Retail, tics and anti-radiation mobile phone batteries: How I learnt not to sell

I used to sell anti-radiation mobile phone batteries.

More than I can count.

But not - as you’d first expect - for a start-up in the bustle of London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’ tech hub.

I was 16 and looking for a novel part-time job to fill the afternoons after college. Given the choice between selling windows door-to-door or wading through a list of ‘prospective early adopters’ in a top-floor city centre attic; I chose the warmer of the two.

My days were punctuated with the familiar tone of a phone being returned to its receiver and the squawking battery farm of my fellow call centre agents. The only noise that cut through was Ian, the centre manager, and his favourite word.

The ‘F’ word.

There was no skill or subtlety to our pitch. Perhaps a reflection of the leadership Ian and his self-inflicted Tourette’s.

There was no need to better learn about and serve our clients. We were selling mobile phone contracts to those whose credit score couldn’t justify one on the high street. The battery was a freebie. A distraction.

My afternoons disappeared with the consistency of a clock’s tick. The consistency of Ian’s tics. And this morning it occurred to me that my work hasn’t changed as much as you would have thought.

Over a decade on and tics still run my day.

I came to this conclusion with the help of the dream team YouTube playlist combination of Seth Godin and Zig Ziglar (I know – how millennial).

For those unfamiliar with the former, Seth Godin has half a dozen New York Times bestselling books to his name and one of the world’s most visited blogs. Many consider Seth to be one of the most influential business writers of our time. He advocates a combination of curiosity and generosity in business. In his own words…

“Don’t find a customer for your product, find a product for your customer.”

Seth’s 60 minute talk had set me up and - as the next video counted down - I felt my intellectual knees wobble.

I’m an avid subscriber to the following Ziglar quote. It holds permanent residency on a yellow, digital post-it note in the top-right hand corner of my computer screen:

“You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Taken from the 1984 best seller “Secret of Closing the Sale”, the quote forms a corner stone of Ziglar’s service-orientated approach to selling. If you can find, understand and solve the problems of others, then you rarely need to sell in the traditional sense.

But where do tics come in? Well.

Tics are a habitual feature of someone’s behaviour. They are the subconsciously drivers of our day.

  • For my clients, these tics could be the unquestioned processes, policies or systems that their team use in pursuit of their company’s goals
  • For my colleagues, it’s their own personal operational style, goals and fears that govern whether they do, delegate, defer or dissent on my ideas and initiatives
  • For your customers, it’s the resonating product or shopping experience that informs whether they turn left at the traffic lights towards the ‘orange shop’ or right towards the ‘green shop’

Serving a tic or habit brings comfort and confidence.  Challenging them brings discomfort and growth. As servants to those we care about, we must do both.

We must understand, serve and challenge these tics with the consistency of a clock. And in doing so remove the need to ever ‘sell’ to our clients, colleagues and customers again.

Tags: Customer experience

David Taylor

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