The other day some Boy Scouts (actually they were Cub Scouts, the younger kids ages 7 to 10, who are just getting started in the organization) came to my house selling Boy Scout popcorn as part of their annual fundraiser. Most of the time, Boy Scouts don’t do much in the way of professional “sales pitches.” They tend to just show up at the door in their scout uniforms and with their popcorn brochure, and they ask if you want to buy—and usually it works!
Most people like to support kids, and they tend to buy the popcorn, even if the kids are kind of disinterested in giving them an elaborate sales presentation. But I’m a professional salesperson, so I was a bit more of a “tough audience” for these kids; I wanted to see if they would actually use some real business-style sales skills.
And to my surprise, they did! The Boy Scouts at my door introduced themselves by name and asked, “Do you like popcorn?”
“Well, yes I do!” I replied.
“What is your favorite kind of popcorn?” they asked.
“I like caramel corn and cheddar corn,” I said.
“Well you’re in luck. We are selling BOTH of those kinds of popcorn to raise money for Boy Scouts! Would you like to order some of your favorite popcorn right now? You don’t have to pay any money today.”
And at that point, I was totally sold! I was going to buy some popcorn anyway, but these kids really did a nice job of illustrating some essential lessons about sales:
Almost everyone loves supporting kids’ fundraisers for organizations like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but in real-world sales situations, people aren’t always interested to talk with you. You need to start a conversation and engage your prospects first, before you try to close the sale.
The kids at my door did a nice job of this; they opened the dialogue not by just asking, “Do you want to buy popcorn?” Instead they asked, “Do you like popcorn?” And this quickly led to a broader conversation.
The goal of that first contact with a sales prospect is not to “sell,” it’s to start a conversation. Then the sales opportunity will grow from there.
The second question of the Boy Scouts was open-ended: “What kind of popcorn do you like?” That’s important—because it gave the conversation more room to breathe. They had already established that I like popcorn, but then they needed to find out more about my underlying needs—did I like caramel corn, cheese popcorn, or what?
This is a valuable lesson for any sales situation: Don’t ask “yes or no” questions that allow your prospect to shut down the conversation. Instead, ask open-ended questions that will help you probe deeper into the prospect’s situation and uncover their unstated needs. And with every step of the conversation, you are building trust and building a relationship.
One of the classic lines you’ll learn in sales training is that the thing most salespeople forget to ask for is also the simplest: ASK FOR THE SALE. These Boy Scouts did that well, and they also added some valuable information, that I didn’t have to pay any money today. They very concisely offered me my favorite flavors of popcorn, with no money down! How could I say no to that offer??