In the mid 1990’s I was laid off from my full time job as a sales engineer with a bank technology company. I spent months looking for a new engineering position, but no one was hiring.
A friend of my family put booths into home and garden shows selling Ginsu® knives and asked me to fill in for a worker who had to miss a show. I did well, and ended up working the home and garden show circuit for the rest of the summer.
It has been fifteen years since then, but I will always remember seven business lessons I learned from selling Ginsu knives.
1. Have a good product to sell. Yes, Ginsu knives really can cut hammers and then slice a tomato paper thin. To this day I still have a Ginsu knife in my kitchen cutlery drawer for cutting bread, and one in the car for cutting radiator hoses. The product really works!
The lesson: Find a product (or service) that really works and sell it.
2. Stand behind your product. Ginsu knives rarely get dull or break, but it does happen (especially when you use one to saw down a six foot lemon tree!). The knife’s lifetime guarantee says you can mail it back or present the knife to any salesperson anywhere in the world and they will replace it for free, no questions asked. And they do!
The lesson: Stand behind your product and guarantee its quality.
3. Attract attention. In pitchman lingo, your “tip” is the crowd that has gathered to watch you demonstrate your product. The bigger the tip, the more people who will buy—not just in gross numbers, but also in percentage of closes. But before you can sell your product or service, you have to build your tip—people who are looking at what you have to sell. The problem is that people today are so bombarded with advertisements that they tend to ignore sales people, or worse, go out of their way to avoid them.
In the pitch business, people rarely walk up to a booth to see what you were selling. You have to attract their attention, call them over, be entertaining, be interesting.
The lesson: Customers rarely just call to buy your product or service. You have to find them. Use social media, live webinars, direct mail, anything you can think of to attract positive attention from your target audiences. You have to makes sales calls, send emails, contact people.
As Chellie Campbell, the author of Zero to Zillionaire says, “There’s money in the phone and I’m calling me some today!” She even painted her phone gold and wears gold fingernail polish on her dialing finger to remind her there is money in the phone. I can’t say I’ve whipped out the gold paint, but I do have a sign on my desk with those exact words to remind me to pick up the phone and find more business for my company.
Note: Not everyone is an extrovert, but “gold calling” does get easier with practice. I once saw a sign that says, “Fishing is not easy. If it were easy it would be called ‘catching’ and everybody would be doing it!”
The same applies to gold calling.
4. The closer your “tip” is to your “joint,” the more sales you will make. OK, this one will take some explaining: As I said your “tip” is the group watching your pitch. (Or hanging around waiting for you to start if you work the room properly.) Your “joint” is the booth from which you are demonstrating your product.
There is a datum in the pitch business that the farther away people stand from your joint the less likely they are to buy. Similarly, the closer people are to your joint the more likely they are to buy. Most people, however, stop about 10 feet away from a booth, cross their arms defensively, and think, “OK, try to impress me.”
I’ll let you in on a secret: Pitchmen know people are hesitant to walk up to a sales person, which is why potential customers usually stop 10 feet away from your booth. So to get people to move closer (and thus more likely to buy), a pitchman might say, “Now I’m going to show how the knife really can cut a hammer, but the people in the back are going to have to move forward to see the shavings.”
Knowing that people don’t like to get close to people (especially sales people), the pitchman will take three steps backwards in his/her booth to make a comfortable “space” for the audience to move forward into. But then, once everyone moves forward to see the demonstration, the pitchman will take three steps forward again and be right there nose-to-nose with the tip and then continue the demonstration.
The lesson: Many people can’t confront a sales pitch right from the start, so have a way to get them involved first. Offer a free webinar, a low cost intro service, etc. Then continue your presentation—and land more clients.
5. Ask for the sale. As a pitchman you can do the most beautiful demonstration in the world, but if you end it with, “There you go, thanks for watching!” people will just smile, nod and walk away empty handed. But, if you ask for the sale, you’ll get some.
Or better yet, assume they are going to buy and just direct them to your helper (see point #6). And once someone buys, others will as well. (I’m sure psychologists have a label for it, but I call it breaking the ice or safety in numbers—many people just hate to go first.)
The lesson: You have to ask for the sale. (As my dad once said while fishing, “Those fish aren’t going to jump in the boat by themselves, you know!”) The same holds true when asking your employer for a raise—you have to ask.
6. Get a helper. People hate to wait, especially wait in line to buy a product. So if you did a good job of building a large tip, get an assistant who can take money and hand the customer the product. Plus, you can then start your pitch again as new people wander by, which gives you the added benefit of new people seeing others buy the product and wonder what the excitement is about.
The lesson: Once you find you are losing sales because there are “too many customers,” it’s time to hire a helper to keep the money flowing. Keep doing what you do best (pitching) and let your assistant handle the admin and delivery.
7. Be open to new opportunities. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be selling Ginsu knives to make money. Me, a graduate of Tulane University with a degree in Computer Engineering!
But you know what? I can’t even begin to estimate how much that summer selling Ginsu knives has furthered my career.
After that summer, interviewing for a job was a breeze. I used to be nervous when interviewing, but no longer. If I can stand on a box and sell Ginsu knives to a crowd of 50 sales-resistant show attendees, I can certainly “sell” myself in an interview!
I learned to pitch ideas to people, to state my case, to sell my point of view.
I learned how to attract positive attention, be interesting, be heard.
I learned how to communicate the benefits of what I was selling, and I learned to ask for the sale.
When was the last time you learned a new skill? Spoke at a conference? Asked for a raise?
Be bold. Take a fork in the road you might not normally choose.
You never know where it might lead you!
About the Author
Jack Molisani is the president of ProSpring Technical Staffing, an agency specializing in staff and contract technical writers. He also produces the LavaCon Conference on Online Branding and New Media: www.lavacon.org
You can reach jack at JackMolisani@ProspringStaffing.com
Follow Jack on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JackMolisani