What a Girl Scout Can Teach Us About Selling

Original post date January 12, 2009

Last week I had the pleasure…to my surprise…of hearing my 6th grader work the phone selling Girl Scout cookies. She’s been a Girl Scout for a number of years and has achieved “Cookie Diva” (Cookie VIP this year) status numerous times by selling more than 150 boxes of cookies. Although I had helped her over the years by selling some cookies at work, I never actually got to hear her sales pitch, until last night.Sure, it’s hard to resist a Girl Scout selling cookies, but as a sales and marketing consultant for the last 12 years, I was struck by how well a simple, honest approach to selling worked. It was an interesting and enlightening 30 minutes.

Here are some of things I heard:

  • Niceties/Pleasantries – started every conversation with “happy new year”, and talked about their holiday, children, etc. She invested the time in catching up with them even though she had limited time to make calls between homework and bedtime. She didn’t jump to “getting the order.” It made me think about how often I rush through this important step because of time constraints, pressure on revenues, and/or proposals. If customers think that the only time you call them is when you want something…this certainly confirms it.
  • Customer Knowledge – no sophisticated databases, profiling or scripts. She did her homework by knowing what they ordered last year, what girls were no longer Girl Scouts, etc. which made it easy for customers to place orders because she knew them well.
  • Attitude – sometimes people consider sales as a “dirty job” and/or that we may be they are inconveniencing/imposing on someone by pitching them…like a stalker (maybe that’s just me). Could this stem from the fact that perhaps we don’t believe in our product or the value it can deliver to our customers. Listening to my daughter, I heard her talk about how good some of the cookies are and know how much they and/or their children love them, how she likes to put the “Thin Mints” in the freezer because she likes to eat them cold or dunk the “Do-Si-Dos” in a glass of milk before bed. Having seen boxes of GS cookies disappear from our shelves, I can attest to how much she loves her product.She’s not imposing on others, even though she caught some folks at dinner, she’s turning others on to a great product that she loves. What a difference that makes…
  • Product Knowledge – not only did she know all the cookies, including the new and classics, but also how many where in a box and how they were packaged. The best part was describing how to consume them…see above. I can’t tell you how many marketers I’ve worked over the years that don’t know the products their companies sell. I’m convinced that this lack of product knowledge is the leading reason why sales organizations dismiss or don’t respect marketing/marketers. Want to improve sales and marketing integration, train your marketers on products and see what happens.
  • Reference/Customer Testimonies – when her personal testimonials weren’t getting the job done she started to talk about others in the family and/or someone they knew. It made me think, do customers really care to hear reps experience with their own products? Maybe not, but do they listen to how convincingly or passionately they’ll testify…you bet! Customer testimonies are always the best –the more relevant the situation the better, but they also judge reps consciously or unconsciously on how well reps make their case (see the bullet above).
  • Handling Objections & the True Decision Maker – she went after a new customer who told her that they usually buy from a girl in the neighborhood. She then asked for the lady of the house recognizing the dad/husband was not the real decision maker (home schooled on this trick). She got an order but not the full order…the girl in the neighborhood will still get hers…but it will be a couple of boxes short.How often do our reps stop at “no” or get stuck dealing with the first contact vs the real decision maker? We all know that we’ll have to work harder to get the order than in the past, maybe we don’t go for the home runs as often, and settle for few singles instead.
  • Incentives – simple and straight forward, no complicated % or calculations…sell this much…get this. A compensations consultant’s dream, straight forward and easy to implement. On the order sheet, it lists the prize the girls receive based on their sales. As she reached certain level (25 boxes, 50 boxes, etc) she would tell us what prize she was won and what she was going for next. But the big one, the President Club, the one that screams “I’m the Diva” was the Cookie VIP patch.Good old fashion recognition for a job well done that lasts all year. Oh, how we’ve complicated incentives plans over the years. The search for the ultimate motivator has many times led us down the wrong path. Is it time to simplify, not sure, but I would bet it’s worth investigating.
  • Connecting it to Social Causes – this is the primary fundraising vehicle for the Girl Scouts and people know it. Can you write off the $3.50 per box as a donation? No, but you do feel good about placing you order, sure. We’re all so socially aware nowadays, are there opportunities to connect your products to the “greater good?” You may have seen the latest ads from IBM and how they’re products and services can help companies “go green.” It’s time to add this to the value proposition…or at least consider it.

Yes, I know that many of us have much more complicated sales processes and products/services, but how much of that is self inflicted? At the end of the day, don’t all customers want the same thing…a good product or service that satisfies a need/want representing good value acquired through a pleasant experience?

During this difficult economic environment, listening to my daughter was a good reminder of how well having a good product, knowing your customers and believing in the value that you’re providing can work. Is it time to simplify our products, value proposition, how we compensate our reps? It may depend on the company, the situation, the market…but I would bet it wouldn’t hurt.

At the end of the night, ten phone calls, 10 closes and over 70 boxes of cookies sold in the matter of 30 minutes (pleasantries, product description, and an order every 3 minutes). Not bad for a junior telemarketer with no training. The GS’s will sell over 200 million boxes of cookies over the next month…more than any cookie manufacturer will sell in the entire year.

Does simple work…for some, extremely well. The question is, can it work for you?