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Friday, 19 February 2016

An Amusing Lesson On Sales and Body Language

I went to Singapore for six days over January/February. I went with members of the Buttercup Gang, the first time I'd been overseas with anyone but my family. As is bound to happen when you go on holiday with friends, sometimes some people want to do things which others don't. So one day, I found myself in a shopping mall, looking through clothing stores and I was bored out of my mind. I was also very tired from a lack of sleep, so I thought I'd let the others do their thing while I went outside to find a seat.

Once outside, I looked left and right for some kind of couch or bench, but couldn't find one. Just next to me, in the middle of the walkway, was a big fixture saying "Orogold" on all four sides. A tall, pretty Singaporean girl dressed in business attire was standing there. She caught my eye and handed me a small white-and gold sachet.
'Would you like a sample of moisturiser sir?' she asked in her accented but fluent English.
'Sure, thanks,' I said taking it.
'Where are you from?'
'Australia,' I replied, having forgotten I was the only white person in the building.
'Oh great! Are you just on holiday?'
'Yeah, just a holiday.'
'For how long?'
'Six days.'
'That's great,' she said. 'Now, do you know what the big deal is about this cream?'
'No,' I said, wanting to add something like "because I don't really care." But she clearly did care, so I didn't want to make her feel bad.
'Okay, let me show you quickly. Come over here.' She turned back to the stand in the middle of the corridor and motioned me to follow her, sitting down on a leather stool which had a twin right across from it. I sat down in the second one.

Now a few years ago, I spent some time as a door-to-door salesman. I learned a lot about sales techniques, or how to influence someone to trust you and buy from you. This lady had gotten under my guard by offering me a free sample. Then she engaged me in conversation, asking about me. I, of course, was on an overseas holiday and was very excited about it. Being able to talk about it to someone would naturally endear me to them, and it did. Even though I knew she just wanted to sell me something in which I wasn't at all interested, when she motioned me to follow her, I found myself thinking "Sure, why not?"

However, I wasn't completely full of praise for her. I had to question the thought process behind her choice of target. Why me? I'm an Aussie bloke, wearing dirty sandshoes, tatty shorts and a tshirt I got at a Cold Chisel concert. I hadn't shaven since the day before my trip, so I had short stray hairs dotted all over my cheeks. I'm probably more likely to work at a cattle station than to use facial cream. So why on Earth did she think I'd be a good person to tray and sell the stuff to? I don't look like I've ever used a beauty product in my life!

She took out a separate bottle of the cream she'd just given me, talking about the benefits of Orogold's high-quality formula while rubbing it into the back of my hand. It was all stuff that went over my head, but I think she claimed at one point that one of the ingredients was actual gold, and that for some reason that's a good thing. She was in hard-sell mode - having brought me over to the stand, she had assumed that I was now interested in buying her product and was no longer hiding her real purpose. She finished rubbing the cream in my hand and told me to give it a feel. I did, and it felt weird. I'm sure other people are used to having their skin feel slippery, but I much prefer the natural grip of good ol' naked skin.

'And this would go great with another product we have,' she said, saving me from having to think of something to say that sounded genuine. She grabbed a tall, thin bottle of what looked like gold glitter and squeezed a bit of it onto her fingers. She took my arm and turned it so the underside was facing up, then she started rubbing it in. As she rubbed, little balls started gathering on my skin. It looked like the cream was congealing and falling away as she rubbed it. Was I supposed to be impressed by that?
'See, I can tell you haven't been taking care of that area because of all the dead skin there,' she said.
I caught myself before I did anything embarrassing like yank my arm away and smash all her bottles of cream before she could hurt anyone else. Dead skin is natural, it's okay if you lose it (I reminded myself). But it still felt weird knowing that this lady had just removed a layer of my skin and that she expected me to be impressed. She held up both of my arms and compared the skin tones. The one with the product was much lighter than the one without. Great, and now I'd lost my Aussie tan as well.

