I just had a great interaction at one of my favorite lunch places–Market Street Eats–with proprietor Colin Rankin. (So great, in fact, that I'm putting off paying work with a big deadline because I feel inspired to blog right now.) I always have a great talk with Colin, and it's often about the pleasures and perils of running your own business. In fact, I got two, maybe three blog posts (the others to follow) out of that one interaction.
I went in to ask him if I could put up a poster for Social Media FTW, a social media conference we're putting on. While we were putting it up a pretty blond woman walked in. (The fact that she's pretty and blond have nothing to do with this, but I did notice it and I'm trying to paint you a picture here.) You could sense that this was her first time here, and being somewhere between lunch and dinner, it was pretty quiet. In other words, there was no line or other indications of how the ordering process might work.
She walked up to the counter and one of the new wait staff greeted her warmly and asked if she wanted to see a menu. Colin seemed unimpressed. I wondered why, after all, it was a friendly greeting. “I told those guys to go around the counter, show new customers the big board (where the wrap descriptions are), make some recommendations, hand her a take out menu, and ask questions. They think it's crazy to spend that much time for a $7 wrap.”
“Ah,” I replied, “but it's not a $7 wrap. It's $7, once a week, 52 times a year for 10 years. Plus, she might tell her friends, too.”
“Yes, but you look at it that way because you own your own company,” Colin replied.
Colin went on to tell me about one of his first jobs, selling men's suits. “‘Never let the customer get ahead of you in a sale,' my boss would tell me. ‘The customer doesn't know as much as you do, he doesn't work here. Once he gets ahead of you in the sales process everything falls apart.‘”
We talked more about how at flyte we try not to just email clients their wireframes or designs, but rather walk them through what they're looking at, explaining the flow, why we made the choices we did, and how this helps them with their goals. If we just post the wireframes then we're letting the customer get ahead of us; we're not owning the sales process. (Some people might argue that this isn't part of the sales process, but I feel you're always selling, whether in business or in personal interactions.)
If you run your own business, or if your on the sales team (and we're all on the sales team, BTW), you're sure to run into a wide variety of customers. Some will know exactly what they want, some will only think they know what they want, and some will have no idea at all and look to you to help them out. The first group is rare; it's more likely your customer thinks they're in the first group but are actually in the second group.
If you sense that they are in the first group you can feel free to just take their order and be done. If they're in one of the other groups, however, you're going to need to put the focus not on your solution, but on their problems. Their problem could be anything from needing a website that will generate leads to navigating a wide variety of sandwich choices in a new restaurant. Once you know their problems, and their goals, then you can help them find the solution that will work for them.
I don't feel Colin was really upset with his staff, but he feels that whatever you learn selling wraps you can take with you anywhere, and I agree.
BTW, Market Street Eats rocks, the wait staff is spectacular, and if you're anywhere near Portland, Maine, you should stop in there for a wrap. I recommend the Red Rooster, and when they ask if you'd like pickles, just say “yes.”