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Good salespeople require a very different skillset than normal

We all have images in our head about salespeople – those gregarious, fun-loving thrill seekers. Not the picture you had? OK, maybe it’s the predatory salesman who acts like a shark and treats his customers like a school of fish. Or it’s the homecoming queen variety. She’s so attractive she gets invited in and disarms us with her charm, while at the same time making us feel unworthy of her presence and eager to offer something in return for her visit…ca-ching!

If you could start with a clean slate, who would your ideal salesperson be?

My vote would be for none of these stereotypes, although there are qualities of each you’d want to keep for this mythical ideal salesperson. None of them do a good enough job to sell to today’s sophisticated, well-informed and increasingly rational buying audience, however.

I’d want someone who doesn’t have the qualities we normally associate with salespeople: Critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and situational awareness. Let me explain.

I was exiting the airport lounge to catch a flight to LA when I discovered the 3 other gentlemen on the elevator with me were also on the same flight. We introduced ourselves and proceeded to the gate together.

As we arrived, another one of those famous “20 minute delays” was announced. Not enough time to head back to the lounge – so we just stood there and observed our surroundings.

Up walks 3 employees from GoGo – the company that sells in-flight internet access. They stand back, scouting the passengers and speaking in low tones, with a good 20 minutes to seek out potential customers (who happen to be a captive audience at this point), and sell their services.

They were close enough that we could hear their discussion, which included a conversation about their length of time working at GoGo, all of them working at least 6 months.

One was clearly the leader or manager of the other two. Both salespeople fanned out into the gate area trying to sell their services while the third member of the team stood back and observed.

The first salesperson was bright, personable and cheerful. The typical gregarious salesperson. He waded past dozens of people to where two elderly people were. They were his first sales pitch. They sat in wheelchairs, both had oxygen tanks, were feeble and well into their late 80s or early 90s. They had carry-on baggage that appeared to be from the 1950s.

The GoGo salesperson proceeded to ask them if they had a laptop, tablet, or smartphone and then proceeded to try and sell internet wireless to them. The person accompanying them (who was probably in her late 60s or early 70s) explained none of them owned any technology devices.

Undeterred, the salesperson very cheerfully then went to explain how they should buy a laptop or tablet and all of the benefits of using modern technology, and if they did, why GoGo would be a useful tool. It’s what many of us call a “missionary” type of sale, where you are trying to convince a customer of changing their beliefs and underlying behavior so you can sell them the product or service you represent.

When it was clear they weren’t buying anything, he addressed them on a more personal level, sharing some of his family’s travel anecdotes, got smiles all around and left with three new friends.

This exchange lasted a good 4-5 minutes.

I was not approached by GoGo, nor were the other people I met at the airport lounge.

As time winded down, the two salespeople returned to their supervisor, apparently for a debrief. We heard the supervisor praise the first salesperson for his persistence with the elderly couple; he didn’t take no for an answer and proceeded to lay out the features and benefits of GoGo to them. And he left them in good cheer.

GoGo did not sell a single subscription or day pass to passengers on the flight to LA that day.

The post-mortem analysis.

Critical Thinking Skills. If you want to be effective selling GoGo wireless at the airport, you need to analyze:

1) Who are the best possible candidates for our service? Who are the people at the airport most likely to use GoGo and be repeat customers?
2) There is a very limited selling window. In many cases less than 30 minutes to try and sift through and sell something to 130 passengers. Prioritizing who to engage is crucial.

The answer is the hardcore steely-eyed business traveler is your best customer. So who is this travel warrior and what does he or she look like?

Situational Awareness. The signs are everywhere. However, none of the GoGo people we witnessed seem to understand who this person was, despite all working there at least 6 months.

Luggage tags.
All of the people from the lounge I met, including myself, had American Airlines Executive Platinum luggage tags. Mine even has a “2 Million Miler” tag on it. Also, look for people who have a zillion valet tags they haven’t removed. Or the people with the “First Class” or “Priority Handling” luggage stickers and labels given to you upon check-in.

People who are serious about travel find high-end, durable luggage. You can tell who has nice luggage when you see it, but if you need further help look for names like TUMI.

The lounge-access traveler.
If you’ve noticed, there are a group of people who seem to know exactly when to show up for boarding, they push their way to the front of the gate, and they board the plane first despite getting their last. They are not mysterious sea turtles coming out of the ocean on full moon to lay eggs on a beach. Nor did they pull an OJ Simpson running and hurtling through the terminal to get to the gate at the last minute. These people are your most sought-after customer

The person who screams I travel a lot and I have money.
One of the guys I came down the lounge with just screamed “I have money to spend!” I estimate his suit cost over $3,000. No, he didn’t wear a 2 pound Rolex watch – he had a Patek Philippe. He had $800 Prada shoes and an insane Prada attaché that I don’t even want to estimate the cost on. The point is, the guy screamed “I have money to spend”. Now, I’m not saying someone making 15 bucks an hour fresh out of college needs to know what a Patek Phillipe watch looks like. But I am saying everyone knows who has money to spend and who doesn’t. Just size people up and be a little perceptive. Yes, a guy like this may already have a GoGo account, but that misses the larger point…the salespeople didn’t even ask.