Wednesday, December 08, 2010

simple sell

Last week, I visited a local tech company to sell my stuff at their private holiday fair which takes place during the week at their campus. I won't name this company but it's probably the most famous tech company in the world. I know better than to do stuff like this but I was beguiled by the chance to check out this company up close and also to have a captured, employed audience. So I pack up some bins and haul them into the heart of Silicon Valley.

We've all heard tale of these fabled tech companies with their ping-pong tables, their arcade video games, their on-site massage therapists, their sprawling hang-out areas with comfy couches and bean bags, their bicycles and skateboards to get from place to place, their workers dressed in t-shirts, flip-flops, and jeans. Okay, it's all true. I was particularly impressed with the open cafe that had every form of caffeine you could possibly want, for free. Also, the bathroom, which had fancy Japanese-style toilets-- which I have a fetish for--and a pile of tampons. An employer who supplies its female workforce with tampons... interesting.

So, I'm all jazzed up, ready to sell. My table is adorable, and the other vendors are coming over and feeling up my stuff. The employees start streaming in, and... and... and... I get totally ignored. I stand there, look expectant and friendly-- not my natural look, it's an effort-- and people are passing me by. They are, in fact, going straight to the chocolate guy who is giving away free samples. I gradually deflate, get sad, then angry, followed by bitterness. I give up trying to look friendly. I sell a couple of things to other vendors, and finally beat it out of there.

I've been thinking about why what should have been a golden selling opportunity was just a total bust. I realized that I gave no forethought to the event, I just went in with my usual shtick and totally failed. Unfortunately I see this happen all the time to other people at shows and other selling venues. Here are a few things to think about as you think about selling at events, especially during the crazy holiday season:
  • Think ahead of time about what environment you will be selling in: I was in a super high tech environment where people work 18 hour days, which is why this place serves up free food and caffeine all day, and provides beds disguised as couches. Many employees were carrying their open computers as they walked around, because they were literally working and shopping. These people are not going to stop working on a project for some leisurely shopping time, they have deadlines. They are the very essence of the distracted, short attention span audience. I'm used to selling to people who go out of their way to buy handmade items and are taking their time to browse and ask questions. These people didn't have time for that, and in that sense I was caught completely short.

  • Think about the audience the environment creates: These were techie people, not arty types. And they were totally puzzled about what I was offering up, they couldn't make sense of what I had. They didn't understand that my nesting bowls are separate bowls and not one sculpture; they couldn't see that my poppy plates are functional for serving food; and they really couldn't figure out what the fuck a cupcake stand was for, (though I do display it with a cupcake.) And they weren't interested in figuring it out, they just "clicked" on to the next vendor. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do by offering lots of choices, but I just confused people. They were less confused by the chocolate, the artisan olive oil, the knitted scarves, and the baby onesies, and they went and bought that stuff, leaving me in the dust.

  • Then, spoon-feed: Do not make your audience think, that only gives them a chance to think of reasons why they don't need to buy what you have. This does not mean your product shouldn't be intelligent or you can only sell to stupid people. It means your customer needs to understand within about 2 seconds that they want what you have, and the transaction between wanting and having should be as easy and painless as possible. For example, price should always be front and center; people hate asking. The function of the item should be obvious, and if not obvious, demonstrated. Display should be orderly with like items together, people shouldn't have to hunt for that thing you're selling in a different color. I was asking my potential customers to engage with me, to really go through the work I had to offer and find something that they wanted, and that was asking way too much.


My own diagnosis: I was waiting for these people to come to me, when the only way to succeed with this crowd was to go to them, and hand over something that they could immediately hand over to someone else as a gift. I needed a very simple offering that was an immediately recognizable object, like a bowl or a vase. I needed a lot of these one or two items in a few different colors so these poor, overworked, distracted people wouldn't have to process a lot of visual information. And I needed a big sign that had the price, which should be around $38 for the kids who are still paying off student loans, and then $75 for the people who wanted to splash out a bit more. Then, I should have been giving away something, like M & M's or mini donuts, these people need sugar. And, an example of how this item would be packaged: a box, some tissue, a bow, a cute bag. I could have done gangbusters if I knew what I was getting into!