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Sell What They Ask For


Each year, on the day after Thanksgiving, we celebrate Black Friday. It’s supposed to be the day when businesses finally move from the red ink to the black ink in their yearly ledgers. Just about everything is on sale on Black Friday, and people used to get to the stores the night before and sleep out there on the sidewalks so they could bust the doors at dawn.

Amazon and other mercantile behemoths looked at this curious aspect of human nature and decided to get a jump on the madness by starting Black Friday much earlier than the day after Thanksgiving. They gave us the option of ordering from a place where we would not be trampled to death — our couches.

This decimated small businesses, so what followed in a Darwinian way was Small Business Saturday, an attempt to keep the Moms and Pops from being completely crushed.

I like that idea. I think buying from local merchants is always a fine thing. It’s nice to keep the neighborhood healthy and humming along. We should all be able to buy whatever we want from whomever we want.

I was thinking about this when I passed a small clothing store on one of my travels. It was on a main street in a picturesque Pennsylvania town. The mannequin in the display window caught my attention because it was wearing a scarf that I knew The Lovely Marianne would just love. I went inside to buy the scarf, even though no occasion called for it because this is how you get to stay married for 49 years.

“I like that scarf on the mannequin,” I said to the woman behind the register.

“How much is it?”

“Which one?”

“That one,” I said, pointing. “On the right.”

She looked. “Oh, I’m sorry. That is our only one in that style.”

“That’s okay. I don’t mind if it’s a floor-model. I’d like to buy it. How much is it?”

“Oh, I can’t sell it. It’s our only one.”

“Aren’t you in the business of selling things like scarves?” I said.

“We are, and we have a large selection right over here.”

“But, I want the one in the window.”

“I’m sorry. We have a person who dresses our mannequins. She selected that one to draw customers into our store.”

“It worked,” I said. “Now why not replace it with one from your wide selection and sell me the one that I want. The others are also very nice, but I want the one in the window.”

“Oh, I can’t let you have it,” she said. “We have a person who dresses our mannequins. She would be upset if I let you have it.”

So I left and took a photo of the scarf on the mannequin on my way out. Amazon had it. Oh, and The Lovely Marianne loves it.

Have you ever noticed most people have reasons for buying what they want to buy? I ask this because there are many people who try to talk them out of it, or just flat out refuse to sell to them. This has never made much sense to me.

Here’s an example of this. My buddy Fred is a wiz at everything electronic. He’s my go-to guy whenever I want to buy something that runs on electricity. We needed a new TV for our bedroom so I naturally called Fred.

“What size do you want?” he asked.

“Just like a twenty-inch,” I said. “Nothing big. It’s for the bedroom.”

“You want something with a really nice picture and sound?”

“Yes, my eyes and ears are not as young as they once were.”

“How much do you wanna spend?”

I told him and he told me to get a pen and paper. He gave me the exact make and model number of a Mitsubishi.

“How do you know that off the top of your head?” I said.

“I just read a review,” he said. “It looks great. I think you’ll be happy with it.”

So I went to our local appliance super store to buy the Mitsubishi. Since I already knew exactly what I wanted, I figured this should be easy. I walked in and a salesman flew across the floor and attached himself to me.

“How can I help you?”

“I’m interested in this Mitsubishi,” I said, handing him the piece of paper with the model number.

He looked at it and said, “Sony has a much better model. It’s right over here. Let me show it to you.”

“But I’m really interested in the Mitsubishi,” I said. “You do sell Mitsubishi, don’t you?”

“We do sell Mitsubishi, but their TVs aren’t as good as Sony’s. Let me show you why.”

“But I want the Mitsubishi,” I said.

“Let me show you the Sony. You’ll see the difference right away.” He walked toward the Sony section and gestured for me to follow, which I did. He then launched into a technical lecture I didn’t understand. When he was through, I asked him to show me the Mitsubishi.”

“The Sony’s better,” he said.

I walked out of the store.

That afternoon I went to another store, one with a salesman who was willing to take the path of least resistance since I already knew what I wanted. He showed me the TV and explained how his company stands behind every product they sell. If I ever had a problem I could call him and he would send someone to fix it. He told me they would be happy to deliver the TV if I didn’t want to take it right now. He gave me his business card after writing his home telephone number on it.

“If you ever have a problem with anything you buy here, call me at home if the store’s not open,” he said.

He also asked how long we planned to keep the TV (as long as possible), and then showed us an extended-service warranty. He showed us a binder in which he kept letters from satisfied buyers of the plan (all local people). He got excited as he explained the story behind a few of the letters.

“This guy is from my church,” he said, pointing at the handwritten note. “He was really happy he had the plan because the set got fuzzy a month after the factory warranty ran out. That doesn’t happen very often with Mitsubishi, but you never know.”

He asked if I needed any other appliances, and told me he could give us a great deal on a package.

All of which made me think of this: When your customers already know what they want, don’t argue with them. Just give it to them. Give it to them and then suggest other things that will be in their self-interest.

Had I bought any TV other than that specific Mitsubishi, Fred would have wondered why I had asked for his advice and then didn’t take it. Had I bought the Sony and then had a problem with it, I’d have to deal with Fred, who would have smirked at me for years. Who needs that?

And I know you probably have your favorites when it comes to boilers and other things hydronic, but if your potential customer asks specifically for a certain boiler, it may be because his brother researched it for him and made the recommendation. He has to listen to his brother. Or maybe he grew up with that brand of boiler and just has warm feelings about it. It reminds him of his parents. Who knows? Point being, when they tell you what they want, just shut up and go get it for them, even if you think there is something better out there. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

So please don’t try to decide what they can buy. Just sell it to them.


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