My daughter, Amy, began taking piano lessons when she was quite young. All those lessons and countless hours of practice paid off. Today, as a mom of two, in her mid-twenties, she’s a really good piano player.

Amy has also always been very frugal with money. When she was an older teen—in college and working two jobs—she decided to trade up from the digital piano she’d been playing to a “real” piano. She had saved a sizable amount and decided it was time.

All of that to say that one day, several years ago, Amy and I went piano shopping. It was quite the adventure. But we ended up with more than a piano. We also learned some serious sales lessons.

We went to several different stores. Having spent more than ten years as a sales professional, I always evaluate sales people and their abilities. I won’t tell you about all of the people we encountered that day, just the last two.

One store sold one of the two major piano brands on Amy’s short list. As we walked into that store, we had high hopes. Those hopes, though, were quickly dashed by a sales person with a serious attitude problem. As he greeted us, he asked why we came. I told him that we were looking for a used car. He half-smiled at that little joke. I then admitted that Amy was interested in purchasing a piano. He acknowledged that comment, but then proceeded to take us on a tour of the entire store, including the practice rooms, the recital room—where Amy’s teacher could hold recitals for free, if she wanted—and more. Amy and I looked at each other, wondering what any of this had to do with her purchasing a piano. Bottom line: It didn’t have anything to do with the purpose for our visit. He had an agenda and his agenda had seemingly no correlation to our desire to purchase a piano.

When he finally got around to asking us about the type of piano and price range we had in mind, he displayed a condescending, haughty attitude. He spent more time telling us why we shouldn’t buy from any of his competitors than why we should buy from him.

Although we had made it clear when we came in that Amy was the piano player and the ultimate purchaser, he ignored her and directed all his questions toward me. At one point, Amy finally had enough and cut in, “Hello? I’m the one buying the piano.” The man was a bit startled but his attitude didn’t change. We left the store both knowing we were not going to purchase a piano—or anything else—from him… ever.

The very next store, just few miles away, offered a very different experience. The sales person asked what we were looking for. He was completely focused on our needs. He asked Amy to play a couple of different models, seeing what she thought of the sound and touch. We told him we were looking for either a new or used piano but definitely had a set price limit.

To make a long story short, less than an hour after leaving the other store, Amy was plunking down her hard-earned cash for a brand-new piano—a brand that was not on her original short list and was at the top end of her budget.

Ultimately, that purchase had everything to do with the sales person. Don’t get me wrong. Having a good quality product was essential. But when everything else is equal, the sales person will make or break the deal.

So I mentioned earlier that we learned some things. Let me share those with you.

  1. A good sales person focuses on the customer’s needs. Ditch the agenda. If you focus on the customer, you’re far more likely to make a sale. Who knows, if you do your job well and the customer is extremely satisfied, you may even get repeat sales. Amy and I have sent others to the guy who sold her the piano.
  2. A good sales person doesn’t think he or she is better than the customer. At the very least, don’t come across that way. Lose the attitude. If you can’t come off as likeable, quit sales and find a different profession.
  3. A good sales person knows their products and why those products are superior. Of course, a good sales person also knows their competitor’s products, but that should never be the main focus. If all you’ve got is an ability to put down the other guys, you’re missing something. Buyers want to know more about why they should buy from you, not why they shouldn’t buy from someone else. Leave the mud-slinging to the politicians. Sell your own product.

I’ll be the first to admit that sales can be a difficult profession. But a few simple reminders like these can go a long way in making the sales job easier… and more rewarding in the long run.

                                            Tom Kraeuter for Bill Bayer