Friday, May 2, 2014

Books and Business Part II: Handselling

Even though we do a lot of our selling virtually these days, handselling remains one of the most critical ways a book is sold.

Which books get added to reader's shelves? Handselling
is still a big influence.
With billions of books available in online bookstores how does your book stand out? The truth is it doesn't. It might jump out at a few people. Maybe it has a cover that resonates with them, or maybe the title catches their eye. But for it to even get to that point means it needs to pop up on a search page, or get into their social media stream. And with the number of other books out there competing, unless you are an established author, having your book discovered is more often than not a total fluke.

The cure for this is handselling. You need to find yourself in situations where you are holding your book in your hand and talking to people about it. Better yet put it in their hands. Once people are holding a product in their hands they are waaay more likely to buy it.

I worked in retail sales for many years. Even took home a big fat check (no really it was really big, check out my photo) one year when my store was recognized as Store of the Year for sales. This was a pretty big accomplishment because our store was tiny, in a small town, and only really a little kiosk in the mall. We beat out 800 other stores across the US for the title and some of the stores we beat were full sized stores in big cities. So trust me when I say, I know how to handsell some shit.

This article is a crash course in handselling. Not all of it will seem like it applies exactly to your specific situation. But if you read and understand the meaning behind what I say, I am sure you can find ways to apply it. You are a writer, be creative!

The Secret

The biggest secret to handselling is that customers don't know how to decide what to buy and they desperately need your help with that. In my store I was usually working by myself with lots of potential customers walking in all day. I couldn't afford to hang around and wait while someone hemmed and hawed over what to buy. I had a kiosk. If I didn't greet and talk to every person who stopped by, then people would wander away just as fast as they wandered in. So I learned how to make people's minds up for them. And I was actually surprised by how easy it was, and how grateful people seemed to be for the service.

Now you are wondering how it could possibly be easy. But it is!

Have you ever stood in the candy aisle craving a chocolate bar and been faced with about 100 options? How easy was that for you to decide? If you are like me, it is almost impossible! But it isn't a life and death decision. It isn't like picking a car, where you have to make sure you get the most for your money and hope it doesn't turn out to be a lemon. It's just a candy bar. Yet, having too many choices seems to paralyze us. As much as we love to think of the book we wrote as the most important work of fiction since Romeo and Juliet first gazed into each others eyes, it is just a book. So it's an easy sell, once you break people past that analysis paralysis.

The way you get them to decide what they want is to tell them what they want. Pure and simple. There are a hundred little ways you can do it. But it all boils down to telling them what to do. This isn't always, "you should buy this book!" but that is the basic idea. You are giving them a reason to stop seesawing and just buy it already.

A Quick Sales 101

There are three components to sales. Getting in the door. Building a rapport. Closing the deal. It isn't complicated and doesn't take all that much time or effort. At my best, in a fast paced retail setting, I can do all of that in 5 minutes or less. The key is building what I call a "know, like, trust" relationship, and then using your powers for good.

Getting in the door = Smile: "Hey, how's it going." Greet every single person you possibly can when you are in a sales situation. Now they know you.

Building a rapport = "Is it still raining out there?" Seriously. Just find something to talk to them about that will create a shared moment. They hate the rain, you hate the rain, both of you got rained on today, ugh. This part can happen in a matter of seconds, or it can be built upon gradually over however long you need. Depends on the people and the situation. Now they like you and trust you. (Yes, they do. Maybe you aren't getting an invite to Thanksgiving dinner, but on a subconscious level you have formed a connection.)

Closing the deal = Making their mind up for them. Once they know you like you and trust you they will listen to your advice. Sometimes even more so than the friends and family they have with them. You are the sale person after all, you probably have some kind of magical expertise, that nobody else has, in determining which product is the answer to all their wants, desires, and needs.

Can you do it?

Anyone can. Here is what you need:

1) A product that you are excited about. If you aren't excited about your book...come on! At least learn how to appear excited. It's all in the eyes and voice. Give off the impression that you are so excited about the product that you are right on the cusp of jumping up and down in a little circle with your girlfriends screaming and giggling. Ok don't over do it. But seriously, be excited!!!

2) Decent product knowledge, or enough that you can fake it, until you learn more. If it's your book, that shouldn't be a problem.

3) A quick way to sum up the product, and/or the reason they should buy the product. Helllloooooo...elevator pitch!

