When I was 14 years old, I lived in a town in Yorkshire in the north of England.
Every Saturday there was an open-air market at which local fruit and vegetable produce was sold from various stalls by local farmers and market garden owners. I was often ‘dragged’ by one of my parents to the market in order to help carry the weekly shopping home, which, while it became a burden, actually led to an early fascination with sales.
On one stall, there was always a large man, called Tom, whose ‘marketing’ strategy involved promoting his produce through a loud and unmistakable voice.
‘Cauliflowers ……… Carrots ………. Leeks ……… any colour you like – RED cabbage……..’
Any colour you like – RED cabbage?
This always made me smile – and resulted in me looking his way as he smiled back.
Did it work?
Well, yes – his stall was always busy: this was interesting as it was a very competitive marketplace and I rarely saw any difference between what his produce looked like compared to any others.
And then one Saturday something really important happened.
My dad had taken me with him for the weekly market outing but when we got to the centre of town, he realised he had left his wallet at home, which required a roundtrip journey of around 40 minutes.
Rather than go with him, I was left in the market on my own – and as usual Tom’s voice rose above all other sounds. I wandered over to his stall to watch him in action, and as usual he was very busy. After a few minutes, Tom saw me and smiled.
‘Hey young man’ he said, ‘do you want to give me a hand?’
‘Really?’ I replied.
‘Yes – my son’s got flu and I’m short-staffed today. I’ll pay you!’
‘Okay’ I said and went around to the back of the stall.
Tom gave me a quick explanation of what I had to do, which involved weighing the produce as people placed their orders, transferring everything from the scales into brown paper bags (no single use plastic in those days), taking cash and calculating the change in my head.
The work was pretty frenetic and involved a fairly intense upward learning curve. But time flew by and it was better than following my dad around the market.
Talking of my dad – about an hour later I heard his voice.
‘There you are, I’ve been looking everywhere for you. What are you doing behind there?’
‘He’s been a great help to me’ said Tom ‘I couldn’t have managed without him today’.
‘Ok’ said my dad ‘you can stay there if you want. I’ll see you at home later then’ and off he went.
And so began my first experience of selling. By the end of the afternoon the earlier rush and worn off which gave Tom and me some time to chat. He asked me if I would be interested in working for him again, and I said I was looking to earn a bit of money and gave him my phone number.
Over the next few months, I spent many Saturdays on Tom’s stall and while I became highly competent in the skills required to be a successful purveyor of fruit and vegetables, I also learned some important sales fundamentals.
The marketplace was a very competitive sales environment, and any stall that did not attract customers wouldn’t last long.
One afternoon, I asked Tom why his stall was always the busiest.
‘People hear me, and I think they trust me’ he said.
‘Is that it?’ I replied.
‘Pretty much – and no one has EVER complained about my produce’ he said. ‘The stuff I grow looks the same as everybody else’s, so it must be something to do with me personally. But if they DIDN’T like me – they wouldn’t buy from me, would they? And if they buy from me, I guess they must trust me’.
It was over 40 years later that I got into sales again, this time in the corporate world, and came across the famous phrase from Zig Zigler:
‘If people like you, they will listen to you. If they trust you, they will buy from you.’
Tom’s stall was one of many. His voice was one of many. And yet he did something that set him apart.
Was it the ‘any colour you like ….. RED cabbage’ humour that got him noticed? I can’t answer that, but I believe that humour was what endeared people to Tom – it helped them like him, so they listened to him – then they bought from him.
But he also made a connection with me. HE was willing to trust ME to help sell his produce and handle his cash. And if he trusted me – then I’m sure people were very willing to trust him, which is probably why his stall was always the busiest.
What’s the message here?
Tom relied on a key aspect in his sales process – making a human connection.
How did he do this?
First of all, his voice was heard, so he stood out in a crowd.
Secondly, Tom’s message was humourous, which encouraged people to like him. And because they liked him, they trusted him and consequently bought his produce.
These are all components of a humanized sales process in a tough competitive marketplace.