In the Beginning, There Was Sales

April 17, 2024
# min read
Grant Tate

At age sixteen, I worked in a furniture store. Our small town had two such stores, but Waugh Furniture had the legacy, having been around for fifty years. The other guys were fly-by-night, you know the type who sell seemingly big discounts, but the so-called sales price is still the normal mark-up.

Mornings started with the grand sweep-up. Our crew of five employees swept the cavernous showrooms from edge to edge, working around the displays of North Carolina-built furniture. Yes, we had a clunky vacuum cleaner, but good brooms were the tools of the day.

One day, Goree Waugh, the owner, after observing my work for a week, said, "Grant, you're the worst sweeper I've ever seen. How would you like to become our bookkeeper?"

"Sure," I said. "What does a bookkeeper do?"

That set me off on a whole new work path, entering transactions by hand in a huge journal book, checking records at the end of the month, preparing reports on the state of the business. Yes, I still had to do some sweeping in the morning, but most of my day was spent at the desk. However, helping customers was still the largest part of the job.

Goree and I had desks on a mezzanine overlooking the sofas, chairs, and other displays in the main room of the store. The customer's entrance, the front door, was in plain view forty feet in front of us.

Goree looked at every situation as a learning and teaching opportunity.

When a customer entered the front door, he said to me, "Grant, who is that?"

I answered, "That's Mrs. Jones."

"When was she last here?"

"About a month ago, I think."

"Did she buy anything?"

"Yes, she bought a chair for her living room."

"What might she want today?

"I don't know, but I'll find out," I replied.

I'd go down the five steps to meet Mrs. Jones halfway on the floor and greet her with a smile.

"Good morning Mrs. Jones. How are you today?"

"Fine, how are you, Grant?"

"Doing well. How is that chair working out for you?"

Goree taught me that the business was all about the customers. Yes, it was great to keep a clean and orderly store, but caring about the customers' lives was foremost. He said, "It's nice to ask the right questions to find out about the customers, but you have to actually care about them. Don't fake it. Become curious, think about their lives, and the questions come easy."

Caring about the human beings who are our customers is indeed the foundation of good sales. In these days of mechanistic and mass sales techniques, the human element is more critical than ever. Even if you have the most sophisticated, AI-driven customer interface, considering the customer's needs and feelings should be at the top of the design objectives. If you are in a business where interpersonal relations drive sales, your emotional connection with prospects will drive your success.

So cue up your curiosity. Let customers know you really care about them. And enjoy your accomplishments.

Thinking back about my experiences, I'm amazed that Goree Waugh would trust a sixteen-year-old kid to sell to customers, keep books, and handle other big responsibilities. He was a master coach and mentor whose lessons formed my foundations.

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