Buying for Dummies

I have come to the conclusion that many Americans don’t know how to buy things. Ok, that may be a stretch for those who look around and see the Land of Consumerism, so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that many Americans aren’t very good at buying things.

I teach and sell teaching for a living. So of course I’ve received a fair amount of sales training. I’ve read Selling for Dummies and other such publications. And I practice a lot. It wasn’t something I sought to do…I was a perfectly happy software developer at a not-for-profit company for many years before I fell in love with dancing and then teaching others to dance and now educating both prospective and current students about what dancing can do for their lives.

Most of the people I teach or sit down with are perfectly reasonable people who understand that we are offering a service in exchange for money. I love working with these people, because, whether they decide to invest in dance lessons or not, they make the decision with confidence after taking the time to be educated.

But then there are people who have trouble with the process. Again, I’m not referring to people who walk out without buying anything, sometimes that happens because they honestly don’t want what we’re offering, or at least not enough to pay what it’s worth. I’m talking about people who, for whatever reason, can’t allow the the process to go smoothly.

The Customizer

Some customers want to change what we offer into something completely different. What I always have to explain to them is that it is in our mutual self-interest that they make as much progress as possible in as little time as possible. Progress is what sells. Impressive progress (and service) on their complimentary lesson is what convinces them to spend money on an introductory program. Impressive progress on such a program is what convinces them to become long-term students and continue to invest money in us. Our packages are designed to provide exactly that progress…we’ve spent almost a century refining the way we teach people to dance…if there were another configuration of lessons and classes that would provide better progress, we’d be offering it.

It would be like going into a BMW dealership to buy The Ultimate Driving Machine and asking them if they could deliver one with a really soft cushy suspension. BMWs have plenty of options…cushy suspensions aren’t on the list for a very good reason. Another example: ever been to a restaurant that takes its steak seriously? You often see the options on how they’ll cook it: “rare”, “medium rare”, “medium”, “medium well”, and “order chicken!”

Unless the sales representative strikes you as a fool, choose from the options that he offers you. He wants your business, your repeat business, and your referrals…he really would be a fool not to offer you the options that will fit you best.

The Victim

Other customers equate the sales process with being mugged. I have seen students react with real anxiety when their teacher brings up something that costs money. Even if it’s a long-time student who is being offered something that they have bought before. For example, a student that has been a student for years and has no intention of quitting any time soon will nonetheless hyperventilate when her teacher brings up the subject of renewing her program. We refer to such customers as “sales-averse,” but that’s merely descriptive, it doesn’t explain anything.

My parents are in the market for a car. My father is doing lots of research and talking to his brother and myself because we’re car people. He was agonizing over the decision of what make and model is best for his needs, and had yet to set foot in a dealership or drive any of the cars, even though the “fun factor” of the cars was part of the criteria. I told him he had to a few dealerships and it soon became obvious that part of the problem was a fear of buying a car. They had no intention of buying a car right now and were literally afraid that they might leave the dealership owning a car they didn’t own when they walked in. My father actually used the word “entrap” to describe what he was worried about. Now, my parents are intelligent and confident people (they are literally rocket scientists) so this surprised me. I asked if that had ever happened to them and, somewhat sheepishly, my father said yes…one of their current cars was purchased that way. Now, they love that car. My feeling is that if you walk into a place of business to just look without purchasing, and someone, without the aid of drugs or force, convinces you to buy something that day, then you’ll probably be pretty happy with your purchase.

The Indecisive One

Actually indecision is a characteristic shared by a lot of people and its effects aren’t specific to the sales process, but can still get in the way of connecting people with goods and services that they could enjoy. Nothing gets in the way of happiness more than fear; in this case, fear of making a bad decision. What happens is that they need to go home “to think about it.” That’s fine, I understand that sometimes people need more time, but how long does it really take to make a decision like that?

What’s going through my head when I hear, “we’ll need to think about it” is this: Do you have more questions? Are they going to get answered at home? Will you have to play phone tag with me to get your questions answered? Will you have to make another trip to the studio? Will you get tired of the extra time involved and just give up on something you might have truly enjoyed – that might really enrich your life? What do you have to lose?

Again, I don’t mind someone making a confident, educated, thought-out decision that they don’t want to invest in a product, but I do hate to see someone lose out because they’re too scared to make a decision. The worst that can happen is that the student will take the lessons and decide afterward that they weren’t quite worth the money. Not that this happens very often, but, if it does, so what? I’m not saying dance lessons are cheap, but our prospective students aren’t poverty-stricken either…they’re not choosing between dance lessons and food, shelter, or education. And, in the unlikely event that a student is dissatisfied with their progress or our service, we do what we can to make it right and this is a fairly standard practice in the business world. Ask anyone who works in a restaurant how much food gets thrown away and replaced gratis on a daily basis because customers said they weren’t satisfied with it.

The More You Know…

The sales training I’ve received is top-notch and could be divided into two main areas. The first is how to best educate clients on the benefits of what we offer…this applies to everyone who walks in our doors. The second is how to deal with the more difficult clients of which those I mention above are but three examples. The customizers need to be listened to and gently shown that we know what we’re doing without making them feel patronized. The victims and the indecisive need to be reassured; the difficulty is that fear can remain even when someone understands on an intellectual level that it’s unfounded. Most people who are too scared to ride roller coasters don’t actually think that they are unsafe.

The best customers I ever interact with are those who are sales professionals themselves. They understand that my job is not to trick them but to educate them and they appreciate it when I do a good job. They are generally patient enough to wait while I cover the information because they can tell that I do have a process and am therefore probably going to cover everything they need to know. If they have questions they are generally pointed and thoughtful and sometimes they reveal that I missed something in my description, which is great because I want them to understand as much as possible. Then they buy or don’t – it’s that simple. If they don’t, I ask a few followup questions of my own to make sure that I haven’t missed anything and, if not, then I send them off happy. They may be back and at least they’ll have a good impression of us.

So what perhaps what we need is Buying For Dummies. Consumers don’t need to know everything about sales, but they need to be educated on how to properly evaluate a sales pitch. Most importantly, they need to understand its purpose – education. That piece of knowledge alone is worth a lot…if you don’t feel like you’re learning something from a sales professional, then he’s not doing a good job. “Come-on, you should buy this because everyone else has one!” is not a sales pitch. A sales pitch is: “What brought you here today? Let me show you how X product will fulfill the need or desire you just described for a reasonable price.”

If you can critically evaluate a sales pitch, you will be able to determine if you have enough information to make a decision and what questions to ask to fill in any holes. Ignorance begets fear, whereas knowledge inspires confidence.

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