As well as learning a few sales techniques, I developed developed a keen interest in body language which still survives to today. Over 70% of communication comes from body language and gives it gives a FAR better idea of what a person is thinking or feeling than just listening to the words they say. For example, if you want to know if someone's really that interested in talking to you, the best place to look is their feet. If a person wants to escape, you'll generally see at least one of their feet pointed toward an exit. Other indicators are their legs (if they're sitting down) or their torso. At this point I noticed that her entire body was pointing directly at me - her face, her chest and her crossed legs. She was leaning slightly forward, which is another indication of interest. Me... I was the complete opposite. I was leaning on the glass counter with my elbows, my whole body turned away from the stand and pointing down the corridor toward the food court.I would shift around a bit when she wanted to try another product on me, but my knees and feet were still pointing in another direction. As she was the professional, I'm not sure how she didn't notice this. But then, that fact that I was there in the first place was a mystery.

'Now, you'd normally combine this product with this one,' she said, taking out a third bottle. 'This does such-and-such while the other one such-and-suches. Which one of these amazed you the most?'
Good question. If she'd asked if any of them had amazed me, that would have been very risky. I could easily say no and she'd come off looking stupid. But to say which one amazed me, I'm building up one of the products in my own mind - essentially starting to sell myself on it.
'That one,' I said, pointing at the bottle she'd used to rip my arm off. It had certainly amazed me. 'Great, so this one amazed you?' she asked again with passion.
'Yes,' I confirmed.
'Excellent.' She got out a big folder and turned to a page which had a picture of the product in question. 'Here's the product that you said amazed you,' she said pointing to the picture. There was a list of the product's benefits listed underneath and some scarily high-looking numbers to the side. She talked for a very long time about more of the benefits of having this product in my life. I'm not even sure how she could think of that much to say about a facial cream. Maybe she really could see that I wasn't keen and was trying to build up some more excitement.

I kept wondering what my friends would say when they came out of the store behind me and saw me talking to the Singapore equivalent of the Avon lady. I imagined how comical it would look to them and whether they'd step in and pull me out of there or just point and laugh. Then I saw the lady's eyes flicker to a point past my shoulder and look uncomprehendingly at something behind me. "Point and laugh I guess," I thought without turning around.

Occasionally the lady asked me questions, the answers to which made her more and more incredulous.
'How often do you shower?'
'Once a day.' That was a bit of an exaggeration.
'Only once a day?'
'Um... Yeah?'
'At what time of day?'
'Usually in the morning. After I wake up.'
'Okay, so what you should do after your shower is take a dab of this cream and a dab of that cream and rub them in one after the other...'
'How often do you wash your hands?'
'Just... after I go to the toilet.' She visibly cringed at the use of the word "toilet".
'So, you only wash your hands after you go to the gents?'
'Yeah, when else would I do it?'
'Let me show you something.' She got out a large ceramic bowl and another bottle of cream. 'Rub that into your hands for about 30 seconds,' she instructed while squeezing some of the cream into my hands. I did as I was told, then she held the bowl under my hands and started to spray them lightly with a water bottle. To my surprise, the water that ran off my hands and into the bowl was a many shades darker than the water that came out of the bottle. Clearly it had been too long since I'd been to the gents.
'What do you think?' asked the lady, trying to gauge my reaction.
'Yeah... that's black,' I replied. This is where all those years of playing poker came in handy. I had to hide the fact that for the first time, I was genuinely impressed.
*Later still*
'What do you use to clean your face?'
'Um... water?'
She paused for a long time.
'Warm water?' I offered pathetically.
'Okay, you need more than warm water. Water washes away the oil on the surface of your skin, but it doesn't get into the pores and clean them out. That's why you've got little bits of acne all over your face.' She pointed out certain spots on my forehead and cheeks. I was amazed at the woman's gall. She wanted money from me and now she was pointing out my imperfections? By then I realised - of course she'd do that. If she'd done that to any other person, they would have gotten embarrassed and self-conscious. They'd give anything in that moment to look prettier. Then they'd be shown a product that would clear their face up properly and they'd jump on the chance. It's what my bosses used to call "Problem and Solution". Point out a problem the potential customer is having. Then provide the solution. Keep a look out on TV, you'll see it on a lot of ads for household products.

