How I learned to sell

Like most university students, I worked in retail.

Except, the store I worked at paid a little bit above minimum wage and had a commission structure. When I first started, you had to serve an average of 2.5 customers per hour (for casual employees, reduced to 2/hr for part or full time) before you earned a commission, and then it was a % of your total sales. If you went above and beyond 2.5 customers/hour your commission % increased as well.

Later on this structure was changed to a certain amount of dollars per hour, but the point here is we were given an incentive to sell, and sell big.

We were also given pretty good sales training and quarterly product training so we actually knew the products inside and out.

The store I worked in was sporting/active lifestyle goods, and I worked in the department that sold wearable tech so I’ll be using that as my example product.

Note: I also have a really big interest in watches in general and decent poor person’s collection of watches — so I was already selling something I genuinely liked and used daily.

Retail is also a little easier than corporate selling because there’s no cold calling/emailing, your customer comes to you. Here’s how I’d start a sales conversation:

  1. I noticed you’re looking at the smart watches, did you want to try one on?
  2. Yes > were you looking to buy one? No > ok well was there anything else you needed/end conversation
  3. Yes > have you used one before?
  4. Yes > what model/brand did you use and what did you like/not like about it? Did you want the same thing or something different? No > have you done any research? Let me tell you general info about the range we have
  5. After listening to what the customer wants to use the watch for (swimming, running, biking, all three, hiking and compass etc) single out the most suited watches and explain why you’re recommending them. I personally had used/owned a number of models of Garmin watches, my sister used Suunto, and some other staff members used various other brands like Fitbit etc so I had knowledge of genuine customer feedback about each brand and their technical features. I fit into this spiel about how I personally like watches and know that they can be in the way some times so would point out extra features like face diameter, strap thickness, and other non-tech features that impact on deciding on a watch
  6. After hearing my recommendations, the customer would usually comment on how knowledgeable I was and trust me more, and around this point it becomes more friendly
  7. Some of these items were around the $1,000 mark and so customers wouldn’t always buy them straight away and that’s ok, I’ve also taken several months before deciding on a watch. Let the customer ask as many questions as they want, try on as many watches as they want and generally just be really patient while they’re silent
My tastes have gotten more expensive since university…

Customers regularly asked what days I worked because they trusted my knowledge of not just the watches that we sold in store but also other types of watches (I rotated between various sports watches and beaters and dressier watches so I could demonstrate ‘outside’ knowledge as well) and if they decided to come back then they wanted to make sure I’d be there.

I really took the time to ask and understand why they wanted a sports watch. Some people just wanted to track their steps and I’d recommend free apps they could download on their phone, you don’t need a watch for that. If they were a more serious athlete I’d try and get them something that did exactly what they wanted.

I eventually ended up getting people who would come in just to chat with me about watches, and since it’s a topic I enjoy so I looked forward to them coming in. Other people would talk to me about how they integrated wearable tech into their training and we’d talk more about sports.

A lot of these sales strategies do apply to more corporate jobs. Position yourself as someone who’s helping out a friend whom has asked for a recommendation, not as a ‘pusher’.

My sales meetings these days look more like catch ups than anything else, and I’m more comfortable without a powerpoint or practiced pitch because it means I can ask more questions and have the client lead the way (and even answer their own questions sometimes).