Getting Ready To Sell

First appeared in ‘Craftsman’ (U.K.)

So, you’ve spent time and energy to craft the most beautiful product yet you still go home with most of your stock. How does that happen?

Maybe you need to start looking at how you sell, or don’t sell. This is generally not a comfortable aspect for many craft workers. It’s very rare for anyone to have a combination of the patience, highly concentrated introspection needed to craft and the extravert, extremely sociable skills that makes it easier to sell. I contend that this is fine. Selling is a technique that can be learnt. There are, of course, personalities better suited to selling, but fundamentally it’s all about three things – your product, you and the customer. The first two aspects you have total control over. The third element is, to some extent, out of your control. However if the first two elements are in place you definitely have a lot more of an influence on the third.

This is the cause of a great deal of stress amongst craft workers. I would contend that it’s not so much the selling, the product, the market – fundamentally it’s to do with control. So much stress comes from a lack of control. In formula one racing the most stressed the driver gets isn’t when they’re overtaking, taking 130 miles per hour turns, or entering a blind tunnel. In these circumstances they’re in control. The most stressful they feel is in the pits when they’re refuelling. Here they have no control.

To start at the beginning – you’ve got to get your product totally under your control. By this I mean that you’ve got to be clear about exactly what it’s worth. You will gain so much confidence from this that it’ll make the selling a lot easier. You’ll know the difference better people selling products they know and love and people selling products they’re just paid to sell. Sit down and work out exactly how much your work costs – and really how much it costs. This should include your time, rent, others’ time as well as the cost of materials. Many people don’t do this, under-price and rapidly end up frustrated, broke and out of business. You are a skilled worker and should be paid as such. So often I hear of craftspeople under-pricing themselves with a huge list of excuses. It doesn’t work at all in the long term.

There must be a note of realism here though. Some of the costs are non-negotiable to a large extent – rent, cost of material, etc. However the principle cost – your time – is very much in your control and negotiable. Be realistic about your hourly rate. You don’t work in an office, you haven’t a boss – how much is that worth to you? I know a lot of books will give you complicated formulae for calculating cost based on 2.5 times material plus hourly rate of £20 which gives a ridiculous cost. I’ve seen craft workers try to sell at these prices and fail. So, realistically ask yourself how much are you willing to work for.

Once you’ve established a fair price that you’re comfortable with that’s your minimum. Now take an objective look at each product and decide how much you would pay for it. If you can get someone else (ideally an expert) to help you, so much the better. If this figure is greater than your first figure (and 99 times out of a hundred it will be) then these are your negotiation limits. This means you can sell your product for anything between your minimum and how much you’d pay for it. I would suggest you price it at the upper limit and be prepared to negotiate to your minimum, if necessary. However, the minimum is the minimum. Unless there are overpowering reasons you don’t go below this. This is a fair price.

For the one in a hundred case where the estimate is less than the cost there is basically one good reason; your costs are too high. If your costs are too high then look for ways of lowering the costs. This could involve looking at your whole process for ways to make economies. This doesn’t mean cutting quality. Your work is unique. However what craft workers sometimes take this to mean is that each item has to be individually crafted from beginning to end, one at a time. This isn’t my understanding. If you’re making 20 items you don’t need to make each step of each item in sequence. If you can make the basics for each item in one batch then spend the time finishing each item uniquely, this to me is unique. If you can’t cut costs (and again, unless there’s an overpowering reason) you really need to stop producing it. Look for other options.

You also need to establish what your business values are. This doesn’t mean you have to write a huge list of impossible ideals and a mission statement aspiring to be the best in the world. It’s not that at all. All you need to do is to identify what you will and won’t stand for. These are the things that are important to you and your business. For instance if you have a value about environmental issues – then only use environmental friendly material – always. The trick with values is that they’re yours and you should only agree values you totally believe. If you really believe that people are good, honest, decent and you should always treat people this way, then make sure your business lives up to these values. Signs such as; “Please don’t touch the pottery”, “All breakages must be paid for”, “Only 2 school children allowed in at one time”, “Deposits needed on all items” may all have sensible business reasons but they’re not aligned to your values. I would argue that rather than save you money in breakages, lost deposits it will actually lose you money as you’ll put off a percentage of potential customers. That’s the other angle – values aren’t ‘soft’. They make good business sense.

