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Tips for sales reps, booth attendants

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A customer* walks into an organic food grocery store and notices a table display. The representative is handing out free cups of a fruit and vegetable drink. She takes one, and the two have this conversation:

Him: This is going to sound like a stupid question, but why do you eat fruit and vegetables?

Her: I've been a vegetarian for 10 years. I like the taste of them.

Him: But why do you eat fruit and vegetables?

Her: Because I like the taste of them.

Him: But do you know why you eat fruit and vegetables?

Her: I just told you, but why don't you tell me why you think I eat fruit and vegetables?

The sales rep hands her a list of ingredients for the drink and goes into a speech about how fruit and vegetables help the digestive system and energy. She nods and notices a big stack of business cards at the front of the table. She has other groceries to buy so she can't continue to chat. She points to a business card.

Her: Can I have one of those?

Him: (picking the whole stack up) Why? Are you trying to call me or something?

Her: (eyebrow raise) No, so I remember what I just drank. (pause) Why do you have an entire stack of business cards on the table if you don't want to pass them out?

Him: Well, I plan on giving them to people who buy the product and want to call and tell me about it. I'll give you a brochure instead. (Reaches near back of table to hand her a colorful flyer.)

Her: (Hands back flyer and ingredient form) That's okay. I know what it is. (Walks away)

Now what's wrong with this picture? Anytime you sell a product, you are the face of that product so not only does the product have to make a lasting first impression but the person pitching the product does, too. Sometimes companies will use volunteers or their own staff to go out and promote a product but choose people who may just not be equipped for sales jobs. People make jokes about car salesmen, but it's no secret that they have the gift of gab and will be as friendly as possible at least until a new car owner signs on the dotted line. If you ever wonder why your booth is quiet or why you're not making sales even if you have a successful product, these tips may help.

Tip 1: Listen to the customer. If you're too busy reciting a memorized speech but don't stop to acknowledge questions the customer may have, don't be surprised if she ignores you, too, and walks away.

Tip 2: Don't flirt without a green light. Unfortunately this tip has to be made because of the store example seen today. Sometimes flirting can help bring in customers. Other times it comes off slimy. And if the customer has absolutely no interest in the sales rep and is genuinely just trying to get contact information for a future sale, you'll look vain and the customer will be disgusted. If you're a flirt, make absolutely sure that the customer you're talking to is equally into you. Otherwise that baritone voice or pouty lip deal just looks dumb.

Tip 3: Have accurate contact information ready. If you don't want people to call your home, full-time job or know where you live, don't put it in on your business card. Many business reps have opted for two cell phones instead of just having a landline and a cell phone. When you're trying to sell a product, make yourself accessible. Check your website to make sure all your social media icons actually link to the correct usernames and sites. Verify all phone numbers. Make sure your email is set up and the spam filter won't dump important messages. If you run out of brochures, business cards or other giveaways, create a sign-up sheet so you can send information to customers later.

Tip 4: Don't insult the customer. Most customers who stop by taste-testing booths or listen to sales reps' pitch had no interest or knowledge in the product before the sales rep introduced himself. Do not act like you're doing her a favor by talking about this product even if in the long run the product you're promoting actually is helpful to her. At the time, she doesn't know that. And there's no guarantee she'll think it.

Tip 5: Make sure everything on the table is necessary. Do you have a grocery list on the table for items you plan to buy after your sales pitch is done? Have you started reading a new magazine that caught your attention on the way to your vendor table? Or, maybe you got some business cards from other vendors? All of that is great, but don't distract customers from what should be on the table: the sales product. Everything else should go under the table or in a bag out of sight.

Tip 6: Do not eat while talking to customers. Mints are great for hygiene, especially talking to customers in close proximity. But don't smack your candy, pop gum or buy an entire meal and eat it. You're shaking hands with these people. On top of it being bad hygiene for both of you (who wants to shake the hand of the person who licked his fingers from his delicious lunch special?), the customer is looking at someone smacking on food. That's excellent advertising for whoever cooked your meal but not doing much at all for your product sales. And if you chew with your mouth open, please report to the farm. Cows miss you.

Tip 7: Keep change. If the product is sold in stores and must be purchased at a register, then this isn't necessary. But if you're selling an independent product and someone hands you $20 for a $5 item, you should be able to provide $15 back. If your response is "I don't have change" that gives that customer too much time to find another vendor table with an item she likes better. She won't return to retrieve your product. She also may remember she didn't come to your booth with this item on her "buy" list anyway. Take the money. Promptly return with the change even if you have to buy something yourself to break the $20.

Tip 8: Try to leave a positive first impression. You may not make a sale today. You may not make a sale tomorrow. But if a customer enjoys your product and you left a decent first impression, the likelihood of that customer eventually buying a product is much higher.

Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Make sure your customers feel appreciated even if they leave your table empty-handed. For every product they purchase, there was a time when they didn't know about that product either. And if you make a bad, lasting impression they may never buy that product based solely on your attitude.

* The customer was me, and the conversation is a real incident that happened to me on Fri., Feb. 7.

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