Ad-libs: Tailored for selling

Ad-libs: Tailored for selling

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

SuitHave you fallen into an order-taking rut? Are you passively relying on your accounts to tell you what and when to advertise? Are you following their creative directions like a police artist (“Make the hair longer, make the ears bigger.”)? Are you keeping up with events in their industries? Do you know which products are selling?  Do you know what offers have worked in the past? What about seasonal merchandise? Should they consider featuring those products in a separate ad or a bigger ad?

There’s no excuse for being in a rut. If we look, we’ll find plenty of opportunities.

We can learn a lot about selling by studying other sales people. Each time someone tries to sell us something, we see the good and the bad come to life – from a consumer’s point of view.

I remember a trip to a clothing store to buy a new suit. I had shopped there before and knew I would have no trouble finding what I wanted. I was a hot prospect, ready to buy.

When I arrived, all the sales people were huddled around the front desk, talking and telling jokes. Expecting someone to follow me, I walked directly to the suit section and found my size. I glanced at the front of the store and realized that – even though I was the only customer in the store – no one had noticed me.

I picked out a suit and tried on the jacket. It looked like a good possibility, so I took the trousers into the dressing room, rolled up the legs and put them on. Then I put the jacket back on and stood in front of the mirror. With a few standard alterations, the suit was just what I wanted.

Another glance to the front revealed no signs of life. So, having made a buying decision, I found the alteration department and asked for the tailor.

There I was – standing at the mirror, pants rolled up 12 inches, coat sleeves reaching my knuckles, price tags hanging from the sleeves, tailor on the way with pins and chalk. Then a salesperson walked up and said, “Can I help you?” (No kidding, that’s what he said.)

“What a relief,” I thought. I was afraid I was going to have to write up the sale myself. (I wonder if they would have paid me a commission.)

In spite of the inattention, I did buy the suit. But that’s all I bought. The store was staffed with poor observers. In addition to taking ten minutes to recognize a customer, my sales person missed a chance to sell a couple of shirts and ties to go with my new suit. If he had been good at his job – if he had been more than an order taker – perhaps he could have sold another suit, as well. He made a sale and lost a sale at the same time.

Months later, I walked through that shopping mall again. The store was no longer there.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

(c) Copyright 2015 by John Foust. All rights reserved.