I recently had a difficult interaction with a skeptical customer that I turned into a significant sale. Here is how it started.
Customer: “What do you think of this pilsner?” Me: “Ohh man, this is an amazing Pils. What’s cool about it is the brewer mimics the water profile from the city of Pilzn where the original pilsner was created”! Customer: “Whenever I hear someone say things like that, I think of snake oil salesmen”. Needless to say this sales interaction was derailed from jump street! The potential customer also provided two other interesting tidbits that day (spoiler alert, he came back a second time and brought his wife in for some drinks).
If that wasn’t bad enough, two other interesting comments were made. This gentleman made an offhand comment about a craft beer being in a can and how he refuses to pour can beer into a glass, “Once it’s in the can, I drink it from the can”. If you are a beer expert, this mindset will make you visibly itch. Lastly, we were talking about how frustrating holiday shopping is, because the item he needed was sold out. I casually mentioned, “thank god for Amazon Prime and two-day shipping”. He stated, “Yeah, I still don’t know how I feel about the internet” (this happened in Dec, 2016). Wow, what do you do with a customer like this? I’ll tell you what I did, I sold him 3 pints of rum barrel aged pumpkin beer and sold him two more later that day, a couple six packs, plus 3 pints of a winter ale to his wife over the course of an 8-hour shift.
Here is the tactic. I kept the conversation going by always leaving myself another opportunity to talk later without any pressure. After the snake oil comment, I stated “I personally like and drink this pilsner, but don’t buy it if you are on the fence. I’ll be walking the isles stocking shelves, let me know if you have any other questions or if you want to try any of our beer on draught.” After a period went by, we bumped into each other and I asked if he was still doing alright. He asked me another question, but this time I didn’t give him a technical answer. “If you like classic porters, you will like this beer because it is well made and simple, it doesn’t have a bunch of crazy flavor additions.” Here is what I said next, “I actually have a porter on draught, but it is a limited release and full of crazy flavor additions.” He tried it and hated it. I was upfront with him about the flavor, so he wasn’t overly shocked that he didn’t like the beer. I then said, “You know, I have another beer on draught that is also in the crazy category but I bet you might like it because it is aged in rum barrels and you already said you like spirits.” Not only did he buy three 10oz pours of that crazy rum barrel aged pumpkin beer, he also enjoyed his time enough to bring his wife back several hours later and the two of them enjoyed 5 more pints.
This story should illustrate a couple things when selling anything. First, I wanted this customer to find a beer he really likes because at the end of the day, I want him to enjoy his beer experience. I’m not worried about making a sale, I’m worried you might accidentally buy a beer that you will hate and never return. By approaching sales this way, I am setting my company up to hopefully realize the potential lifetime value of this customer. Second, as a sales person I am always trying to understand the kind of flavors each individual customer enjoys. Often, I literally ask, “What kind of beer do you normally gravitate to”? By ascertaining the customer’s flavor profile, I can then whittle the massive list of products offered down to a manageable set of potential purchases. Third, I never pressure customers into buying any products. I provide a short amount of information and kindly let them know that I will be in the area if they have any other questions. If this person is not a skeptical buyer and is highly interactive, I will stay longer and really try to give them a range of products I think they will find enjoyment drinking. Here is what I assume my skeptical customer was thinking. He saw me do two things. I honestly tried to find him a beer he would like while not pressuring him into buying anything, and he watched me bust my ass stocking shelves, stopping every so often and ask him how he was getting along. I was striking a balance of helping him while working on my daily tasks.
As a beer expert, I wanted to give this man a dissertation on Josef Groll and the sandstone water profile from the city of Plzen. Ever heard of Pilsner Urqell…it’s AMAZING! Don’t even get me started on how much enjoyment this person is missing out on by keeping his craft beer in the can. Our tongues only pick up 5 major tastes, there are over 10,000 smell receptors utilized in the orthonasal and retronasal process. It’s really hard to pick up on flavor aromas in the orthonasal system if your beer remains trapped in its container. The wise ass in me wanted to say that the brewer is probably happy that you decided to only pick up a couple of flavors he/she worked so hard to put into that craft beverage, that you paid a premium for! While I believe it is every Cicerone’s duty to help educate the beer drinking public, we must never forget that at one time we too couldn’t diagnose the cause of something simple like “skunky beer”. Education allows for pretention and there is no room for pretentiousness in craft beer.
If priority #1 is to ensure everyone around you has the best possible beer drinking experience, the sales will come. I hope I get to serve this customer again and I look forward to educating him wherever possible along his craft beer journey.
***Disclaimer: I omit and change details of the actual customer interactions to remove any chance the customers could read this article and realize they are the subject. I will updated these articles over time to provide the best value for anyone currently working in craft beer sales.