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How to sell chocolate and not to sell cars

May 29, 2008 Leave a comment

I experienced an impressive approach to selling chocolate last weekend while visiting San Francisco. A small mall in Berkeley is home to several stores offering food. One of the stores sold chocolate, but the approach was unlike anything I had ever seen the before. The store was very small with a counter, some shelf space displaying expensive chocolates, a plasma screen on the wall showing some foreign movie and a friendly and energetic vendor behind the stand.

What made the whole thing unique is that the vendor turned chocolate shopping into an interactive and fun experience. He would invite people to try various chocolates and guess their contents as he cut up little sample pieces in  front of his audience. The vendor cracked jokes and told stories about the chocolate, where it came from, etc. When Rebecca and I arrived, there were 2 couples sitting in front of the counter and actively participating in the tasting. As far as I could tell in the brief period of time that we were there – everyone, including us, who sat down in front of the counter walked away buying something.

For some reason this experience stands out in contrast to the last time I was at the car dealership to have some maintenance work performed on my car. As I waited in the show room, one of the sales guys approached me and asked me if he could help me. To be polite and to be left alone, I promptly and politely informed him that I was waiting for my car to be finished up by the service. The sales guy inquired what type of car I had. I answered “2004 WRX”. He informed me that he had a 2006 WRX and asked me about the mileage on my car. I could see where he was going with this and informed him that I was happy with my car and had no plans to buy another until Subaru offers a Hybrid model. At that point he left me alone.

Where did the sales guy go wrong? I think the primary problem is that he approached the situation from the perspective of what he wanted (instead of what I wanted). What he wanted was to sell me another car; and that was clear as day. He didn’t even take the time to figure out whether I liked my car or what types of cars I liked. Instead he jumped right into “sales” mode. This pushy approach is a sure way to turn off a potential customer.

Takeaway:

1. Engaging customers in a non-threatening way can drive new sales.

2. Placing your needs above the needs of your customers is a sure way to turn away customers and prospects.

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