Ignorance is free

Home Columns Ignorance is free

by Kelly Kramer

(First of two parts)

Ignorance is not only free, it’s FREE!

Now that I have your attention, let me first give you a quick history of me selling free.

One of my first jobs in sales was selling cars in the mid 1980s. Although we never used the word free, we were taught to deceive in every step of the selling process.

So after three months of feeling my ethics were headed down the wrong path, I left. My next stop was a local flooring retailer that happened to be part of America’s largest chain at the time. As a young salesman, I was ignorant to this company’s selling methods. We had a sale every week, and each week the store manager would tell us how to explain to our customers why this week’s sale was the best our store ever offered.

Every sale had urgency, and “the sale ends today” was our most common phrase. At first I actually found it refreshing because it was a much less harsh and mean method of selling than the car dealership.

My ignorance justified it as simply “the way things were done.” Plus, as a rising star I was making pretty good money and my head was getting pretty big. The biggest negative was I began to get accused by my fellow salespeople of being a cheat. They figured a rookie salesperson selling that much must somehow be stealing their sales, which I wasn’t.

Interestingly, this company had a very extensive training program. New salespeople were sent to Detroit every Friday—for 13 weeks—for full-day training sessions. We learned product knowledge, and measuring and estimating from an expert. Plus, we were taught how to listen to what the buyer really needed.

After a few training sessions, I stopped using the weekly sales scam and started listening and helping my customers. Sure I was glad the sales gimmicks brought them in, but I simply wanted to show off my newfound knowledge. It took me a while to understand why that worked and why my colleagues thought I must be cheating. The idea of just educating and helping customers was foreign to them.

I started to tell customers the truth by explaining how large companies have to rely on mass advertising dollars to keep bringing in new shoppers. But, even though this company used that method, it trained me to help the customer find an even better deal that would fit her real wants, needs and means.

With this honest approach, I got their respect and the sale that came with it. Sure, my loyalty to the company was low, but my loyalty to my trusting buyer was high. In the end, the company prospered only because of the great training it gave me. Plus, I justified working there because I was helping my buyers.

If you disagree with your company’s sales strategy, learn your craft and make the best of it for now. Of all people, I understand not losing a job because you disagree with the ethics of your company. Even the best ethics can get trumped by having to pay the bills. But once you’ve learned your craft ethically and have a great selling track record, take that record to a competitor who shares your values.

Now you’re no longer ignorant and the deceptive word “free” need not be spoken again. With your education and drive to know your craft, you’ve earned the right to sell ethically and treat your buyers like they, too, are not ignorant “free” buyers.

No matter whom you work for, in the end, the buyer buys from you, the sales advisor, not the company. An educated buyer understands ignorance is free.

Next time I’ll explain more about turning ignorance from free into taking pride in what you do.

Thanks for reading.


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