Death of All Salesmen

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In life, we are often taught that there are few skills as valuable, or as versatile, as the ability to convincingly sell other people on ideas, products, or choices. While society tends to have rather glim reservations of the sales industry as a whole, few would contend that effective salesmanship is one of the most marketable and most easily monetized attributes one can possess. As such, the focus of this paper is aimed at assessing the efficacy of sales tactics of mobile -device salesman who operate out of mall-based kiosks. The activities of salespeople for all major carriers were observed, and subsequent interviews were comprised brief questions posed to pedestrians who failed to respond to the strategies of the salespeople. While it seems that many who walk past such kiosks are seemingly oblivious to the solicitous banter of salespeople, questions were raised as to whether or not such tactics ultimately result in phone sales, or sales of other merchandise, or whether it is simply an activity that carriers use to keep their employees busy during stagnant hours of business.

While some studies assert that ‘open-ended sales question’ tactics predicated on the notion that eliminating customers’ simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers by asking questions like, “Hey! Who’s your carrier?” will improve sales (Fleener, 2007), such strategies had never appeared too effective in soliciting new business. Moreover, perhaps the most valuable information arising from the results of this study are those concerning the purchasing behaviors and perceptions of potential customers with respect to the tactics employed by such salespeople. Ultimately, the study was aimed at gaining a better insight as to which sales tactics are effective, if any, and why, or why they aren’t, effective.

Methods

Over the course of two weekends a total of three trips were undertaken to the Dolphin Mall in Miami in order to observe the interactions among phone-salespeople and their potential clients, specifically concerning the sales associates’ attempts at soliciting the wayward attention of passersby. During many visits to malls over the last few years, it seemed that these mobile-device salespeople rarely, if ever, had luck soliciting the attention of those walking past their particular kiosk, much less in selling an actual phone or service contract. I simply presumed that such tactics resulted in sufficient sales to warrant the continuance of such a strategy, but the notion that such tactics were simply ineffective was always present in the back of my mind. As such, this represented an ideal opportunity to determine the efficacy of such a sales strategy and, if possible, to glean information via inquiries directed at both the associates, as well as those for whom such tactics were intended.

In interviewing those whose contributions are herein presented, I employed a two-fold approach to solicit willing participants. In stating that this study was part of the university level coursework necessary for my graduation, there were few who were unwilling to sacrifice a minute or two of their time for my cause. Questions for those who were simply shopping at the mall were designed to assess the buyer’s willingness to hear sales pitches in general and what reason or reasons, if any, the salesperson’s attempt at soliciting their attention was met with success or failure. After having answered the survey questions on the matter, the passersby in the mall were then asked if they had an additional ten or fifteen minutes in order that a more thorough assessment of their purchasing habits might be administered. This tactic was only employed until two shoppers had been thoroughly interviewed such that the requisite interview portion of the study had been satisfied. In order to represent a more objective understanding of such tactics, salespeople, both men and women, from each respective mobile-carrier were also questioned concerning the efficacy and strategy behind such sales tactics. Some employees refused to answer such queries, stating that such information was not subject to public disclosure. Others were more liberal in their responses. The net result from such questioning was, however, quite insightful.

Results

On Saturday, 1 March 2014, the first of my three trips to the Dolphin Mall lasted nearly three hours. During this time I determined that counting, one by one, the number of shoppers that salespeople attempted to engage was not the most practical approach to such measures. Instead, I timed the number of people walking past a given kiosk over 5 minutes, and then multiplied that number times twelve, and again by the total numbers hours spent in observation. This method was also employed at other locations around the mall for various service providers. At this particular location where I was able to observe the sales tactics of those employed by Verizon Wireless, the average number of sales pitches per hour were roughly 240 per hour, or 20 attempts every five minutes. During the three hours of observation, a total of three shoppers spent between two and five minutes discussing various aspects of the carrier’s coverage, warranty services, and contractual obligations vs. month-to-month options.

On Sunday, 2 March 2014, another trip to the Dolphin Mall yielded similar observations as the previous day’s experiment. The duration of my stay for this trip was approximately three hours. While the carrier under observation this trip was Sprint, the attempts per hour were in-line with those of the Verizon outlet, with roughly 200 sales attempts per hour. However, during this period of time, not a single attempt at soliciting potential customers was successful. The only people who did visit the kiosk were those who were either already customers, or individuals already intent on making a purchase. This latter fact was confirmed from continually observing the sales pitches of associates, noting whether any resulted in an actual sale of merchandise.

