I used to sell oil paintings… and they weren’t even my own.
That may sound like a confession, but it isn’t because I managed to feel good about the way I did it.
My adventuretook place in 1986 when I was in South Africa after exhaustingmy three-month Botswana visa.
I needed money to keep me going until the new year when I could return to Maun to look for work in the bush.
Otherwise, I wouldnot have considered joining the Cape Town sales team since I’m not especially outgoing and have little interest in selling.
Fortunately, many of the paintings were nice enough to look at, but the door-to-door sales stuff was ugly. Well, at least the way the company wanted us to do it.
Our boss recommended we tell potential buyers the paintings were one-off creations by young artists who might become famousone day,which meantthe paintings might skyrocket in value.
As it turned out, however, that was not true, so I was very close to quitting before I ever hit the streets.
But I didn’t do that, and I am happy to say I didn’t use deceptive sales techniques either.
The paintings were, in fact, mass-produced in the far east using a series of unknown artists, each of whom added only one detail to each painting, so many of the final products looked very similar.
They were not originals,they were not painted by one artist, and they were not a good investment.
In my opinion,however, they were good value for money. We sold the 90cm by 60cm unframed canvases for 100 rand eachand gave discounts to customers who bought more than one.
The reason I’m telling you this is that, in the early days, I did a few group presentations with sales peoplewho stuck to the company line; and it made me feel ill.
I didn’t actually lie myself, but I didn’t contradict my partners, and I think our customers knew we were trying to put one over on them.
We certainly didn’t sell much.
Before looking for another job, however, I decided to cut the crap and simply try to sell the paintings for what they were…a variety of mass-produced decorations that were an affordable option for people who had wall space to fill.
They worked well in offices and waiting rooms.
I felt a whole lot better selling that way and I think people could tell I was being straight with them.
And guess what? I sold paintings. A lot of them.
So, my point here is that honesty can be a sound business model.
I know that contradicts many perceptions about how the business world works, but I truly believe it is true.
The thing is, to do that, an honest salesperson needs to understand his or her product well enough to recognise why it would be a good purchase for customers with a wide variety of needs.And if that is not possible, he or she needs to be willing to find a new product to sell.
It’s tricky, but honesty can turn selling into a service and allow sales people to feel good about themselves.