Sales, Love and Liquor
This past Friday afternoon I drove up to Amherst, Massachusetts to visit my 19-year-old daughter, Emma, who attends my alma mater, The University of Massachusetts.
Killing time while we waited for a sushi restaurant to open, we walked into a liquor store in the center of town. Thirty years ago I put in 20 to 25 hours a week working here and earning my way through college.
The store smelled exactly the same way it did in 1982—exactly!—and the memories flooded my brain the instant I walked in the door.
I found the owner and reintroduced myself. He remembered me and we spent a few minutes reminiscing and laughing. He even shared a couple of stories with Emma that I’m certain will come back to haunt me someday.
It was at this liquor store that I learned two important lessons. The first—how not to treat people who work for you—is a tip for another day. The other is what I want to talk about today, for it was here that I fell in love with sales.
At 18 years old, I was not hired for my knowledge of wine, but that didn’t stop people from asking me my opinion. My response was often to quickly scan the description on the back label and then “package” it and spit it back to the customer.
If the label said, “‘Smooth tannins with a full body and a pleasant aftertaste,” I would knowingly and confidently say to the customer, “Ah, yes. This is a full-bodied white. The tannins aren’t that bad. But the best part is, there is a pleasant aftertaste.” Nearly 100 percent of the time, the customers would happily buy the bottle.
All I had done is simply restate the description highlights I found on the label.
Yup. I learned a lot about sales working at that liquor store. I learned about presentation and delivery and confidence and I learned how satisfying it was to close a sale, even if it was for a cheap bottle of fruity wine with smooth tannins, whatever that means.
Eventually, I learned about the product I was selling. But until then, I faked it.
Thirty years later, I look fondly on my experience at that smelly liquor store where I worked my tail off for $2.05 an hour. Looking at my paycheck one day, I promised myself that someday I would earn in accordance with my ability. That promise and the thrill I got from convincing people to buy something would lead me into a career in sales.
Funny story: This was not Emma’s first trip to this particular liquor store. Years ago, when she was eight years old and we were passing through town, I pointed the store out and said, “Daddy used to work at that liquor store.” It was clear that Emma didn’t hear me correctly, because she replied “That explains why you like that stuff so much.” “What stuff?” I asked. “Licorice,” she replied.