Finally, she turned back to the folder and started talking about prices and I realised with a sigh that those numbers I'd seen earlier were the actual prices. The cheapest thing on the page was about 220 Singapore dollars. That's equal to 220 AUD, 156 USD, 140 EUR and 109 GBP.
'Michael, if I were to give you a good deal, Do you think you'd like to take some of these products back home to Australia?'
That was probably my best opportunity to leave. I could have just said "No I wouldn't" and went to join my friends, who'd gone to the food court. But I'd been there for so long and taken so much of her valuable time that I wanted to at least let her think that a sale was possible.
'It would have to be a very good deal, because that's awfully expensive,' I challenged. The lady lunged for a calculator, smelling blood. She did some calculations and came up with a figure of $214 for three bottles of different product. To be honest, I couldn't remember which product did what, even at the time.
'Yeah, I'm afraid that's still too much,' I said. I started to fidget in my chair in a way that showed I intended to leave.
'Well let me show you something.'
*sigh* Here we go. She went back to the calculator.
'If you spend (an amount of money) each month on facials and spa treatments, that adds up to over a thousand dollars by the end of the year,' she said, showing me the calculator. 'These bottles will last you a whole year and you only have to pay $200.'
I considered this girl to be a very good sales person, but had one very big, fatal flaw - she had no idea how to gauge her audience. I'd just revealed that I shower once a day, use only water to wash my face and use the word "toilet" instead of "gents". I can not understand how she could have gotten the idea that I've ever gotten a facial, let alone a spa treatment. Worse still, she implied that I do it regularly.
'Nevertheless, I'll have to pass.' I tried again.
'Okay Michael, how about this. This is a very real deal that we only give on special occasions. I'll add in a bottle of this crap (paraphrased) and you get to keep all these other products. Do you know how much they would normally retail for all together?'
'Nope,' I shrugged.
'A million dollars.'
Now it was my turn to pause. A million dollars? Was there something I'd missed with the exchange rate? Would it end up being something like $500 Australian?
'I'm joking Michael!' she laughed and brushed her hand on my knee. I see, now she was bringing out the big guns - she was flirting with me. That may sound funny, but any good door-to-door sales person will tell you that successfully flirting with a customer is one of the most effective things you can do to get a sale out of them. It's scary isn't it?
'Yeah, I know,' I said, reverting back to that poker face, trying to act like it was obvious.
'No, this would all normally retail for $900. I can give it to you for $201. Do you have a girlfriend?'
'Oh why not? A handsome man like you...'
Me? the guy on whom you pointed out all the acne earlier?
'I guess they don't go for the rugged Aussie look,' I said defensively.
'Never mind then. This is a very good deal. We don't offer it to many people.'
Sure sure.
'What do you say?'
I decided to try a different approach.
'Okay, I've budgeted for $750 on this trip. I'll have to wait until the last day of my trip and if I have enough left over, I'll take it.'
'Oh, I'm afraid I won't be here after today. I'm the only one who can authorise this offer.
She still had a few tricks up her sleeve. That one was called "Fear of Missing Out". Pretty self-explanatory - if you think you have to act now or you'll miss out, you're much likelier to act now. There's also the fact that as a general rule, no one ever comes back. As a sales person myself, I saw plenty of people who would say "Let me bring it up to my husband", or "When the next paycheck comes in, I'll give you a call". They're clearly just excuses. Even in the rare case that the customer genuinely intends to come back, something always gets in the way. This lady knew that if I left now, that would be a sale lost.
'If you want to take advantage of this great deal, you'll have to take it today.'
'Then I'm afraid the answer is no,' I said firmly. At that point, for the first time, I saw her visibly slump. She'd realised she was defeated - that she'd spent 45 minutes with someone and wouldn't get a penny to show for it - and her body language changed completely. In order to save face, she played along with my story of coming back at the end of the trip.
'Here's what I'll do for you Michael,' she said with disappointment in her voice. 'I'll give you my contact details within the company. If you want to come back, contact me directly so I can ensure you get the good deal.'
'I will, thank you,' I said also playing along.

