Salesmanship Lessons from Blue Buffalo

As important as price is to the buying decision, it’s not everything.

 It turns out that corn and a lot of other grains are not good for dogs.  As anyone who’s ever had a toddler can tell you, humans can digest a lot of very interesting things.  Dogs are not quite as lucky.  Harsh grains are really tough on their systems, and some of those corn heavy foods have recently been linked to bone cancer in dogs.  Naturally as a concerned pet parent, I care about what I feed my dog – within reason.  I will not feed Fox better than I feed myself, so he’s going to have to put his desire for Porterhouse steaks on hold.  (And look at that face!  It's hard to say no to that face!)

 When Alan and I went to our local Petsmart to look at what “quality” dog food costs, we were stunned.  Food that doesn’t have “corn” or “bone meal” as part of its major make up is EXPENSIVE.  We knew that quality food would cost more, but didn’t expect that cost to be almost $60 a bag.  This was going to have more than a slight impact on our budget.

As we stood there, comparing and contrasting brand by brand, Blue Buffalo, who’s food I’d previously dismissed as expensive and ridiculous because of their commercials, surprised me, but not because of their food – because of their sales rep.  There was a BB rep in the isle that day, and he was willing to help us look at different brands of high quality dog food, and never mentioned the BB brand until I asked him, despite the logo on his apron.

 As a sales professional, I was impressed with his ability to show restraint and really try to meet our needs first.  When we entered that isle, I had already dismissed mentally the product that he was selling, and I had told him so.  He still helped us.  And we walked out with a bag of Blue Buffalo Meat Treats and Chicken Flavored Wilderness Blend that our dog, Fox, loves. 

 Why did we buy? In looking back and analyzing, there were SEVERAL reasons:

  • Because he took the initial no to his product as a “Proceed with Caution” sign rather than a bright red “STOP” sign.  He cared enough to take a moment or two to actually assess our needs, who we were, and figure out that all we wanted was the best food for our dog and the fairest price. 
  • He didn’t push his brand – he had confidence in it.  Sales people who push-push-push their products don’t have confidence that, if left alone, the customer would choose it on their own. Instead, he shared his knowledge of canine nutrition, telling me about how dogs’ stomachs work, what works, what doesn’t, what he feeds his own pets, etc.  It was one of the best demonstrations of the “consultive” approach that I’ve ever seen in practice.
  • When the conversation went quiet, he let the conversation stay quiet.  When Alan and I were having one of those silent conversations with our eyes and thinking, he didn’t feel a need to fill the void.  Instead, he just watched or busied himself with something else until we asked another question.
  • And finally, he made me feel like I really was making the right choice for my dog, not because I was feeding him Blue Buffalo, but because I was choosing to spend a little more for quality food.  He would have wished us the same good will if we’d left that isle with a different brand.  His motives were to promote better canine nutrition, not just Blue Buffalo.  He had a passion for it, and passion, when focused in the right direction, can make a sales person unstoppable.

 So, next time, before you give up on making or a closing a sale, stop yourself and figure out if you’ve gotten to know the customer enough to REALLY meet their needs.  Your customer comes first, your product comes second.  It’s a delicate dance, but if you learn the steps to it, you might just convince someone to waltz out of your place of business with the equivalent of a $60 bag of dog food.

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