Selling

Now armed with this you’re ready to start selling. There are 1001 books on selling that are all wrong. When you sell you shouldn’t try to be someone else – you should be yourself. It’s frequently said that people don’t buy things – they buy from people. Well, actually they buy from people they like. So be yourself and (try to) relax. You are the one that knows about the product. No-one can argue with you. For once in your life you are the world’s leading expert on something. Use that knowledge. You cannot be wrong.

I have one quick tip, and one real frustration as a customer, on selling. Most people know that 80% of communication comes from body language. Yet when I’m at craft shows, stalls, shops I’m staggered with the amount of people selling who are sitting, reading, or talking to others for minutes on end, usually complaining about something, or someone. This is a job after all. It is important to be professional at all times. If you’re selling you need to get the right balance between being totally fed up and being overpowering and excited about everything. Show that you’re available if necessary, but allow people space and time to look at products carefully and quietly.

If there is one key to selling above all others it’s the ability to listen. People absolutely adore being listened to. Instead of haranguing people and telling them how wonderful your product is and how much time and effort you’ve spend crafting it relax and listen.

Even better – encourage people to talk – ask questions, There’s a particularly useful technique that you can use that can help. Don’t use it exclusively – it’s a tool you can use just like any other. It can be used for good or for evil.

What this technique involves is asking a series of questions to determine the requirements of the buyer – exactly what they are looking for, how willing there are to buy from you, etc…

The S in the SPIN standing for Situation questions. Ask people about the situation they are in at the moment. If they are looking at your work it would be fair to assume that they are interested. Ask this. Ask about the type of craft they usually buy; what in particular do they like? You need to do this in a non-threatening, non-in-your-face selling way. If people are looking at your work there’s already some level of interest – you need to tease this out. Rather like a fisherman. Yet this mustn’t be in a manipulative way. If you’re sure of your values and the value of your work it’s a matter of making it as easy as possible for the customer to buy from you.

The P stands for Problem questions. ‘Problem’ here would seem a little harsh. People buy craft not because they have a problem, as they may have with a leaky tap, or broken washing machine, but rather they because would like to buy something. The problem could be the reason they want to buy something. Perhaps it’s a birthday present, something they’ve seen they quite like but can’t afford at present. Talk and listen and encourage them to open up to you. If it’s a present for someone else for instance and you realise your products aren’t right -tell them. Advice them of other places they could go. You may not get a sale today but guaranteed you’ve a lot more sales and employed a great champion to tell people about you.

I is for Implication questions. What would happen if they didn’t buy the product they’re interested in? This is where you really negotiate and reconcile differences. If they would like to buy something that’s too expensive look at the options; can they buy it later, can you produce something within their price range, etc… Be open and flexible.

The final part is the Needs questions. What is it that they need to do now? The emphasise is on them to take some action. This is far more effective that you doing something. They will take ownership, get things moving and come up with more creative solutions than you ever could.

As a customer yourself you know what turns you off; high pressure selling, no time for reflection, being forced to choose. Don’t put your customers in this position. In hard line selling there’s a technique known as “The take away close”. In this the manipulative seller waits until the buyer is deciding whether to buy or not and if they are wavering they say something like “This deal’s only available today”, or “I’ve someone else to see now who are really interested in this property”. The aim of this, of course, is to force you to decide right now. It looks obvious and cynical when written down yet works when you’re involved in a long selling negotiation. It works but the cost is too great. Once people realise they’ve been forced into a position they resent it and resent you. You may well sell one extra item but you’ll never see that customer again and they’ll tell ten others who will tell ten others, etc…

So, you deal with customers in an adult to adult discussion. If they are interested make it easier for them. They may want to go away and think about it. Fine give them the time and space to do that. The one thing guaranteed to fail is putting people under pressure to make a choice.

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