Print Sales Lessons I Learned From My Job in College
Here in the Northeast, liquor stores are called “Package Stores,” or “Packies” for short. During my tenure at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, I worked at Russell Liquors in the center of town, earning $2.05 an hour, thankyouverymuch. Everybody needs a lousy job like this one in their past. You can’t see it in the moment, but we learn a lot from this kind of job. True to form, despite the fact that Russell Liquors never made a “Top 100 Places to Work” list, there were two key takeaways that have stayed with me all of these sales years.
Lesson No. 1:
I got this job for three reasons. First, my dad was good friends with the owners of a liquor store in my hometown of East Longmeadow, Mass. They called and set up the interview.
The second reason I got the job was because I could drive a “three-on-the-tree” manual transmission delivery van. None of the other eight job candidates had that skill.
The third reason why I got this job was my size: I was 6ˊ4˝ going into college, and 6ˊ6˝ coming out. Turns out they wanted an “Enforcer” to discourage shoplifting. Mind you, I was also 185 pounds soaking wet going into college, and 185 pounds soaking wet coming out, but that did not matter to the Russell’s.
What mattered was a tall employee casts a long shadow and, when it got busy, I was tasked with wandering down to the front of the store and keeping an eye on the sticky-fingered college kids.
Reinforcing Their Choice
Occasionally, as I stood there, customers would hand me a bottle and ask, “What do you know about this wine?” Makes sense, right? Who better to ask for assistance than a college kid younger than many of the selections on the shelves? Needless to say, I knew absolutely nothing about wine, but that didn’t stop me from giving an opinion and learning more about sales in the process.
Here’s what I did: When someone handed me a bottle, I would look it up and down while asking them something like, “What’s the occasion?” as a stall tactic. Next came this: “Ah, yes. This is a Riesling, a German white wine. It’s the perfect selection if you are looking for something a little sweet and fruity. You are going to want to pair this with pork or chicken. It’s aromatic on the front end and you will sense honey-crisp apple and pear on the backend.”
100% of the time, people would buy the bottle, sold by my comments and the confidence with which is was presented.
Wait, what? Didn’t I just tell you I knew nothing about wine? I didn’t, but I did know how to read. While the customers were answering my “What’s the occasion?” question, I noticed the following words on the label:
“Rieslings are a German white wine. They offer aromas of orchard fruits like nectarine, apricot, honey-crisp apple, and pear. Pair this with duck, pork, bacon, chicken, shrimp, and crab.”
All I was doing was repeating this information back to them. People literally just wanted to know they were making a good choice and that they knew something about what they were drinking. I used to laugh about the thought of them repeating these publicly-available words to their dinner guests and sounding just as confident as the idiot clerk at the liquor store.
Sales Application: Years later, I would use this “skill” during sales presentations. At some point during my pitch, I might say something like, “My solution gives your remote employees an easy way to order, keeps color consistent, and allows for real-time purchasing information.” I was completely confident these three benefits were important to them. How would I know? How can I be so sure? I had read the “back of the label.”
That is, prior to walking in the door, I had done a deep dive on their website to learn as much about the company as possible. In the “About” section, I might have read something like, “We pride ourselves on making ordering with us a simple and easy experience. We also know how important consistent quality is, and our secure website can deliver instant and accurate information.” All I had done was to repeat information back to them. I used their own words to make the sale.
The website is a window to the soul of the customer. A lot of time and money gets spent crafting a message to the outside world: This is who we are. They might as well be saying, “This is what you need to know about us in order to sell us something.”
Lesson No. 2:
The owners at Russell Liquors once bought out a warehouse of wine so bad, it was barely suitable for cooking. It was called “Growers Wine,” and we carefully marked each bottle at $.99 with our wax pencils.
One Friday night, three young men walked in. The Friday night rush had yet to begin, so we were able to give them a higher level of service than normal. They told us they were heading for a sorority where they would pick up their dates — three women they had yet to meet. They also told us their total spend could not exceed $13. “Clearly,” they admitted, “we are looking for quantity over quality.”
A good salesman solves problems and earns orders. So …
We sold them a six-pack of Haffenreffer, a beer that can kindly be described as “rat gut,” as well as several nips of tequila and four bottles of good old $.99 Growers Wine.
When they got to the checkout counter, one of the gentlemen asked me to remove the price from the bottle. They didn’t want their dates to know they’d only spent $.99. But instead of erasing, I added “11” to the front, holding the bottle up to show them. Now, rather than an appearance of being cheap, they were suddenly big spenders! I did the same with the other three bottles. We all had a good chuckle, and they left.
Perceived Value Based Solely on the Price
Just minutes before closing, the three young men returned, drunk and laughing hysterically. Not only did their dates believe they had spent a small fortune on them, they declared the wine to be of top-quality after seeing the price. They came in with coins, enough to buy three more bottles of Growers Wine, and off into the night they went, merrily stumbling back to their dates.
Sales Application: Perception is reality. Find out what is important to them, and then talk and present according to their list.
Final funny story (three true stories in one column. Wow!): When my kids were little, I went back to Russell’s with them in tow. Crossing the street, Emma (maybe six years old at the time) asked where we were going. When I told her amid the noisy traffic, she said, “That explains why you like that stuff so much.” I asked what she meant and she said, “Licorice!”