I can honestly tell you that I have never done sales in my life and I confess that I know very little about that world. And yet, a two-hour stint selling Girl Scout cookies in front of a Stater Brothers and I feel like I am an expert… because I have come up with some universal truths about the sales process.
1) Location Location Location—A few weeks ago my wife went with our daughter to sell cookies in front of a Baja Fresh and I think she told me that for the two hours they were there, they sold a grand total of two boxes. However, for a two hour stretch at Stater Brothers, we sold 95 boxes. Why, might you ask? Simply because more people walked past our table going into the supermarket than walked past their table going into a fast food restaurant.
2) Timing is Everything – Did I forget to tell you that my daughter was at Baja Fresh at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and we were at State Brothers at 10am? How many people do you think needed to get a Baja Burrito at 4pm? But Saturday mornings are high traffic times for the supermarket, apparently. This was further borne out by the fact that from 10am to noon we sold 95 boxes while it took the other girls 3 ½ hours to sell the remaining 90 boxes.
3) Money Doesn’t Have to Be the Motivation for Your Sales Force – We like to think that our sales force requires monetary incentives to extract their very best efforts in selling. That isn’t always the case. I can guarantee you that the girls selling yesterday weren’t doing it because they were getting paid. They did it because they believed in their product, they believed in their organization and they knew that they would receive some benefit from their efforts; it might be a party or a field trip or prizes. But it certainly isn’t monetary. And we surely got their best efforts at selling.
4) Your Sales Force Must Be Genuine – It was immediately clear when we set up our table and began selling that the girls were excited to be there selling cookies and representing the Girl Scouts. They didn’t see this as a chore to be endured, but as a rite of passage in every Girl Scout’s life. And the fact that they believed in what they were doing resonated from our table and was infectious. Our customers felt the energy and excitement and took the time to stop and talk and, more importantly, buy. Even the customers who had to say “no” felt that they needed to give a reason why they couldn’t purchase.
5) It Doesn’t Hurt to Be Cute – I hate to say it, but the girls were so cute in their uniforms and dancing around the table and singing their cookie-selling songs. Brooklyn got numerous hugs from customers, just because they felt a magnetism from her that called for some affection. I dare you to name one child who isn’t cute. Seriously, on cuteness alone I bet children could sell ice to eskimos…
6) Some People May Not Want Cookies; But They Still Want to Help – For as much as we would like to think that everyone loves cookies, the fact of the matter is that there are people out there who, for one reason or another, cannot purchase cookies from you. It may be that they don’t like cookies, or we’re out of their favorite flavor, or they have allergies, or (as one gentleman told us) they are diabetic. It occurred to me after we had been there for about 15 minutes that we weren’t really there to sell cookies, we were there to raise money. The cookies were an added byproduct of our efforts. But the customers only saw us as selling cookies. We needed to educate them as to the purpose of our efforts. Don’t want to buy cookies? Would you like to donate a box instead? People typically don’t like to just give money away; sure some people were eager to just give us five bucks, but many of the other people felt like their option was buy cookies or not buy cookies. Once we educated them that they could donate boxes, we touched a nerve in some customers who saw us as only a cookie seller and we took advantage of their generosity to raise over $70.00 in donations alone.
7) Not Everyone Will Be Your Customer – While there were some people who apologized for not purchasing cookies for one reason or another, there were others who were much more gruff in their rejection or ignored us completely. The one guy who threw up his hands at us as he stormed off… whether he thought we were selling cocaine or something, I don’t know; but it was clear that he just wasn’t going to be our customer. For the others, it’s a roll of the dice sometimes as to whether someone will stop and purchase. If you asked me to judge the people as they were walking up and guess as to which of them would stop and purchase and which would avoid us, I would have failed miserably. But for the girls, it seemed to not matter if they received a rejection. They still thanked everyone who walked by and wished them a good weekend.
8) Know Your Product – Is there another product out there that is as universally known as Girl Scout cookies? It was my expectation that everyone had a favorite—why thin mints, I will never know, but that seemed to be the winner hands down. But there were still customers who either didn’t know the cookies at all or were just testing the girls to see how well they knew their product. It was excruciating to watch the girls stumble over the cookies when the customer would ask what they have or what they would recommend. What’s the difference between samoas and do-si-dos and tagalongs? Ugh. The other part of knowing your product is knowing what your customers want. If you ask me, I would tell you that there is no better pairing in the world than peanut butter and chocolate. Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, Laurel and Hardy—you guys can all eat your heart out, you will never be chocolate and peanut butter. And yet, that was one of the poorest selling cookies we had. But we sure sold a lot of thin mints, so it was quite prescient of our leader to stock us up heavily in the little green boxes.
9) Divide and Conquer – I understand that the girls are young and inexperienced in selling, but when the two of them were helping one customer, three other potential customers were walking past without any interaction. I had to tell Brooklyn a few times that she should let her friend handle this one while she tried to reach out to the other passersby.
10) Competition is Out There – As was to be expected, we were up against some stiff competition. Frankly, I would expect that the vast majority of you know someone who is either selling Girl Scout cookies or can at least get them for you. So you may not be surprised by the number of customers who had to inform us that they had already bought boxes from their nieces, their grandchildren, their co-workers, their fellow students or their dealers.
Selling seems pretty easy when you boil it down like that, right? Don’t worry, I’m not quitting my day job… but I may just man the table again next year. But next time, there are gonna be some changes…!