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A Simple Personal Edge

By John Evans

     You probably know about the intense competition in doing business on the internet. Any edge you can get on the competition is so very important. This is a story about how I got a little edge back in the pre- internet days that put a few more dollars in my pocket.

     What if you are a salesperson selling a product that can be shopped at several other similar locations? Without getting into the actual salesmanship subject, (the best way to make a lasting impression), and figuring you are as good as any of the competition. Then doing something a little different than everyone else may add a few commissions to your  paycheck. So you as an individual make more of an impression or at least a lasting one in the customers mind. A little something that may give you an edge.

     A simple example of this was my first job selling cars. There were about 30 salesman at the high volume new and used car dealership and it was a very busy place. We had 2 shifts through the week and everyone worked on Saturday and alternating Sundays. During the week we would be scheduled on from 9 AM to 3 PM or 3 PM to 9 PM, except on your day off. Typically the dealership was pretty busy and if a customer not done dealing yet came in and asked for a salesman who was not there or unavailable another salesman completed the sale and split the commission. If the customer came back and didn't know who they had talked to and the salesman either wasn't there or didn't recognize the customer, quite often a sale would be made without the original salesman getting a penny.

     I got to know one salesman there that was a real nice guy, but the first time I saw him I snickered to myself. He dressed just like the typical stereotype at the time of a used car salesman and wore white shoes everyday. After working there a while, I quickly learned why he did it. When one of his customers would come in they always asked for the guy with the white shoes! He never missed out on previous customers! And quite often, after a long weekend of shopping for cars at several different dealerships and the deals being close enough to equal for the worn out customer, they would remember him. He stood out and left a lasting impression. I didn't go out and buy white shoes, but I did redouble my efforts to try to make as good an impression as I could with all my customers whether they bought that day or not. It also set my mind in motion thinking of little ways to come up with something unique for myself.

      A short time later I made my first attempt to leave an impression that no one else I knew of was doing. What I did was buy a package that included a rubber stamp that had a type of drawing picture of myself with my name under it. The package also included proofs and other materials to use for other forms of advertising. When I would send a letter, I just stamped the corner or back with the picture. When I gave a quote or brochure I would stamp it. I had the profile put on my business cards like others that use pictures. They always had a little reminder of what I looked like and my name as long as they had the literature I stamped. It may have helped a little because of its uniqueness at the time, but not enough to get real excited about.

     Later on at another dealership I found something better. The guy we purchased our business cards from came by the dealership to take our card orders one day and I asked to see what other kinds of products he offered. I wanted something different than business cards, but not cheap pens or key chains and the like. I had noticed over the years of taking customer trade-ins for appraisal test drives that as they shopped for cars they would throw the brochures on the seat or the floor and the business cards that were given to them or stapled to the brochures would quite often end up in the same place. Too often it all ended up on the floor and the next stop was the trash can. So looking through the catalog I found wooden nickels. Yes they cost much more than what the standard cards cost, but one sale more than made up the difference. I also had cards for particular situations where I felt them more appropriate like when I would call on businesses or stapling to brochures when using mail. Of course I always threw a wooden nickel in the mailed envelopes also. It encouraged curiosity to open the envelope to see what the thing in there was.

     How well did the wooden nickels work? Much better than I first imagined they would! First of all, on occasions when I could not get a good rapport established with a customer and they were about to leave I would hand them a wooden nickel. It would usually bring up a smile or chuckle and quite often the ice would be broken and I would get an opportunity to extend our time together which led to a sale now and then. At the very least they left feeling more comfortable with doing business with me.

     Second benefit was as they were leaving the wooden nickel would go into their pants pocket or purse! Not where it would end up on the floor of the car and be thrown out! After they got home and the time came to take their change or keys out of their pocket the wooden nickel would end up on the dresser or wherever the change went. They would see it again and again reminding them of me. I would have the year changed on the wooden nickels just like real coins. Some women had their original nickel still in their purse when they came back years later and bought another car. Some men still had theirs years after the original visit also. Even if they lost it, whether they bought or not, they remembered to ask for the guy with the wooden nickels. Some folks would ask for a replacement for a lost one. Some told me how their kids would play with it and it would show up around the house every few weeks or months. Sometimes when dealing with a couple the spouse would ask for one also.

      These simple wooden nickels had a unique value beyond their intended use as a business card replacement. People didn't like to throw them away! I heard the old adage "Don't take any wooden nickels!" innumerable times. I would then offer to take back the wooden nickel and replace it with a business card but I never had a taker and smiles always accompanied the conversation.

     I would bet that even though it was many years ago when I handed out the last ones, that there are still some laying around in a bottom of a drawer, purse, toy box, or an old cars glove box! In summary, they were great little ice breakers and conversation pieces. For some they were even a kind of good luck charm or simple treasure that folks would hold on to.

     A very simple, very effective little edge. Some folks may even think it a corny thing to do, but it worked!  I didn't invent them, but I was looking for something to accomplish a specific task. As it turned out in this case I found something that accomplished it. A friendly icebreaker, get my "card" in their pocket, leave a lasting impression. 

     Now I am not saying that you have to use wooden nickels or wear some tacky white shoes to make a lasting impression. As I said at the start good salesmanship and business practices are your best attributes. But doing a little something different or extra may have a bigger effect on your sales numbers than you might expect. You have to think of something appropriate to what you do of course. It could be something that reflects your personality, maybe something to do with a hobby, or the products you sell. Don't be afraid to express some character or humor if it fits. Don't be afraid to be yourself! You may want to accomplish tasks that has nothing to do with breaking the ice or leaving a lasting impression with a customer. The important thing is to always have your eyes and mind open to new or different tools and ideas that may give you an edge.

                                                                                   John Evans Signature


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