4) A willingness to put yourself out there and talk to people. You say you are shy...and then you go out on a limb and write your heart out. I know you have an extrovert hiding in there somewhere. Invent a character to channel your inner extrovert if you have to. A good writer should have a touch of multiple personality disorder anyway.

And here is a little tip. Don't take "No" for an answer. I am not saying be pushy. But if someone says, "Just looking," that doesn't mean you have to run away. Most people just say that as a kind of reaction to your greeting them. Not all of them even mean it. Once, a guy literally did a 360 mid sentence: "Just looking....Actually can you tell me about this thing here."

If you get a "Just looking" here is what you do: Stick around, but find something to do that makes it seem like they are not your primary focus anymore. Tidy a shelf or something. Keep talking to them, but not in a salesy way. Pretend like now that you know they don't need you to sell them something, you can talk to them like a real human being and be friendly. Talk about the weather, talk about the subject of whatever it is they are looking at as if it is a fascinating topic that you also share an interest in. You aren't the big bad sales person any more. You are their buddy. Examples: Looking at a German Shepard calendar - "Is that your dog?" Looking at something Star Wars - "Oh, I hear there is a new movie coming out!" Looking at a 1D thing when they are obviously not the typical fan demographic and probably are shopping for a gift (or so they will claim) - "Is someone a One Direction fan?" Let the conversation evolve from there.

When I am selling, I keep a mental list of go to one-liners. They don't need to be fancy or in depth. They are little mental nudges I use to help people with their decisions. It helps if your one-liners insinuate what other people are deciding. Most people take their cue from what everyone else is doing. Examples: "Everyone loves Grumpy Cat!" "That one is awesome." "Oooh, my fav. I bought that one/am thinking about buying that one myself." "This one is hot right now. I can barely keep them on the shelf."

The Power of Referral

There is a bit of a trick though, in that this kind of sales technique works way better when its coming from someone other than the author. That is the power of referral maxing out your sales mojo. You can accomplish this in several ways.

First, buy your local bookseller a beer, or a coffee, or a fancy water...whatever they like. Schmooze. Suck up. Kiss ass. Flattery will get you everywhere. And don't forget to talk up your book and get them excited about it.

Second, if you are at a con or anyplace where you have a table set up and are selling your books, bring a buddy, or pair up with someone there. Make sure they know and love your book. Even if you just give them your elevator pitch and get them excited about it. Give them a free copy to take home and read later if necessary. Then when people come by the table and put their hand on your book hesitantly, caught in that decision dilemma, your buddy can pipe up and say: "Oh that is a great book!" That is literally all it takes sometimes. You would be surprised.

Example: I was at the AWP conference helping a vendor. She must have had about 100 titles on her table by various authors. Two of those authors were my friends, I had read both their books and was even the editor of one of them. We had a lot of people come by, and I would hit them with one-liners about those books when they paused over them: "Oh that book is awesome." "If you love Greek Mythology, you will love that book." "I fell in love with the character in that book."

Every single person I hit with a one-liner immediately picked up the book and purchased it. I even pulled off one neat trick, where I had them ready to buy one and I pointed out that they would probably also like the other book as well, to which they responded by adding that book to their purchase order. That is the power of referral combined with telling the customer what they want.

Isn't Selling Evil?

Selling is business. Selling is life. Selling is how you feed your kids, put a roof over your head, and get the money to donate to that rad little Kickstarter that caught your eye--which was in turn selling. Selling makes the world go round. Selling is not evil.

Selling can be used for evil. Sales is manipulation. Whether you are selling someone a book, selling your friends on going to see the new Transformers movie ("it's good this time, really"<--evil doer!), or selling yourself as a good employee at a job interview, it all comes down to using your wiles to convince someone to see something your way. Unfortunately, not every motive behind every manipulation is pure. 

When your job is selling, or the product you are selling is a book you wrote, you have a very obvious ulterior motive. Sometimes people will just interpret that as evil. Their mind is made up and you won't convince them otherwise. But those are only a few people and you don't need 'em. 

Be happy, friendly, and positive. Don't sell just to profit. Sell because you believe that your customer will benefit from the purchase. Don't just fake that connection you make with them, find a way to make it real. Know, like, and trust yourself. And remember using your powers for good is a choice. 

Happy Selling!

©2014 Amanda June Hagarty

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