Fable Friday—the case of the ugly purse

When I was in college I had no money so I worked a variety of part-time jobs, teaching swimming, short-order cook, that kind of thing.  My roommate was in the same boat and he worked in a shoe store, as many hours as they would give him. He was very good at selling. Every day he would tell me stories about the people who came in and how he sold to them.  I enjoyed these stories and learned a lot, even though I had no idea back then I would end up in the sales training business.

One of my favorite stories had to do with selling purses and handbags as accessories to shoes.  The store offered a huge incentive to the salespeople if they could make these add-on sales.  My friend told me, “I’m the best in the store at this.  Almost nobody gets out of the store without buying a handbag or purse from me.”

 Here’s the story.  “I would sell a woman a nice pair of shoes, then say, ‘You know what you need with these beautiful shoes?  A nice matching purse.  Let me go pick one out for you.’  Almost always the customer would say, ‘Oh no, don’t bother. I have plenty of those. I don’t need any more.’  But I would insist she look at one and I would go to the display and pick out a really ugly purse that didn’t match the shoes at all.

 ‘Look at this purse.  Don’t you think it will go great with your new shoes?’

 And right away the customer would say, ‘Why this doesn’t go with the shoes at all!  But this one does,’ and she would pick up some other purse and show it to me.  I always managed to look embarrassed and contrite as I rang up the sale.”

 I share this story with you today because it has a lot to do with the way you prepare for a sales call and how your preparation can help you uncover a need.  You know from your own experience that prospects and even existing clients will often hide their needs from you.  They may be reluctant to share what is going wrong, or disclose where they need help.

But if you do your homework, you can get them on the subject quite skillfully by suggesting areas where you think you might be of help.  If you’re wrong, the client will often point out that you chose the wrong handbag, and tell you what his real problem is.

One of my banking clients had this happen to her. She called on a large corporation and told the CFO that in reading the notes to their financial statements it appeared they had a large and diverse investment portfolio, and that the bank could do an analysis and provide recommendations to the company on minimizing risk.

 The CFO thanked the banker for this insight and said, “But this isn’t a problem for us at all; we’re comfortable that we have our arms around risk, but you may also have noticed in the notes something else you could maybe help us with…”  And this led to a productive discussion on how the bank could solve the company’s problem.

Of course you run a risk choosing “the wrong handbag” that the prospect will think you have no judgment, but not if you show that you…

 Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

2 Responses to Fable Friday—the case of the ugly purse

  1. Jeanne Kelly-Rieken says:

    Not sure I agree with you on this one Greg. I like the approach of asking targeted questions that help the customer self discover.

    • Great point, and I totally agree. After all, I write enough about powerful questioning and self-discovery. Here I was trying to show the benefit of being prepared on a call so that you get after an area that resonates with the client, such that the client respects your effort to learn and be helpful. Not quite sure how the story of selecting an ugly purse ties in, but it was a heck of a story! Thanks so much for the feedback. Gregory

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