Home Truths: The ultimate insult


Fair warning: I have added this introduction having just read through the final version of the piece below. I feel an obligation to warn you in advance that you may not wish to read it; especially if you charge or pay for mystery shopping services, or are responsible for delivering retail sales. I read somewhere in a recent poll of ‘100 Greatest Movie Villains’ that the hunter who killed Bambi’s mother was number three. So I’m fully aware of the likely reaction and offer only this warning, and no apology. In any case unless the front cover of Mobile News carries promises of exclusive details of Katie Prices’ latest divorce/wedding or favourite colouring book… more people will have seen Bambi than read these words so I should be okay.

Lesson #12: The ultimate insult
I still vividly remember the details of the moment… the day of the week, the colour of the carpet, the squawk of the office parrot, what he was wearing and the smell of his brand of cigarette (my first sales manager… not the parrot). One of the moments that changed the course of my life for the better. I’d been there about six weeks.

“Do you know the best thing about you, Alasdair? It’s that if you speak to a potential customer who wants to buy, you won’t put them off.”

I left the room ten foot tall, not realising that at that moment my career as a salesperson was actually six feet under. Let me explain for the hard of thinking.

Please refer to page 41 of Mobile News issue 456 (February 1, 2010). The perfect ten? The ultimate accolade? Nothing more to learn?

Since when did (a) recommending a phone before qualifying a potential customer’s operational and financial constraints, and their likes and dislikes, and then (b) talking through all the features rather than demonstrating relevant ones, and then (c) introducing a different product [because we didn’t do (a)], and then (d) not asking for the business, and then (e) giving the potential customer costly collateral including the details of the offer to make it easier to shop around elsewhere… get a perfect score???????

I’m sure the guys in that store wouldn’t put off a potential customer who wanted to buy but that’s not what they are there for. They are there to make people who have not already decided to purchase want to do so, freely and happily and of their own volition, right now.

It can be done. Give me five minutes and a pencil, and I’ll prove it to you.

As long as this industry employs mystery shoppers who do not understand selling or, worse, think they do, then people
like those lauded in these and similar reports will get a false picture of their abilities. And managers and directors in the businesses will make poorer decisions as a consequence. One of which is the continued employment of ‘sales trainers’ and ‘mystery shoppers’ who don’t understand selling.

But I guess you don’t know what you don’t know.

As long as the acknowledged aspiration and perfect score is achieved by ‘not putting people off’ as opposed to ‘selling to them’ there will always be an opportunity for exceptional individuals and businesses to stand out from the crowd.

For the record, Bambi’s mum tasted marvellous roasted with some fava beans and nice Chianti. (That’s why Lector was number one.)

Mobile News’ response

Mobile News’ fortnightly Mystery Shopper feature (pages 38-40 in this issue) is a good measure in the industry of retailers’ performances. It reviews and ranks high street stores and staff at random, and considers their sales abilities, their manners, their products and services. It should take in the consumer’s and the retailer’s point of view.

The ideal, as Alasdair Jeffrey suggests here, is the sales process employed by retailers accommodate consumers who need to be sold to as well as those who already want to buy, and that each consumer should feel good about the experience whether they agree to purchase or not. This is the sweet spot for retailers. Jeffrey argues retailers do best when the consumer ‘browsing’ or ’shopping around’ (the majority) is happy to purchase.

It should be noted the editorial process sees original copy cut back to fit space and, in the case of O2’s score in issue 456 (February 1, 2010), some of the sales process made way for the detail of the offer, the demonstration and the manner of the staff in question.

But Mobile News also recognises the climate has changed. Retailing is tough, anyway, and there are no ‘new’ mobile customers left, although there are new products constantly. Skills in sales, of the type Jeffrey suggests, are crucial – for networks to win business away from rivals and to sell in brand new technology.

Mystery Shopper focuses on fairly traditional retail sales and techniques. The real advent of unified communications and any desire to dramatically increase conversion rates requires a more rigorous test, by which O2 might have found it more difficult to score full marks. That is an issue we will address.
James Blackman, Editor