Secrets From a Six Decade Old Family Business

Like most Indian kids in the 90's I was working weekends and holidays in my Dad's clothing store. (Yeah, we're all about that work ethic.) From the age of five, I watched my Dad help customers in a way that brought them back to our store year after year, because they were really happy customers. In fact, we've had customers coming to the store from when my dad was young; and now they're bringing their kids and grandkids to the store. That's three generations!

When so many businesses struggle to remain relevant, competitive and interesting, how did we get this right for 60 years now? Quite simply, because my family understood that the key to being a successful salesperson, is knowing with absolute certainty, that what you're selling will make the other person's life better. Absolute certainty you ask?

Yes, let me explain.

Understand what your customer really needs

Many salespeople simply answer the question the buyer asks, which is such a missed opportunity, because you're only really able to help if you understand the full context. So, if you're selling a pair of shoes (which I have many, many times), you could ask "What size do you want?" and leave it at that. Or you could start with: 

  • Understanding what kinds of shoes do they typically like to wear?
  • What kinds of shoes do they find comfortable?
  • Are they buying for a specific occasion?
  • What kinds of clothes/colours are they pairing it with?

Once you've asked these questions, not only do you understand the customer's needs that much better, but they also get the sense that you're genuinely trying to help them find the best pair of shoes. And more often than not, if you bring them some other shoes as recommendations, they'll go for it.

With an e-commerce store, it's a little harder to get to this information and so that's where customer reviews and your social media content become critical. 

Let's have a look at how you can use social media. The opportunity here is to share useful information with potential customers. If you're selling vacuum cleaners, become an expert in all things cleaning and then share that on your social media pages and show how your vacuum cleaner is as amazing at cleaning as all the other tips and tricks you've given them. In this way, you're also building your credibility as a business that knows what they're talking about.

Just a note, you can share quite dry product information in an entertaining and engaging way on your social media platforms using videos, Influencers, actors etc. Think the "Suzelle DIY" videos.

You can also get to know your customer using polls, sending out questionnaires, giving them a call, hosting IG lives. For example, if you're selling coffee makers, host an IG live demonstrating how to use your coffeemaker. Not only would this be informative for your customers but you as well, because then you'll see what questions they're asking. 

Second, incentivise your customers to give detailed reviews of your products because these offer a credible source of information to potential customers. And you'll get to see what your customers really value and appreciate in their reviews.

Third, make it super easy to find your contact details on your website. And ensure that the person answering the calls or manning the chat function, has a thorough understanding of what you're selling.

Help them make sense of the online search. Now back in the 90's, when I started learning how to sell, customers didn't have access to information they way we do now. Back then, the vital information about any product, how it worked, what it was good for, was solely in the hands of the seller. And so the customer was at a disadvantage and had to trust what the seller chose to share with them. These days the landscape has completely changed, which brings me to my next point.

When was the last time you tried buying a computer, a kitchen appliance or even a simple skipping rope? (Got to get that cardio in.) In today's information rich world, it's hard not to drown in the facts and opinions of everyone on the internet. And yet you have to do the research because no one wants to buy the wrong item or pay too much for said item.  

Today we research everything to the nth degree and while it sounds great on paper, in reality it's confusing as hell. Do I really need to pay an extra R1500 for that feature I don't quite understand? So many times, I've thought to myself "please somebody make this easier for me!". This is where you as the business owner comes in. These days consumers have all the information, but it still doesn't always answer what they really need to know. Create social media product content that brings the information together in a way that makes sense for the buyer. 

For example, your customers are looking for vacuum cleaners. You know that not all vacuum cleaners are created equal. Some work better on thick carpets, some work better for dust mites, some work well on gathering pet hair, but not on all surfaces. You get the idea.

This is an opportunity to help potential customers to pull the information together in a way that helps them understand if a particular product will really bring the solution they're looking for. Because it is a holistic solution they're looking for, not just a product. There are a number of ways you can do this. For example, you could create a questionnaire on your website that helps consumers understand what they need.

Question 1: Do you have a pet (yes or no)

Question 2: Do you have carpets (yes or no)

Question 3: If yes, what kinds of carpets do you have (list options)

So that eventually your customer comes out with an answer like this: Yes this vacuum works amazingly on all surfaces, but it's not great if you've got pets with long hair. Or this vacuum cleaner works well on all types of pet hair, but only if you don't have very thick carpets, then rather go for this one.  

Consider the lifetime value of the customer

Remember earlier when I said that the secret to selling is knowing with absolute certainty, that what you're selling will make the other person's life better? Well, here's probably the most important tip of all. If you can sense that what you're selling isn't exactly what the customer needs, tell them. Be honest and say your product isn't what they need. And then here is where you really win them over, tell them whose product would work better for them.

Now why on earth would I recommend you nudge the customer towards your competitors? Well, because you've got to think BIGGER than this one sale. Think rather of ALL the sales you could possibly have from this customer for the rest of their lifetime. What is that worth to you?

And better yet, think of all the people they're going to share this interaction with, a salesperson that was genuinely helpful and helped me find what I really need. That kind of gratitude and connection is one that will not only have them coming back to your business but also telling everyone they know about the refreshingly helpful experience they just had. Because let's face it in South Africa, our standard of customer service is dismal.

Just the other day I was looking to buy hair clips from a hairdressing company. I had a few technical questions and really needed to have a look at a sample to see if these clips would work with the product development I had in mind. My interaction with the company was bleak. Firstly, I could only email my question to them, secondly when I did their response was yes, please buy a few to test if this is what you really need. But sorry our packs only come in hundreds; we can't sell you a smaller quantity than that. So where does that leave me as a customer?  

What they could have done instead, was to pick up the phone, call me and find out what I was looking to do with these clips, how many am I looking to buy if these work and then send me some samples to help me make the decision. If they did that, they'd have a customer for life and they would sell many, many clips, not just to me, but every other potential customer visiting their website.

In conclusion Bankerx Fam, be helpful and think of the long term. If you work to make your customer's lives better with genuinely useful solutions, not only will that guarantee a sale but also position your business as one customers want to come back to again and again. And they'll bring their friends, and their kids and hopefully one day, their grandkids. Happy Selling Folks!

"To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources-not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end."

- Daniel H. Pink, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Harsha is the founder of Lesedistyle, an e-commerce company specializing in kids fashion using African fabrics

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