Cutting-Edge Sales Techniques: Brand Me Un-Sold!

Relationship marketing and communicating your value | KOTAW Content MarketingLate last week, during a rushed, midday grocery-shopping trip, I heard the manager announce a “free gift to everyone in the store!”

I knew there’d be a catch, was certain I’d be asked to fork over time, money or both before claiming my gift. But it had been a particularly exasperating day, one in which my patience had been punished and my talent unrewarded, so the thought of getting something — anything — for nothing tempted me.

Besides, I had to pass by the produce department — the setting for the giveaway — on the way to find rice for Ivy, KOTAW’s Pit Bull Brand Ambassador. So I parked my cart and its half-dozen items next to a bin of apples and joined the freebie-seekers crowded around an orange table.

The gift, a kitchen tool designed to make curly fries and spiral garnishes, was quickly revealed, and I thought I’d been wrong in my assessment. My free gift would actually be free!

I was wrong about being wrong.

Sleight of Hand, Slight of Mind

Chris, the gift-bearer, made the gadget disappear with the skillfulness of a Sunday brunch magician and, with a flourish, replaced it with a shiny new mandoline.

I’ve long wanted a mandoline, a food slicer designed to speed the process of grating potatoes, slicing tomatoes and chopping celery. I’d resisted purchasing one for two reasons: 1. It felt disloyal to my father, who’d taught me the craft of using chef’s knives and bequeathed me his cherished tools and 2. I didn’t know if mandolines actually worked.

Within 30 seconds, Chris convinced me that, guilt be damned, I wanted one of those mandolines! That stainless steel gizmo was exactly what I needed to rock the often tedious mise en place phase of cooking. Surely, my dad wouldn’t object to a tool that would encourage me to more frequently attempt to recreate his delicious soups and sauces?

Two minutes later, my buy-it-now mentality had ebbed. And, by the time Chris (not his real name) finished his pitch, I couldn’t wait to go home, sharpen my knives and take out my frustrations on a head of cabbage.

What happened?

From Hallelujah to Hell No!

It was partly Chris’s revival-meeting performance:

“Who likes to cook? Raise your hand!” “Who likes French fries? Raise your hand!!” “Who likes salsa? RAISE YOUR HAND!!!!”

But, mostly, it was Chris’s non-stop chatter and his refusal to stray from his carefully-rehearsed script that made me feel more shopworn than shopper-ready.

He never asked a question without dictating its answer, and he never gave anyone in the audience a chance to make any sort of intelligent inquiry. He just talked and talked and talked until he’d talked himself out of a sale. At least to me and all but three others in the crowd.

“I saw Britney Spears at the Mandoline!”

And, if Chris could talk me out of a product I wanted, how successful could he be in persuading someone who thought a mandoline was a guitar-like instrument or a hotel in Las Vegas?*

For all of his fast-paced pitching, Chris was a slow-witted communicator. He saw no value in actually listening to or engaging with his audience.

He was thrown by a simple question I asked at the end of his spiel: Did he have a business card or could he tell me the name of the website? I might as well have been talking to a TV screen.

Relationship Marketing and Communicating Your Value

Two days later, I reviewed a podcast interview I’d taped back in the fall with Donald Kelly, a former student body president of Brigham Young University who now bills himself as The Sales Evangelist and sells software for a Florida company.

I heard myself talking about the art of listening as a powerful sales technique and why it often pays to let the customer or client do most of the talking. I gave Donald a bit of a hard time as I played the role of a difficult customer during the interview. Donald was utterly gracious about the experience during the show and, to my delight, says his sales technique has improved since our chat.

I invite you to listen to the podcast and tell me what you think about relationship marketing!

Is there still a place for the fast-taking, hard-sell pitch man? Or is it time for the hustling to end and real communication to begin? Please share your thoughts on relationship marketing below.

*The musical instrument is a mandolin. Mandalay is the name of the Sin City resort.


  1. Eric Deeter says:

    I’ve learned to talk less to our prospects who come to our home show booth. When they ask about our cabinet refinishing process I don’t just launch in to a presentation any more. I ask them what their cabinets look like right now and what they want the end result to be. The result is a conversation in which they get the same information I would have presented anyway, but it’s tied to their kitchen.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you for your insightful comments, Eric. Yes, when you get a customer involved, explaining their specific needs — when you have a conversation — the information you provide sticks. It’s not a sales pitch, but a discussion about the customer’s needs. So happy to hear you’re getting better results with a talk less/ listen more approach. I wish you great, continued success with your cabinet refinishing business.

  2. Alex says:

    Hi Katherine! Maybe I’m in a spiritual mood tonight, but I think when conversation is put into action early, magic happens – in the form of the best Q&A. In this magic, the conversation can easily take unexpected and delightful turns without straying from the business at hand. Third-party “spirits of serendipity” intervening? Maybe!

