One of the greatest salesmen I've ever met was a haberdasher who worked at a store in my hometown. His name was Marty Sokoloff. He died a few years ago, after playing tennis, and I wrote a column about him. Every time I go into my closet and see all the suits I have, I can't help but smile at the influence Marty had on me when it came to buying suits. He was a master at selling. He made me feel special because he doted on me so much. One of his standard openings would go something like, "Mr. Lauer, I'm glad you came in the store because I just put away a couple of suits I know you'll like. Why don't we try them on?" I did try them on and usually bought at least one. He also had other ways of showing that he cared, like asking about my son and daughter and how they were doing. Eventually, my son also became one of Marty's many customers. He, too, has a number of suits in his closet that Marty sold him.
My favorite Marty story was when he left a message on my answering machine at home because he hadn't seen me for quite a while. His message went like this, "Mr. Lauer, I haven't seen you in the store for some time, and I just want to make sure you are all right. You are a good friend, and I miss our visits. Let me know if everything is OK." I was very flattered that he was so concerned and that he would take the time to call. I know some cynical individuals probably would read this scenario and surmise Marty missed me because I wasn't around to buy more clothes from him. But you had to know Marty the way I did to appreciate his sincerity. He exuded integrity and caring for others, and his concern was real.
The recollections of my friend came back to me as I was thumbing through a copy of Mark H. McCormack's book What They Still Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School. It's almost 10 years old now, but there's advice in there that's just as pertinent today as it was when it was first published and when McCormack wrote the previous book, What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School.
In the section on selling in McCormack's sequel covering deal-closing techniques, there's a vignette titled "OK, that's one," in which he tells the following story: "Actually, the greatest closing technique might be no technique at all-where the sales pitch seamlessly leads into the purchase and the buyer doesn't know the difference. This was suggested to me a few years ago by a savvy sales executive in a funny green suit. `The greatest salesman I ever met,' he told me, `was the man who sold me this suit. The minute I walked into the store, he put five suits on the table. I didn't like any of them, and he starts arguing with me. He tells me to take off my jacket and try one on. He's smiling and joking as he says this, so I don't resist. And, in fact, in the store with all the mirrors and wood paneling, I have to admit the suit looks good. That's all he needs to hear. He sets the suit aside and says, "OK, that's one." That was his closing technique: OK, that's one. It had a ring of finality that was very persuasive. Then he would move on to the second suit. If I liked it, he'd say, "OK, that's another." To this salesman, liking an item was the same as buying it. He refused to acknowledge that there was a difference. Within a half hour he knew what I thought about each suit. Then he'd start on shirts and ties. At the end, we had this complete menu of clothes to choose from. And this salesman knew that I couldn't leave this store without buying at least one item. I was so impressed I bought them all.' "
That's why memories of Marty Sokoloff came back to me. When he sold me a suit he always showed me some shirts and ties that would complement the look. And I always followed his advice. I had confidence in his judgment. Just like the fellow who sold the gentleman the green suit, Marty sold me in a competent, joyful manner. He made me feel important and extra special, just like all of us want to be treated when we go to buy something. It's basically an art form that seems to be disappearing in sales today. Maybe all of us could learn a thing or two from these haberdashers.
Make people feel special
Charles S. Lauer