Focus

We’ve taught ourselves to think of price before anything. By “we” I mean retailers, marketers, advertisers and pretty much anyone with anything to sell. Oh, and consumers, too.

Attempting to sail against this wind (gale?) makes no sense, because there’s nowhere to go to find still air. When everyone is playing the same game, any advantage must be garnered within the prevailing atmosphere.

The problem is so acute that even the idea of value is meaningless. If we think of value as being better utility or style or longevity per unit money, the flattening of opinion about those secondary qualities means that all sales come down to the nominal cash price. Everything – no matter how sophisticated or complex – starts with a comparison to the Family Dollar store. Only the price tag matters.

Now to find a way around that myopic view.

Pre-Funk

Sunday at 7:00 the coal mine managers hosted a meeting of all staff. The idea was to create low expectations for our lives over the next seven weeks, when hordes of revelers will invade the mine to top-up their coal stores.

They fed us breakfast (high on carbs, fat and salt) and low-quality coffee, which was fine, but then ran through a series of poorly conceptualized slides reminding us of our duty to sell high-margin coal. It’s the business model from hell: advertise one type of (low or negative margin product) and expect us to convince customers to swap or add high margin stuff. We’re constantly working against a company-created predisposition.

As incentive there is a pool of commission dollars which will at best mean a few hundred dollars for someone like me. Is it worth using hard-sell and downright underhanded tactics to make that money? Not if I choose to maintain my integrity.

This is playing out even before the holiday rush. When someone arrives at the mine with a list of coupon-related choices, they’re only interested in placing those choices in their shopping cart. It’s basic human nature. I see it time and time again; they have a list that, when fulfilled, completes their shopping chore. They simply aren’t open to trying stuff described on their coupons discount. Somehow I am expected to change both their money-mindset and their coal mindset.

It doesn’t help that we sales people are always operating on a triage system. Without sufficient numbers, we’re always behind, never have a second to breathe and are constantly dealing with the coupon-shopper. Remember that a coupon shopper is not at all focused on what they’re buying, they’re focused only on how they’re buying viz: cheapness via this advertised “bargain”.

Numbers

At the morning huddle at the mine, managers recite prior day sales statistics, blather on about trivialities and encourage we workers (a minority of employees WRT managers BTW) to keep drinking the Kool-Aid.

One number that struck me about last week was that the number of people transacting business was down 7%. Seven and change. Let’s think about this. I’d like to know whether we’re down from the corresponding day last year and whether that’s adjusted for the day of the week. I’d furthermore like to know what that number is to budget, and if we break it down by return customers and one-offs.

It seems like a big number to me, and way more important than average transaction value or item count. If people aren’t walking through the door, there’s a reason, and while average dollar per customer can redress that on the top line, there’s a limit to that metric as well.

In fact, if that 100 people is down to 93 and we’re still beating budget, we’re doing acceptably well, but the long term decline of bodies roaming about is a problem not solved with hard-line sales tactics or effing coupons.

Conspiracy

In the early stages of the holiday coal-shopping season, mine management is preparing we miners for the rush. We’re told that we have budgets to meet, that there is special high-margin coal to sell, and that there are specific techniques we should employ to mine more coal in a shift.

Our own mine boss was walking around yesterday, remarking that she had been sneaking extra coal into her customers’ sacks. I smiled at her, appearing to be hip to the subtlety of her skillz, but I was and remain horrified. If I were a coal-mine customer and saw someone placing an unsolicited package of coal into my shopping basket, I’d immediately place the basket on the floor and walk out.

No, it’s not a criminal act, or really anything close, but I find it abhorrent to think that a sales-person would seek to gain advantage (not to say access to my wallet) by means of trickery. Working for an organization that condones – nay, encourages – such behaviour makes me complicit, albeit distantly. My time here is limited.