How do you recognize a super salesperson? He’s not the one who manages to convince an Eskimo to buy a fridge. “The Eskimo will surely be reprimanded and will never come back. If you burn a customer with each sale, it’s quickly the end of the company, warns Frédéric Fréry, professor of strategy at ESCP Business School. A good salesperson explains the value of the product, which justifies buying more: he builds customer loyalty. This is what brings together, for example, Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, and Brownie Wise, the inventor of the famous Tupperware meetings. The first will, thanks to bold marketing, sell sports sneakers to the general public, whereas the product was then reserved for athletes. The second plays on friendliness and trust between neighbors to sell plastic boxes through its “home parties”.
The sales geniuses also bring a part of the dream, with a lot of seduction. The Boucicaut couple, founders of Le Bon Marché, understood this as early as the 19th century. “Just re-read To the delight of the ladies, by Emile Zola, who describes the palace of consumption that was the Bon Marché. The sales, delivery on D+1, attention to the customer experience… everything was already there”, smiles the teacher-researcher.
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The Boucicaut couple, Le Bon Marché, the origins of modern commerce
When Aristide Boucicaut arrives in Paris at the age of 19, in 1820, he is at first only a simple store employee. This Norman and his future wife, Marguerite Guérin, will however revolutionize the principles of trade. In 1852, the couple went into partnership with Paul Videau, owner of the Bon Marché. Aristide was then bubbling over with ideas for this store which sold sheets, fabrics and haberdashery… His innovations can be summed up in one sentence: from now on, the consumer is king. He can leave the store without obligation to buy, return a product if he is not satisfied, buy on credit, try on the goods without being bothered. The prices are displayed and fixed – finished, those “at the head of the customer”. Very quickly, the volume of sales and the rapid rotation of stocks made it possible to lower margins. In twenty years, Boucicaut will multiply by 25 the turnover of its brand.
Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut, founders of Le Bon Marché: they invented modern commerce
After the retirement of Paul Videau, the Boucicaut couple, in 1869, transformed the place into a dazzling palace of consumption, all in cupolas and large windows. It also innovates by applying industry rules to commerce: streamlined tasks, trained and retained employees (provident fund), daily sales statistics. When Aristide died in 1877, he left his widow Marguerite a business employing more than 1,700 people, serving 18,000 customers every day.
Phil Knight, CEO of Nike
At Stanford University, where he was studying finance, Phil Knight had written a thesis on how to dethrone Adidas in sports shoes. A fairly average long-distance runner, the future CEO of Nike had the idea of focusing on innovation and marketing and outsourcing manufacturing to Japan. This is how, as soon as he obtained his MBA, Phil called the manufacturers of Tiger shoes, based in the Japanese archipelago, and convinced them to produce sneakers for him, which he sold on campus. The foundations for planetary success have already been laid. Outsourced manufacturing – China then Vietnam replaced Japan. Innovation and design: the Waffle, released in 1972 and whose sole absorbs shocks, will be one of the first hits.
Phil Knight (born in 1938), Nike: he had the idea of paying stars to say “Just do it”
A brand that slaps (Nike, named after the Greek goddess of Victory) and recognizable among all: the famous Swoosh was designed by a graphic design student, Carolyn Davidson. Last but not least, for the promotion, the use of top athletes including the famous basketball player Michael Jordan. “You can’t explain much in sixty seconds, but if you show Jordan, there’s no need to explain anymore,” said the CEO, who created the Air Jordans just before the basketball player’s team does not triumph at the Los Angeles Olympics. Many other stars will follow. The group now weighs 44 billion dollars in turnover. “Just do it”, as its slogan, which has also become legendary, proclaims.
