But, to my surprise, I was totally wrong: at the end of the day that triumphant sales event (because it was phenomenally successful) opened my eyes on so many sales tasks, behaviors and dysfunctions we experience on a daily basis in our field work with accounts and sales forces.
And this sales effectiveness lesson was not coming from one of the many award winning specialized sales books bookstore shelves abound with, nor from the copious slide decks we all ingurgitate from strategic planning sessions and motivational off-sites once or twice a year, when the sales troops are rallied for the incumbent sales campaign: they were candidly coming from my son’s first ever yard sale.
The event was preceded by a feverish preparation work, the strategic planning session, sitting on the sidewalk curbside: I witnessed a structured, almost disciplined sequence of the most important facts and activities of a classic preliminary situational analysis:
1. Merchandise selection: a pile of Rick Riordan books so new I wondered whether they’d actually read them before the drastic decision to part from them; and a hodgepodge of miscellaneous toys and card games. Though partly determined by inventory, it was clear that the key drivers for their core assortment were (a) target consumer and (b) product knowledge
2. Pricing strategy: participated discussions, at times heated, as to what ideal price positioning would result in the highest sell-through at the end of the day (and the greatest profits for the partners). Again here the “partners” showed solid knowledge of what the perceived correct price points would be for their target and they had clear talking points as to how to support the competitiveness of their proposition
3. Micro-location for the pop up shop: they had eyed a corner in the playground across the street, usually a “high traffic” area, and, most importantly, with highly qualified footfall, in terms of target consumer relevance.
4. Roles & Responsibilities. My favorite part: the “partners” aligned on roles and responsibilities each one of them was to perform in the collective enterprise (prospect outreach, merchandiser/visual merchandiser/product knowledge, closing the deal, etc.)
Objectives scope and advantage coherently articulated: in an intuitive way indeed, still clear strategic statement formulation.
The shop doors opened shortly after and the inception couldn’t be more successful: great footfall and great conversion, through a concerted effort from the three salespeople: Percy Jackson was a great hit, as their product strategy had clearly pointed out.
But soon the footfall started declining and, as we’ve seen much too often in real life sales, quota and budget panic assaulted our three little salespeople, who fell into the trap of randomly reaching out to each and every “prospect” in the playground: from sleepy guarding Grandma’s to crawling two year old children.
How often have we deviated from our target customer or consumer, thus misaligning strategy and sales, for the sake of making quota or saving a budget in extremis? As the adage says, “Every customer is not a customer”: and my son and his friends had the unfortunate experience of it, as their sales per minute started suffering after the initial hype of the new opening.
At the end of the day the sales was successful whatsoever: again intuitively, they turned their focus on re-merchandising their product offer (with replenishments from their best sellers) as well as improving the visual component of the shop, attracting more potential customers and – hail to the power of brand advocates – non customers who ended up shopping for their grandchildren and friends’ children.
It was indeed a successful yard sale, which made a lasting effect on the protagonists as well as on myself.
My personal sales effectiveness learning from the event is threefold:
1. Business strategy is key: I feel this is never enough said. Strategy is about he choices we make in the attempt to achieve competitive advantage in a market. What appeared even more important to me is that many key choices are implicit in the many decisions we take in the flow of running the business.
2. One of the key determinants of effective sales tasks is customer selection and profiling: the value proposition you create for your brand must be delivered to the customer set you have identified as core to your strategy, if you wish your growth to be sustainable and profitable over time.
3. Strategy must be aligned with sales and vice versa: success is decreed in the marketplace and needs us to bridge the gap between the big-picture strategy and the field execution.
It was a cold December day in the city: many hours later, my son and his friends were excitingly counting their earnings and planning on the next yard sale, building on the experience and learnings from their first event.
And I can’t wait to be part of it again.