That time a customer gave me a drink; a tale from the shop floor.
Many years ago, back when I worked in mobile phone sales, I had one of those moments when I realised what it really takes to sell well.
We’d done the training. But that training had been mixed.
One sales director had told us to tell the customer every feature of the phone so there was no way they could bring it back claiming it had been mis-sold.
We did training involving throwing fish around. Well, we didn’t throw fish but we watched videos of people who did and learned something about having fun at work (apparently). It was a day away from the shop floor at least, but it certainly didn’t make us better at selling.
Then there was the classic “sell benefits, not features” training. This was almost right, and it got enough sales to keep managers happy. But there was something missing.
It was early 2012. Titanium by David Guetta was number one and was one of a short number of songs being played on a loop in the shop. Sales were down.
Sales always died down after Christmas, despite footfall being high. Everyone had their new toys and either couldn’t work them (so came to ask us) or had broken them (“no, I don’t know how it got beer inside…”). In the IOM in February it’s always raining, so people who came in were miserable, annoyed and generally didn’t want to be there. Everything felt a bit dull and depressing.
But we had a new phone in, and unusually, we were getting a commission on it. Not a lot, just a few quid for each we sold.
And I owned one. Not issued to me, not a staff phone, just one I’d spent my own hard-earned money on.
The Nokia Lumia 800.
Now, this wasn’t an easy sell. Not because it was a bad piece of kit, quite the opposite. But because Apple products were everywhere. Social media, TV adverts, branding. They had it locked down. Everyone had one and wanted the new one.
But I knew that ;
A/ The Microsoft software was far more stable than the Apple one so any I sold were less likely to need support down the line
B/ The phones themselves were really much better than people knew
C/ Every Lumia I sold gave me a bit of extra cash.
This gave me an incentive to try something different. Normally someone comes to the shop when they are ready to buy so you just have to close them on whatever they want. Easy enough. But to do this I had to break their pattern and get their attention.
So here’s what I did. A guy comes in with one of his mates to renew a contract. I showed him the Lumia 800 and he already had an iPhone so I said the Lumia would do things his couldn’t.
We started with the stuff he uses most, all of which he countered;
“Yeah the photos are as good, but not much better.”
“The email is nice but email is just email.”
and so on.
Until I saw he had a case;
“Bit fragile aren’t they?” I said pointing at it.
“There is one thing that you can do with this that there is no way you can do with your iPhone.”
He looked at me. I looked back.
Now, remember this is my personal phone. I paid for it out-of-pocket, and would have to buy a new one if needs be. It didn’t have a case.
I turned and slammed my phone, screen down, onto the wooden desk the display phones were attached to.
The “bang” was loud. MUCH louder than I thought. It echoed around the shop. Staff turned to look. Customers turned to look. My grinned locked in place as I thought maybe I had taken it too far. Maybe I was about to make a complete pillock of myself. Maybe “Titanium” started playing (I don’t think so but would have been nice).
I looked at him and he was staring at my phone which was still face down on the desk.
It was time to roll the dice.
Like a dealer flipping over a card, I flipped the phone onto its back. Not with care, not like you should handle an expensive piece of tech, but casually.
Not a scratch.
He reached out and picked it up, I said;
“Your turn” and his friend started laughing.
“No way I’m doing that with my iPhone” he said.
“Oh no,” I replied, “Do it with my phone.”
Imagine someone you don't know handing you their new phone, perfect condition, a couple of weeks old, and asking you to slam it onto a desk.
He hesitated. I nodded my head at the desk,
“Give it a go!”
So he did. I tried not to look tense as another loud bang echoed around the shop and he grinned. He picked it up, again not a scratch, and I knew the sale was made.
But that isn’t the point of this story. That happened a couple of days later and made me realise the key to selling.
It was a Friday night and I was out having a drink. I heard a loud bang from across the bar. I looked over and saw the guy doing my trick with his new phone. He saw me, drunkenly waved me over and slid me a shot.
Turns out every time another of his mates turned up, he did the same trick with them, only every time if he could do something with his new Nokia they couldn’t do with their iPhone then they had to get him a shot. He was doing OK out of it so he thought I deserved one.
After the shot I thought I could show them one more thing. So, as the guy came back from the bar with a fresh pint of cider I made him an offer.
“There is something else this phone can do which will make you give me that pint.” I reached my hand out to shake on it and he hesitated. But there was no way he could say no, so he shook.
Very slowly I took my own phone out of my pocket and held it out in front of me. The phone he had watched me slam on a desk in the shop.
I licked it.
Their expressions turned to genuine “WTF is this guy doing”.
Then I dropped it in his pint.
A moment of silence… then they laughed. He may have sworn as he slid the pint towards me. Phone still in it, I drank it (far too quickly as I really wanted to get it back out!) and left them to their partying.
Over the next week, several more people came in, saying their mate had shown them this phone, hit it against things and now they wanted to buy it (after seeing me do it as most didn’t believe I would).
So the phone slamming on the desk became another card in my sales deck, but not too often as I did really like it.
Now, I could have told him about the polycarbonate body, how it was coloured through so scratches didn’t stand out. I could have mentioned the gorilla glass screen which was very durable. I could have told him the benefits, how it would survive on a night out if he dropped it.
Instead, I gave him a story. Most importantly I gave him a story he could tell and, even better, if he bought the phone he could be the story. I gave him social currency and a means to trigger his friends' emotions, a party trick he could use.
That is the real key to selling. The emotional triggers of engagement where someone feels they have to be part of the story and your service or product are essential to it.
It is the reason people put “thinking of you” or “Hopes and prayers” on social media posts, or say things like “once I had this happen…” when others are telling a story. It is why online donations have a “share to your social media” option. It is about them feeling involved and part of the story they can tell others, and the better the story the more they will pay to be part of it.
The guy could have just bought another iPhone and told people about the crazy guy in the phone shop who hits tables with his phone. But, he had the chance to be the story, to become that crazy guy in front of his peers, and be the one they tell stories about. The phone was just an essential prop.
And once he had it and became the story? It doesn’t matter what issues he had, he would love that phone. He would have an emotional attachment to the story around the phone and by extension to it. Ever picked up a childhood toy, or seen a favourite computer game you played while growing up? Same thing.
That to me is Wetware Information Architecture. Finding the story that merges your prospect and your service or product together and engaging them with it on an emotional level. Understanding your prospect’s wetware to know what makes them want your service and then creating the perfect bridge between the two.
That way, not only do they feel they have to buy, they keep that emotional attachment way beyond the life of the product. Most importantly they will turn other people they share the story with into qualified prospects as well as they want to be part of their own stories.
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