Column: The Art of Manipulation
My winter breaks as an undergraduate at ohio university were spent on the sales floor of the Limited Express and The Limited Stores in Columbus, Ohio. It was the early '90s and the Limited stores were where the in-crowd shopped. Although sales was the name of the game, for other seasonal associates and me it was all about the clothing discount. Who cared if you only made slightly above minimum wage and spent a significant portion of your paycheck on the Limited clothes that you were required to wear to work? Where else could you get paid to shop?
So it was no surprise that I chose to work at The Limited in Evanston, Ill. when I attended Northwestern University for graduate school. I kept the clothing discount as long as I could, until my last semester when I made the tough decision to trade my discount in for a strict dress code, (black or blue coordinates), in the communications department at a leading consulting firm. The pressure was on to land a gig, ideally before graduation. Rumor had it that those students without &ldquoreal world&rdquo (corporate or agency) experience would have difficulty being recruited. All I had was a solid grade point average, several advertising internships, and retail experience. Still, recruiters came calling and I was invited to interview for jobs at advertising agencies and corporations alike.
I asked the recruiters what about my resume had piqued their interest, since I didn&rsquot have experience at a creative agency or Fortune 500 company. Time and time again, I heard what I did have &mdash retail experience. Little did I know that I had become quite the salesperson, sizing up potential customers at the door as a greeter, making emotional pitches to the unassuming, and up-selling at the register. I learned on the sales floor what many marketing communications professionals never do &ndash the art of manipulation. Oops, I mean persuasion. We often forget that selling is the name of the game. All the media math, added value, and big ideas, in the end, must connect with consumers and motivate them to buy Coke over Pepsi, vote for the underdog, or think again before lighting up a cigarette.
Recently, I reminded students at a Starcom MediaVest Group University class about the power associated with direct selling. I stressed the importance of deconstructing the media machine and encouraged them to think about selling stuff to people, preferably stuff they need, stuff they don&rsquot know they need, and sometimes stuff they just want. If you can sell on the retail floor, you can sell anywhere. Here are a few things you can learn from retail:
Welcome the customer
Everything starts with the customer. We must get to know consumers more intimately by investing in the appropriate customer data. That means moving beyond the limitations of syndicated sources and using those insights to lead, instead of support what we think or what we would like to be true.
Make an emotional connection
According to Bob Popyk, publisher of &ldquoCreative Selling,&rdquo a monthly newsletter on sales and marketing strategies, &ldquoselling is a transfer of emotion&rdquo and it&rsquos easier to sell &ldquoon emotions and feelings first, and logic second.&rdquo At the Limited, I gathered insight from chitchat with customers that allowed me to get inside their heads to understand their emotional drives. We shouldn&rsquot get inundated with reams of unnecessary data. Instead, focus on a few key questions that help make an emotional sell.
Sell solutions and fill the customer&rsquos need
Once I had the right information I could quickly assemble a strategy and make suggestions about what customers wanted and why. If I was selling to Mom, I suggested that a certain purchase would guarantee her &ldquocool Mom&rdquo status, or if I deduced that a not-so-cool girl really wanted to be cool, I gave certain pieces of clothing a popular status. So the next time your client or agency recommends that the team shadow the sales force at retail or attend a sales call &mdash go! You could learn a lot from a sales associate earning slightly above minimum wage who only works for the clothing discount.
Kendra Hatcher is a vice president and director of consumer context planning at Starcom MediaVest Group&rsquos Coca-Cola City unit. (email@example.com)