Finally, on Saturday, 9 March 2014, the final trip of study was focused on the carrier T-Mobile. T-Mobile, quickly gaining notoriety for its policy that guarantees it will pay other carriers’ customers’ contract cancellation fees for switching to their service, held much promise if only for novelty of such new policies. Unfortunately, during the three hours of observation at this location, sales pitches per hour were estimated at only 156, or roughly 13 attempts to engage customers per every five minutes. However, somewhat shocking was the number of customers that did in fact make purchases as a direct result of such sales tactics. Compared to the sales closed by salespeople employed at different carriers—zero—T-Mobile sales associates were able to solicit the business of five new customers during the same period of time. While most of the sales were merely accessories for devices already owned by the customer, such activity did result in increased sales, which is worth noting.

It should also be noted that each of the three hour blocks of time during which observations took place was from 5:00-8:00 in the evening, with the assumption that such times represented peak traffic hours for Malls. Additionally, survey questions were administered upon observing that those subjected to an associate’s sales pitch remained uninterested.

Discussion

While the number of sales attempts per hour were much higher than originally anticipated, even considering the low of 156 pitches per hour from T-Mobile associates, the most intriguing information was the result of those surveyed and interviewed concerning their level of interest as relates to each carrier’s associates’ sales tactics.

Of the 36 shoppers surveyed, 12 from each kiosk location, nearly all expressed a number of similar sentiments explaining their disinterest in the sales pitches from various associates. The most common response from shoppers was that they felt such attempts were disingenuous, and that sales people really couldn’t care less whether or not the products they sell actually satisfy the needs of their customers. Many also worried that they were being lied to, since many sales associates’ incomes are a direct correlation to the amount of business they bring in. Indeed, one article corroborates these claims asserting that such tactics might come to be thought of as a normal aspect of selling if they are not dealt with quickly from a legislative standpoint (Send Unscrupulous Sales Tactics Packing, 2010). Other explanations for customers’ aversion to such tactics were that they didn’t have the time to speak with representatives, or that they had no interest in upgrading their current mobile device or in purchasing any additional accessories. Still, other more pertinent reasons eventually surfaced.

One reason many shoppers either ignored sales associates or offered them only the briefest of acknowledging remarks expressing their disinterest was because they simply do not like being sold to, in any context. In a day and age where people want what they want, nothing more and nothing less, and especially nothing else, many are simply averse to the ideology of letting a sales associate convince them that they need a particular product or service. One piece from Helen Branswell delves into some of the feelings that those subjected to sales pitches often experience, stating that people often dislike salesmen because they feel they are being taken advantage of or even coerced into circumstances they would never otherwise approve of (p. J12, 1991). Given the dynamics of such interactions, it is no surprise that most would prefer not to subject themselves to such treatment. In the end though, it is difficult to say why the same tactics are successful is some settings and unsuccessful in others.

When asked about the company policies of such sales tactics, representatives had no definite explanation as to which such strategies were employed. While some associates speculated that it was merely a ruse for employees to appear busy, others suggested that such tactics were in fact based on the subsequent sales they produced, though no such correlation could be determined during this short time span. Finally, certain limitations constrain the applicability of this study’s results.

In conducting this experiment, there were some inherent limitations that could not be mitigated. The most obvious is that some individuals are simply better salespeople than others. Whether this is in any way correlated to that individual’s personality, level of confidence, or knowledge of the product or service for sale is an answer for other studies to determine. Ultimately though, it seems that the customer perception of such sales strategies is overwhelmingly negative. In consideration of the customer response of such tactics, it is clear that cellular telephone companies should explore alternative approaches to sales that more effectively engage potential customers and more consistently impact the sales of a company’s product mix.

References

Branswell, H. (1991). She loves car, but hates salesman. The Toronto Star, 27th, July, p. J12.

Fleener, D. (2007). Jewelry sales best practices. National Jeweler, 101(1), 43. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/196633227?accountid=4485

Send unscrupulous sales tactics packing. (2014). South China Morning Post, 15th July, p. 12.