For many of my growing up years, my dad would generously tote me along to hang out while he was operating his home design booth at local home and garden shows. Us siblings knew you were the lucky kid if you got to go because you got to eat a $12 basket of microwaved chicken not-so-tenders from the concession stand, and you might even get pop.
It’s altogether possible that my memory is selfishly tainted, but I seem to recall going with dad (and mom, quite frequently) more than my other siblings that were of age. I think it was a result of the enjoyment I found in going. But there might be a second reason…
You see, there was a scene that played over and over at these shows: We would show up just before the event opened, get set up, and then I would take a little time to wander the aisles in an effort to replenish the store of candy I had depleted from the day before. Just before noon I would make my way back to home base, and hang out with mom and dad for a bit before they seized the opportunity to go on a chicken tenders date while I looked over the booth and closed big sales.
When I was thirteen, I was pretty confident. I was dressed up good, looked people in the eyeballs, and thought I had dad’s home design pitch down pat. So there I was in the booth, sporting the air of a born salesman, ready to make a sale to anyone alive.
Here she came: sporting a Mickey Mouse sweater from the 80’s, she didn’t stand out of the crowd at first. With thin, blaze red hair, she had a bag stuffed with pamphlets and candy in one arm, and a very tired-looking Pomeranian in the other. Because I was alert and alive (which is more than could be said for many of the vendors), we would make eye contact as she drew closer. She would read the sign, look over some of the photos on the backdrop, and approach the desk. This was it. This was my time to shine.
“Holding down the fort, hey little buddy?”
The frustration would hit me like a bag of bricks. My neck would flush red, my heart rate increase, and I would stumble over my words. My sales pitch was forgotten, and I’d have to suppress the urge to crawl under the desk. Mickey Mouse lady would give a little contented chuckle at her tainted comment, mumbling something about “sweetie” as she walked away. I knew she couldn’t be talking to me. Her dog would sit in the crutch of her arm looking dumb.
While this story is a blast to recount, there’s something more to it than just a good story. It’s not about sales, or even about having the right salespeople.. It’s about playing for the wrong crowd.
The reason Mrs. Mickey didn’t buy wasn’t because I was a little kid. No, it was because she wasn’t in the market for a home design. She was there for candy and non-loneliness! It had nothing to do with me and my selling abilities. I know this because the people who were interested in getting a design would come up to the desk anyways, ask some questions, and give a phone number. They were the right crowd.
Making the distinction of who our work is for gives us the freedom to serve those specific people. We don’t have to deal with the masses. We don’t have to cater to everyone’s needs, wants, and price points. No, we get to pick who we’re going to serve.
Mrs. Mickey will always frustrate us. At least until we’re willing to say “it’s not for her.”
Liked this story on my early salesman days? You might like this one about a poor sales technique I tried!