Every beginning may be naïve and stumbling, I suppose, but none seems moreso than ours (though many of you may feel otherwise, your embarrassment doubtless the maximum one can experience). We’d planted small amounts of a hundred species of dryable flowers, many unsuited to our soil and climate, just to see what might happen, and when an article in the local paper featured a company just 90 miles away that specialized in foraged and cultivated drieds to ship across the nation we thought we were in luck to have an instant market. How fortuitious and easy!
Jeriann went to the business with a few bundles of statice, some acrolinium, some xeranthemum—bunches about one-fourth the size they should have been, unbeknownst to us—to forge a deal. The owner asked our price (imagine that!) but inexperienced as we were, we hadn’t thought that far ahead. Jeriann’s response was “how much will you give me?” The owner told her to come back when we had a suitable amount of product and a price and Jeriann returned home mortified, never to return. We licked our wounds and began selling drieds at the farmer’s market, slowly figuring out through trial and error just what our product might be worth, what might sell, what we could grow, and in a decade or so we had a pretty good idea.
The cold call ices the heart of all of us not born with the sales gene. Making and marketing almost never come in the same package, as any artist (and probably, farmer) will tell you—it’s said that eighty percent of a successful artist’s time goes to schmoozing and selling, meaning most artists aren’t successful, being either unable or unwilling to put that much effort into promoting themselves—it just seems, for lack of better, more G-rated words, “icky”. That’s why artists have agents and almost any business has a marketing department, even if it’s just the mother-in-law.
Luckily, some products need less marketing legwork than paintings, books, and songs—flowers being one of them. Growing flowers isn’t as difficult as creating works of art, and marketing them generally requires less effort, too. Certainly, though, selling them is more difficult than Jeriann’s claim that “the flowers sell themselves.” According to her, she just opens up the van and the product wows the customer with olfactory and visual appeal. If your product’s good enough, if your market’s open enough, she may be right.
If you’re competing with flowers brought in from thousands of miles away, packed in a box and sometimes days old, then freshly cut and properly conditioned flowers may indeed sell themselves. We often see sunflowers shipped in that look more like blackeyed susans, so when our suns of a size too large to ship profitably show up at our customers’ doors, shippers can’t compete. Our snaps and sweet peas exude fragrance often lost in shipping, and foliages aren’t flattened by a thousand mile ride in a box so appear to be of far greater quality. But you, as a salesperson, still provide the last touch to the sales transaction, may make the difference between a yes and a no, so you have to be personable, dress properly, say the right things (and don’t say the wrong ones), smile, be service-oriented, and not only possess but use those often unspoken skills required in any relationship: listening and being attentive.
Likely, you feel yourself lacking in the salesmanship category, and having been on the receiving end of a high pressure pitch, whether from barkers at carnivals or missionaries and insurance salesmen forcing their foot in the door, you may have installed an instant “delete” or “ignore” in your behavior. You don’t want to be “that person” pushing product on someone—and yet, here you are, thrust into that position!
A great deal of modern philosophy deals with the relationship between self and other, teasing apart the same angst most of us feel when confronting a possible customer. If you want to find out just how uneducated you are, try reading Jean Paul Sartre’s effort to do so, “Being and Nothingness”--I tried and failed, but a professor held my hand through part of it and explained it thusly: we can either be the subject or the object, never both, so when we deal with others we can perceive of ourselves as one or the other and we experience each differently, as being acted upon or acting upon someone else. If you’ve taken a speech class, you probably were told to treat the people as objects to make speaking easier (a common piece of advice: look at the audience and picture them as being naked), since if you pay attention to yourself you’ll probably lose track of your notes, your speech, and end up as a trembling, stuttering pool of emotion. Sartre referred to the “gaze”, which the subject imposes on the object: the physician on the patient, the banker on the loan applicant, the employer on the potential worker, and we can throw in the buyer on the seller—if you’re unprepared and reticent.
I don’t believe philosophers ever found a satisfactorily logical route around “the gaze”, but many, if not most, humans have found a way to circumvent the more painful part of it by, for instance, having distracting games at parties, something to bounce one’s attention off of so we’re not picking each other apart. When we have a meal, see a movie, go to an event with another, we may not be completely sharing a moment in the same way, but we are reflecting off the same surface, and by doing so can know the other better, accumulate history, build a relationship. A sales experience can be much the same if the seller and buyer don’t make it a war of selves, a competition between who gazes and who is gazed upon.
This third thing—a game at a party, a meal, a movie—turns out to be the flowers for us farmers. Jeriann claims selling flowers is easy because she “believes in them,” knows the quality is good, knows the color is right, knows our prices are competitive, so she doesn’t have to promote or lie (are those two words redundant? Hmm…) to sell them. By making the sale about the flowers, she avoids the inevitable power clash between salesman and buyer, that wrestling match defining what for many of us is the worst part of being involved in commerce, whether as a customer or a producer. By making the discussion about a third thing, the interaction becomes less about power of one over the other. And though the two people involved may color the discussion with their peccadillos, abilities and intents, the event becomes less confrontational and more cooperative.