Estée Lauder, founder of Estée Lauder, to try it is to adopt it
The sales bug? Estée Lauder, born in New York in 1906, contracted it as a child. His parents, Hungarian emigrants, then ran a hardware store. Estée plays the merchant. His uncle then arrives from Hungary with a suitcase filled with chemicals, in order to concoct skin creams. It is the revelation. Estée learns, fascinated, to take care of her face. Once an adult, she runs to the shops to sell the creams she prepares in her kitchen, according to her uncle’s formulas. A faithful client of a hairdressing salon, she finds captive women there, imprisoned under a heated helmet, and makes them clients. His dream ? Acquire upscale customers. During an appointment with the purchasing manager of the prestigious Saks store, Estée prescribed him a cream for his damaged cheek. The sore heals. A first order follows…
Estée Lauder (1906 – 2004): Demonstrator, outstanding salesperson, buzz pioneer, she built her cosmetics empire in the field
Other agreements of the same type will follow, with Harrods in London, the Galeries Lafayette in Paris… In the early 1950s, she launched into perfumes, wanting to encourage customers to use generously. The instructions for its scented bath oil specify that the bottle must be emptied in one go! It’s a hit. This innovation was followed in 1964 by Aramis, the first high-end perfume for men, then, in 1968, the Clinique brand, which played the health card by displaying hypoallergenic properties. In 1973, at the age of 67, she left the reins of a very prosperous and world-renowned company to her son.
Brownie Wise, Tupperware, sales priestess in meeting
Born in 1913 in a modest background, Brownie Wise applied in 1947 for a position as a saleswoman at Stanley Home Products. It was there that she learned all the tricks of door-to-door sales, practiced at the time by the company’s employees. At the end of the 1940s, a new product entered the catalogues: Tupperware, these plastic containers and bowls invented by Earl Tupper, which until then had remained confidential. Brownie Wise, thanks to his glibness, managed to multiply sales by 10 in a few months. This does not go unnoticed by Earl Tupper, who hires him.
This is where Wise has his stroke of genius: replacing salespeople with ambassadors, namely the customers themselves. Brownie offers them to host meetings at their homes for a percentage of sales. These women from the American suburbs, unemployed and isolated in their homes, seize the opportunity. The “Tupperware home parties” were born. The results were so spectacular that in 1951 Brownie Wise was appointed sales manager.
In six years, she will “recruit” nearly 20,000 hostesses. To reward them, Wise innovates by multiplying gifts and trips, or even seminars in Hawaii… The story ended badly. Brownie was dismissed in 1957 following various blunders and fell into oblivion. Earl Tupper, he sold his company a year later, with a big capital gain.
Harley Procter, Procter & Gamble, the king of marketing
The Procter school, so much vaunted in marketing schools, finds its source in the story of Harley Procter. His father (William Procter) and his uncle (James Gamble) had been making candles and soap for almost fifty years, without much innovation. Harley has found a way to reinvigorate sales. Its first recipe, communicating on the “plus product”. His chemist cousin James Norris Gamble had developed a completely white soap, innovative in more ways than one. The first “two-in-one” product, it was suitable “for laundry as well as personal hygiene”. Design, it could be divided into two thanks to a central notch. And above all, it was 99% pure, when the competitors did not hesitate to add flour (to bind the ingredients) or marble dust (to increase the weight).
All that remained was to communicate the advantages of the product, baptized Ivory Soap, on the packaging. In 1882, the company’s founders gave Harley $11,000 to promote the brand. Color announcements in the press, posters like those of plays, and even a poetry contest around the word Ivory… Harley is revolutionizing commercial communication. Later, in 1895, his nephew will extend the work by broadcasting his advertisements on a new medium, the radio, and by sponsoring entertainment programs, the famous “soap operas”.
The exercise to become more convincing by Guila Clara Kessous, executive coach
“Even if you are not a salesperson, knowing the basics of successful negotiation can be useful during a recruitment interview or to discuss salary. You must always ask yourself: “How could I help my interlocutor to give me what I want?”. In short, take an interest in him, identify his constraints and offer him solutions. Upstream, rehearse your pitch to unfold your argument by anticipating foreseeable objections and also be comfortable with the form (tone, gestures, etc.). »
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