The smartest person in the world can’t sell a duffle bag

Stopped into a Chicago department store tonight looking for an overnight duffel that would be lightweight and easy to travel.

Down on the basement level tucked in a quiet corner is where the various sets of plastic, tweed and nylon travel sets and wheeled luggage pieces were to be found. After a couple of minutes a nice enough seeming fellow came up and said he’d be right there.

After circling the wares a couple of times the gentleman, who I was certain was just happy he had someone to talk to, finally came over. I told him what I was looking for and he showed me a couple of options. Then, catching me a little offguard, he started picking up other pieces that were not duffle bags and began describing them in great detail. He pointed to Hamilton’s unique double zipper locks and TUMI’s twice-stitched super-light nylon. Neither of which I cared much about, but I listened on hoping he’d get back to the point.

Right on track came a schpeel about worldwide differences in a airplane carry-on requirements and a quick lesson of which brand extensions were owned by TUMI, Swiss Army and the like. I smiled and nodded, I couldn’t figure out if I was annoyed or intrigued to learn about these things I didn’t know. It was clear the associate was very knowledgeable about the requirements of world travel and limited edition designs, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that he hadn’t listened at all to what I was looking for. This guy might be the world’s leading expert in luggage, but he wasn’t focused on what mattered to me. So, i came up with an excuse and slipped away out of the store.

There, in action, was an example of a simple fact: Knowledge does not lead to Salesmanship.  

Knowing a lot of “stuff” is critical, but it’s all pointless (and sometimes harmful) if it takes your focus off what your subject is looking for. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling advertising, pencils, or luggage sets, it’s all the same.

We all like to share our achievements or expertise. But the next time you want to talk features, awards or patents, remember the luggage salesman and the double-lock zipper. First, we all have to listen, to size up the audience’s needs and ask questions. Then, after our audience is fully engaged, we can show off how much we know about the world’s best bag. And the audience will actually be listening.

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About mjkurb

Michael is the Manager of Business Development at Element 79, a full-service advertising agency in Chicago, Illinois, and recent graduate of the Master's program at Northwestern University - Medill School - Integrated Marketing Communicaitons. Running two family businesses - learned to constantly listen and be aware of customer's needs and behaviors. Master's degree Northwestern University | Medill IMC - learned to better understand marketing insight, strategy and measurement. Rest of life - learned that working harder, smarter and faster than others is how you stay one step ahead.
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