    Your closing question and podcast with Donald Kelly totally made me smile. My opinion: The only person who does fast-talking hard-sell in a memorable way is the ShamWow guy because he branded himself that way. For what it’s worth, ironically I can’t remember his name, though my memory’s a bit better when I try to recall the items he’s hired to sell. But they can all go extinct for all I care – ShamWow guy included. I live for conversation!

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Hi, Alex. Magic is born of conversation! I love your notion of “spirits of serendipity” and agree that the ShamWow guy can gleefully get away with the fast-talking, hard-sell. The rest should try talking to people rather than shouting at them. They should go for the magic!

      Thank you so much for your ongoing support and delightful spirit. Both bring me much joy.

  3. Brian J Wood says:

    Cool story. I think a major part of the problem is you didn’t trust Chris’ sales pitch and you lost your enthusiasm to buy because you didn’t have the sense he was providing you with excellent customer service. Trust comes from a feeling inside of you and has to do with the warm fuzzy feeling that your salesperson is actually advocating for your interests and meeting your expectations. It’s strange to point this out but maybe Chris didn’t have any faith that you were the kind of customer that was ready to make a purchase. Trust is a two way street in other words. If I was in his shoes I would have gone off script the second I saw it in your eyes that you were eager to buy his gizmo. Heck if I ran his company I would have given one to you for free and asked you to write a review but then I would be going out on a limb by trusting you and thinking “She’s definitely trustworthy. She’s the kind of customer my company wants to sell stuff to!”

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      You make very good points, Brian. Chris would have made the sale — and a great review for a brand new product — if he’d gone off script at least long enough to answer a few questions. He was enthusiastic and following the training he’d received from the company and he didn’t entirely fail — several people made purchases. But I gave him a chance after his spiel to turn me into a customer and he was lost without his rehearsed pitch. You understand the value of trust and, yes, it works both ways. Thank you for joining the discussion here.

      • Brian J Wood says:

        The short version of your personal story is he “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve” …but he didn’t. The big lesson to be learned is we all need to learn to make changes on the fly and look forward to a wave of enthusiasm for all. You cannot change the past but you for sure can change the future. WTG on your post

        • Katherine Kotaw says:

          “Make changes on the fly” is exactly right. That’s why listening, paying attention to body language and being present are more powerful selling tools than pitching with a rehearsed speech. Thank you, Brian, for continuing the discussion here.

  4. I think we jaded consumers are at the point where anything that even remotely smacks of a hard sell is an immediate turnoff.

    I also learned a lot about the correct way to sell from your podcast, Katherine — much more than I’ve learned from most other salespeople themselves. People want to be related to on a human level — not as some insignificant audience to be lectured at by some huckster for the sake of another holy dollar (which, by the way, will never come).

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Exactly, Paul, the hard sell is as appealing as banner ads. We don’t want to be shouted at; we want to talk to someone who understands our needs or who at least shows an interest in understanding them.

      And from the seller’s perspective, it is a whole lot easier to ask, “What can I do for you?’ and listen to the response than to rehearse and rattle off a pitch that may mean nothing to the client.

      Thank you, Paul, for your lovely comments.

  5. Adrienne says:

    Hey Katherine,

    I wonder how well Chris did that day with his freebie! I would have been like you, I’m so outta there.

    I’ve learned the art of listening to my prospects and their needs. I’ve learned that it’s not about me at all but it’s all about them. I’ll have to listen to that podcast you did with Donald. I bet that’s a good one so am bookmarking this post so I can listen to it when I have more time.

    Thanks for the lesson in sales and hope you’re having a wonderful weekend.


    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I thought the “me” approach to selling had been firmly put to rest, but Chris proved me wrong. As you point out, successful selling is all about “you.” And listening is paramount.

      Thank you for commenting here, and I would love to know what you think of the podcast. Should give you some giggles, at least.

      It’s always a delight and honor to hear from you. Have a wonderful weekend of your own.


  6. Regina says:

    I love your ability to tell engaging stories with such great points.

    I’ve met Chris a number of times before selling many different items, and the thing that turns me away ultra-quick is the impersonal, and not at all genuine, need to stick to the script, as you said. I don’t like feeling herded into a decision; I don’t want my questions answered for me.

    It’s interesting thinking about how to apply these principles to the somewhat “one way” conversation that is a sales page or landing page for a particular item. This post gives me lots to think about. Thank you!

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you, Regina, for your kind and thoughtful comments. And you’re so right about landing pages and the one-way conversation. It’s tricky to gently lead — rather than herd — someone into taking the action you want. I still believe it’s better to persuade than push, particularly if you want repeat business. If you sell snake oil, you only get one shot. But, if you sell something of value, you will get return customers and clients if you treat them in a genuine manner everywhere and in every situation — including your landing page.

      Thank you again, Regina!

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