What I Learned About Sales from a Timeshare
Posted Thursday June 12, 2008 in Business
I’ve been gone for a while; mostly it was too much work, launching a whole marketing campaign. But some of it was fun — I went to the Hawaiian island of Kauai on a good week’s vacation, paid for substantially by attending a timeshare presentation. Now that was an education on sales.
I have to assume that timeshares sell pretty darned well. With the big hotels playing in the sector, the standard sales presentations must have a solid conversion rate, despite the high price tag. And I’m always interested in learning sales tips, given how important sales is for my company. While I would have been surprised had we decided to buy (not out of the question, but unlikely), I figured I’d at least learn some good sales tricks.
That said, I was not impressed with the presentation I received. The salesman made a number of mistakes, and the presentation structure itself was flawed. Fortunately, there were clear takeaways.
Don’t argue with the customer
When I suggested that there was a downside to paying for future vacations with current dollars, the salesman bristled and argued with me about the time value of money. A losing argument, as part of the standard MBA curriculum is a semester on the many ways to look at the value of a flow of money over time. I didn’t feel like explaining NPV or any of the principles behind hedging to the salesman, and he didn’t seem to want to learn; so we spent 20 minutes with him getting increasingly heated and me trying to change the subject. Not fun or convincing. Never assume that you can convince via argument in a sales situation, because your customer may know more than you. (Experienced negotiators may suggest that his aggressive behavior was a power play, which is of course possible, but that strikes me as a bad strategy against all but the weakest customers.)
Don’t get caught in a lie
After the presentation, we drove up to the lovely Waimea Canyon to see the island. While I understand that the salesman was uncomfortable with us leaving his property, if we enjoyed our drive — only 2-3 hours roundtrip — then we were more likely to be sold on Kauai. Rather than turning this into an opportunity, the salesman decided to scare us with stories of the sharp drop-off alongside the road, and how few guardrails there were along the canyon drive. Of course, the canyon drive was beautiful and very safe, with trees and guardrails around all the difficult parts. We loved the drive — and thought the whole time about how we’d just been lied to.
In sales, there’s lying and there’s flim-flam — the tall tales that salesmen seem to be happy to tell. One of the most common is the third-party story, in which you assert that some trusted third party thinks that your product is a good deal, for just the reason that the customer is doubting it. In my case, my financial doubts were supposed to be allayed by a story about a risk management guru from Merrill Lynch who’d just bought a timeshare. Likely, this was old-fashioned flim-flammery: there was no such person. If there was, he should’ve given me a name, because consumers today need more specifics to build trust. I certainly assumed there was no such risk management customer.
Don’t hide who you are
Our presenter was an ex-military guy, which might’ve made his wooden bearing and aggression more palatable — both I and my girlfriend have family in the military (and I’m pretty wooden, while she’s quite aggressive). But he only mentioned his service once, offhandedly, and made no real effort to introduce himself to us as a person. A salesman is always better off being a person, with all his or her flaws, than a sales Cylon. A lot of sales books recommend telling the customer about yourself, if only to model the level of openness you want them to show to you; our salesman should’ve taken that lesson himself.
Don’t sit behind a desk when you have a sunny beach just out the door
Seriously, it was a 90-minute presentation in a sales location with a beach 20 feet out the door, and the timeshare property 15 feet in the other direction. Why were we in a dark room behind a desk? Why did it take us an hour — plus several specific objections that we couldn’t even think about the deal without seeing what we were dealing about — before we were taken to see a room. I remember when I did marketing for a premium apartment property that our salespeople always took people on a tour first — to make them fall in love. We never even had that chance. Give your customer something to fall in love with, then play logic.
Don’t hide the price tag
Again, it took us about 70 minutes into the presentation to hear the price. There are two schools to telling the price: the one that says to hide it to not scare the customer, and the one that says to tell it to pre-qualify the customer. I’m in the latter group, because every salesperson’s time is valuable — the time you spend with one bad lead could just as easily be spent with a good one. Chuck the bad ones out quick.
All of this is fascinating to me, as we’re now formalizing our sales process (that may be our incredible sales ace summer intern’s job, actually). I figure, if we can be beating a top hotel chain at the sales game, then we must be headed in the right direction.