Make Your Own Shoe Day
When I was 18 I worked a summer job at FootAction. I don’t think they are in business anymore but in case you’re not familiar they were just like a FootLocker. The store was set in a shopping mall and we sold sports apparel and shoes. You should have seen the cast of characters floating in and out of that store — I’ll save that for another day.
What I recall most was when prospective customers would come in and say something like, “I’m looking for this shoe that has some red and white, it’s a high top and it has a big swoosh on the side but has some little swooshes on the heel and on the tongue”. This was a frequent occurrence and oftentimes we’d say, “Well, we have these Nike high tops in black and these in white and we also have these Reeboks in red but nothing quite like what you’re describing”. The prospect would often look disappointed yet grateful for showing him what we have. As an employee measured on sales we were disappointed that we didn’t make a sale but behind the scenes we would ridicule the prospect and say to each other, “What does he think this is Make Your Own Shoe Day?” Needless to say we surmised it was the buyers fault, not ours.
Then one day I overhead our district manager talking about professional athletes signing big shoe contracts with Nike, Reebok, Adidas, etc. and he began talking about the latest shoes designed for Dennis Rodman and the Charles Barkley, two prominent professional basketball players at the time. He mentioned that Dennis Rodman’s shoe was narrow because it was designed for his physique. Dennis Rodman was a lanky basketball player that was nicknamed “The Worm” and he had narrow feet. Then he talked about how Charles Barkley’s shoe had a much wider base because “Sir Charles” on the other hand was more stout and his feet were wider.
At that moment it hit me.
I waited and waited and waited and finally a prospective customer shows up asking for a shoe they clearly dreamed up but this time the exchange went something like this:
Me: “Are you looking for shoes for school or for sports?”
Prospect: “Sports. I play basketball.”
Me: “What do you weigh? About 140, 150?”.
Prospect: “Yeah, I’m 148”.
Me: “Hmmm… And you’re a pretty slim guy. Are your feet wide or narrow?”.
Prospect: “I don’t know, probably narrow.”
Me: “Let me bring out a couple shoes you might like”.
I gathered his shoe size then headed to the back of the store and re-emerge with a pair of Rodman’s and a pair of Barkley’s. I explain to him that these are the latest basketball shoes, just released top sellers and I thought he would dig both. But then I explained how each was designed with a certain physique in mind and the one that matches his physique best would be the Rodman’s.
So he tries on the shoe and says, “Wow these fit me good. Usually I have to wear double socks with most basketball shoes.” I said, “Exactly, they were designed for a basketball player with narrow feet, just like you!” He thanked me for the recommendation and said, “I’ll take these”.
This experience taught me so many things about sales that I still use (and teach) till this day — even in the world of enterprise software sales. I learned that:
- Buyers don’t always know what they want and more importantly what they need. It takes a good consultative and knowledgeable seller to help them make the right decision.
- Sellers should always ask good questions. If a seller asks good questions, it will more often lead to a better experience for both buyer and seller. It will help the seller untangle what the buyer is describing and get to the root want, need or pain.
- Sellers should always possess knowledge worth sharing. If a seller has knowledge worth sharing, it will most often lead to a better experience for the buyer. The seller will build credibility through education. This is a close to an absolute as it gets. Sharing knowledge about how the shoes were designed for specific physiques helped educate my buyer.
- A seller should ask just enough to make a recommendation but not so much that you begin to interrogate the buyer or insult the buyers intelligence. By asking more questions they don’t know the answer to the seller will enter a danger zone. In my case once my buyer said, “I don’t know, probably narrow.” At that point I knew I reached the end of his knowledge base. That was my cue to shift into recommendation mode or earn my way into the next step. So I decided to show him some product.
- By offering up a little knowledge or product info, a Seller may find answers to questions she never thought to ask. In my case I learned that my buyer uses double socks in most of his shoes! All the more reason why the Rodman’s were a better fit.
Sellers, the next time you encounter a buyer on Make Your Own Shoe Day, remember these tips and you will have a better outcome. Good luck!