Why Are We All So Terrified Of Sales?

Are you tired of being terrified of sales?

When we lived in Portland, there was this little farmer’s market we used to go to. Practically every kind of vendor was there. But Margaret, the little old lady who ran the berry stand, is what made such an indelible impression on me.

The front of Margaret’s little stall was a wall of all sorts of berries: strawberries, raspberries, and (of course) the good ol’ marionberry. She always had them all tastefully arranged and right up out front so you couldn’t miss them. People flocked to her little stand, even though there were several other berry vendors to choose from, some with fruit Margaret didn’t even have, and with cheaper prices.

I remember thinking to myself, what is it about this woman? Why is everyone crowding around? When I realized what she was doing I nearly applauded.

All the little boxes of berries in the wall of fruit up front were samples. “Are you making a pie? Here, try some of these! These ones here are great for cobbler,” and so on…

It wasn’t just the free samples, it was the way this woman interacted with every customer that was so damn memorable.

Margaret delighted at helping people. Sales came naturally to her. You could see it in her face. She was proud of her berries, and no matter how many questions were asked, she cheerfully responded, making sure to mix in some of her farm girl wisdom as well.

When it came time to buy, it was her granddaughter seated at the back of the stall who took the money, usually with just a polite smile and a nod. (She was a charming girl, but not much of a talker like her grandmother.) Everyone knew you had to get there quick, because it only took a few hours before the entire stand was completely sold out.

Why was this? How did this happen? How was one woman capable of giving away so much of her time and energy (and product!), and still be able to charge a premium for a significant profit?

A couple of things were happening:

  1. It was obvious to anyone who approached that Margaret absolutely LOVED what she did for a living. She knew her business when it came to fruit, and she wasn’t shy about telling you!
  2. She was wise enough to allow a good portion of her top-notch product to be sampled, right there on the spot. No strings. Not even the hint of a sales pitch.
  3. She completely removed the money out of the equation. In fact, whenever anyone declined to purchase, Margaret would just take them by the hand, patting it and saying with a smile, “That’s okay, deary. Maybe next time.”

It’s this last part that usually trips new salespeople up. How do you get any sales at all when you’re never selling? Why did she let some sales completely evaporate?

Newcomers to the little fruit stand caught on quickly. Sweet as she was, Margaret wasn’t there to fool around. If it’s berries you were after, she’d let you try them all. She really did enjoy herself, and she really did want to help. If you said you weren’t interested in buying, that didn’t bother her in the least. In fact, I would say the majority of the people who sampled the fruit did not buy. Nevertheless, she sold completely out in no time.

I’m reluctant to say there’s a secret in there, but there kinda is…

Were you able to pick up on it?

Margaret’s “close” (the finalizing of the deal) happened so quickly you almost didn’t see it. But it happened. And if you declined to buy, you got the old “maybe next time.”

What was it? What was Margaret doing?

As I previously stated, Margaret only “closed” about 20% of newcomers who visited her stand. But that 20% was MORE than enough. They joined a much larger group of die hard customers who bought again and again, without question.

Why did they buy? Because Margaret told them to.

Wait a minute… you can’t just tell people to buy!

But she most certainly did. It’s just that it happened in such a seamless and innocuous manner that no one ever saw it coming. What trickery is this? I assure you, none whatsoever. The magnificence behind Margaret’s close went something like this…

CUSTOMER: “I’m looking for something that would make a nice jelly.”

MARGARET: “Any allergies?”


MARGARET: “Oh, that’s good. I always like to ask. Do you enjoy the taste of raspberries?”

CUSTOMER: “Yes, but I was looking for–”

MARGARET: “Oh, you just hush and try this.” Selects a berry (gloved hands) and presents it with a smile. “This is a thimbleberry. It’s similar to a raspberry but just a little more tart; they make an excellent jam.”

CUSTOMER: “Oh, I love tart things. You know, I always wondered: what is the difference between a jelly and a jam anyway…”

This went on for a while. Never too long. Such a conversation always ended with Margaret pulling the pencil from behind her ear and scratching something down on a slip of paper, which she immediately handed to the customer, saying, “My granddaughter will take care of you. Thanks for stopping by!”

That was it. On to the next customer. Immediately.

Did you see it this time? What just happened?

As previously stated, Margaret is very good at what she does, and she delights in helping people select just the right fruit for any occasion. In her mind, she’s done her job. And she’s absolutely right! She’s been quick, polite and extremely helpful. In return, Margaret expects you to buy!

A lot of people are attracted to Margaret’s berry stand, most just trying to squeeze in for a free sample. Margaret knows her ideal customer. She can tell almost right away who will buy and who is just there for the freebie. She doesn’t waste time writing up slips for everyone who tries a sample. In fact, the customary manner in which people interact with Margaret is to tell her what they plan on making (a cobbler? a jam? some tarts?) with Margaret offering up a few options until one is decided upon.

New customers see this interaction and are faced with a very simple choice. They can snag their free piece of fruit and run, or they can see what Margaret might suggest for them.

Again, about 20% of the people who first come into contact with Margaret’s little berry stand will either walk straight past, or elbow in for the free treat then boogie. That leaves only 20% of the traffic to Margaret’s stand… right?

The math is precise. Yes, only about 20% of the people who first discover Margaret’s little stand will buy, but these aren’t the majority of the people crowing around.

Yep, you guessed it. Margaret’s core business is to repeat customers whom she’s helped numerous times in the past. Most she greets by name. These customers took the time to speak with her, and in return Margaret took the time to help, in a very significant way. (Margaret really does know her stuff!)

Margaret’s berry stand sells completely out in just a few hours because she expects her 20% to buy, just as they expect her to keenly dole out her sage advice.

You gotta love what you do. You have to love it so much that you’re willing to give small pieces of it away so you can earn trust. You’ve got to want to help. You’ve got to be willing to listen. And at the end of the day, you have to exhibit the confidence to hand your customers over to your granddaughter.

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