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Lessons From Grass Roots Selling: Part 1 – Public Speaking

I have been involved in sales for my whole life, from selling KFC when I was sixteen to right now when I’m selling Natural Training every day.

There were a few defining sales moments in my life that helped my growth as a sales professional. They tended to be when I was in what I call “grass-roots” sales jobs.

By grass-roots selling I mean that I was in direct contact with the market. I saw market forces at work and the whites of customers’ eyes as they contemplated parting with some hard-earned cash.   Here are a few lessons from my grass-roots selling days.

Grassroots Lesson #1: Learn to talk in front of others
One of my first jobs was called “spruiking”. 

For those not familiar, spruikers are the (sometimes very annoying!) people who stand at the entrance to retail outlets holding a microphone and talking in excited tones about the current special deals.   The job was to regulate the amount of people into the store by enticing them purely with my voice.

Spruiking probably originated hundreds of years ago first in travelling salesmen (“Snake Oil Cures 101 Illnesses!”), then circuses such as during the PT Barnum days (“Roll-up!) to the modern version that you still see today at fruit stalls all over the country. It is the spruiker’s role to regulate the flow of customers into the store, ensuring that there is lots of new business for the store owner.

This spruiking job, giving me income to supplement my university fees, proved to be a great insight into sales. A velvet-tongued bloke called Jim with a company called “Voicepower” (say in appropriate TV announcing voice) gave me all the training and regarded me as one of the finest young “spruikers” he had.

This was due mainly to my “no fear”, overly-confident personality. Jim loved me because I would take on retail assignments that I knew nothing about while other spruikers stuck to products they knew.

One hour I could be standing at the front of a handbag shop, and the next hour it might be a travel agent. It was about triple the hourly rate of any other job I could have got at that stage, but it was really hard work. Basically you have to repeat the same lines over and over for four hours.

I loved it though, because I felt in control of how well the store would fare. I would glance into the store, and the owner or manager would give me the thumbs up whenever they wanted more foot-fall. I would then pull out all my best lines, and give it some extra enthusiasm, and minutes later the store would be full again and the owner would have a big smile on his or her face. Brilliant.

Looking back now that really helped me to understand marketing at the grass roots level. I wasn’t sitting around in a boardroom trying to second-guess customers. What I said, and the way I said it, was honed every minute of every day by customer response and reaction.

I learnt the power of good headlines, good messages, about getting to the point and talking in benefits rather than just features. It felt great.

See the others in the Lessons from Grass Roots Selling series in this Blog –  Number 2 and Number 3.

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