips and value add-ins, and their friendly, personal attention has left me feeling so well looked after. While I don't plan on making home ‘reno' projects a habit (what a headache!), these companies have most definitely won me over as a loyal customer and I am now their number one raving fan.

There are a lot of options as to where to spend our money and our time, even here on the Island. How well we serve our customers is a strong differentiator, especially in a tough market, and is a huge factor in getting and keeping a sale. This is true for whatever we do, not just in retail: tourism, maintenance, the corporate sector … teachers, parents, politicians. Whatever we do, produce or sell (be they things, ideas, etc), we are all in the ‘people' business. We are all ‘service providers', wherever we are placed, and the way we treat our ‘customers' is what will make the difference to our success at it.

Winning at ‘sales' comes down to how we see ourselves and what we do.

One summer, as a teenager, I took a second job with a timeshare company. All I had to do was ‘give away' free snorkelling trips and bike rentals to people … in return for them signing up to go hear the sales pitch for part-owning a condo. Sounds like an easy trade, but unless you read the fine print you wouldn't know that the pitch was a several hours long pressure selling gig, taking up an entire afternoon of their precious holiday (and possibly their life savings) which they wouldn't get back. Working on commission, can you guess how much money I made? I literally couldn't do it. I came close a few times, but when they asked what ‘the catch' was, I would inevitably tell them. Run! Run! I'd say. Book your own snorkel outing, the cost is a lot less!

‘Salespeople'. Words that we associate might include: pushy, insincere, slick, self-interested, commission-seekers, cheap suits (although that last one might just apply to London estate agents). And from the other perspective, what about ‘Customers' — ugh, always have to be ‘right' no matter how much they whinge, whine, complain, or how many questions they ask/models they want to take out that have to get put back or time-wasting they do.

Not a lot of positives jump to mind for them either and yet when we consider we are all salespeople and customers, what does this say? If we tend not to sell because ‘selling is bad' and customers are just a pain in the posterior — all the positive stuff we may think of our businesses, our service, our ideas, our leadership … is going nowhere.

When I first moved back to Bermuda and started working as a coach, I couldn't call it a business due to my own limiting perceptions. ‘Business', to me, was a dirty word which usually meant compromising ourselves and our values to make a buck. (I called it my coaching practice instead). I couldn't ‘sell' coaching, even though I know it is a fantastic method for personal and professional development, because the thought of being perceived as a pushy pedlar made me very uncomfortable.

What if selling is just having a conversation and being genuinely interested in the people we are talking to? What if salespeople are just providing solutions to customers' problems? One lady in a tile shop I've dealt with recently has given herself the pseudo-title, ‘Creative Solution-Maker'. Full of energy, she brought her whole self to the task of helping me find the right way forward for my needs.

If we identify a real need in our target audience, then we are not ‘selling' as much as genuinely helping. This to me is ethical salesmanship. And even when the conversation doesn't result in a direct sale for us, if we can signpost them to the right person who can help it's still a win because the customer recognises the service and will return when the time is right and will likely introduce other buyers.

This isn't a sales ‘how to', more an offer to consider how we perceive ourselves in the different roles we provide. Who are our customers? How can we serve them better? What is their real need? How can we add value? What's important about what it is we offer? What three words would we like people to associate with us and our service?

These questions can reveal a different perspective. For me as a coach, a mother, a friend … what kind of job am I doing and how am I doing it?

It is also a thank you to all the folks who have done an extraordinary job of helping me with this building project. I have been most touched by the connections made and the level of care people have taken of me. Never more convinced to ‘Buy Bermuda' nor more proud of the example we are setting here — keep up the great work.

‘I have to go shopping now!'

Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on (441)705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.

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Published July 29, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 28, 2014 at 9:45 pm)

Not selling ourselves short

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