I tracked my friends down in the food court and they laughed at the situation in which I'd somehow found myself. I explained how it had happened and what went done and they in turn showed me some photos they'd sneakily snapped to commemorate the hilarious occasion.


  1. I do feel a little sorry for her. I suspect she is on commission rather than wages. And she chose the wrong mark.
    Love the photos your friends got though.

    1. Absolutely, I did feel sorry for her. That's why I tried to make it seem like she was close to a sale.

  2. I always feel bad for those sorts.. but I more so feel too awkward sitting there knowing I'm not going to buy anything, so I typically waved them away 'No, thank you' before they even get started. And vacate.
    Props to you for sitting through her speal, but I imagine she felt like you wasted her time :/

    1. I would usually turn them down before they start too, but this lady was good.

  3. The wholesale value of all those creams was probably about a dollar. There's no bigger rip-off than beauty products.

    1. One of my friends pointed that out after. I was describing how she was offering me $900 valie for $200 and he said "You mean $45 value."

  4. She must have been really pretty. I don't know you, but I would have never taken you as the fufu skin cream sort. This is quite an enjoyable post.

    1. Haha you can tell that and you've never even actually seen me.

  5. I can't sit still for these, and I don't have whiskers on my face!

  6. I avoid those carts in the middle of the malls here like the plague, love the story though and that's good you got a free hand washing out of the deal and actually found a seat after all!! :)

    1. That's another thing that was going through my mind - at least I'm giving my poor legs a rest ;)

  7. I've never been to Singapore. All I know about it is from the Tom Waits song, "Singapore": "We sail tonight for Singapore / Don't fall asleep while you're ashore!"

    This makes it seem much less exotic than the song.

    1. Don't worry, it's still exotic. Although I only have a broad sense of what exotic actually means, so we might view it differently :P

  8. Yeah not the first person to be sucked into listen to a sales pitch, happened to me not that long ago well sometime in 2015 but the first thing I said was I have no money and can't afford anything and of course she goes it's ok just let me rub a little on you hand and she did and went on and on and then tried to sell me a small bottle of stuff of a couple of hundred bucks and again I said sorry have no money for things like this and walked away. She should had listened when I said straight up have no money can't afford it

    1. I get that though, everyone uses some kind of excuse to get them to leave us alone. Most of the time when we say we have no money, we do, we just don't want to spend it on them.

  9. Nothing subtle about her tactics.
    I bought Dyanetics, the Scientology bible, from a man who complimented my "beautiful eyes" and how they matched my pastel green shirt. But he was right. And you're a rugged handsome man who should be snatched up by a smart gal. She was right. So it's her loss. Because I trashed that book the moment I started reading it. How's that for logic?

    1. I probably would have read it just for curiosity's sake ;) It's so weird how it seems like a good idea at the time.

  10. Dude, you're like the Bill Nye of sales science. I love it. I could read about the science behind this (as told by you) all day long. Things like body language and getting strangers to trust you is such an interesting concept. I had to teach my wife about the whole engagement thing. Any time we'd walk by a salesperson and they started asking her a question she'd immediately stop to answer it, at which point I'd yank her away and give a polite no thank you. She didn't understand that the whole point was them engaging her in a two way dialogue so they could rope her into talking about a sale.

    Also, I do love that this gal picked you of all people, and by that I mean a guy in a t-shirt and shorts. The only guy that either of us knows that uses more than a bar of soap to wash his face/body has a purse and a boyfriend and wouldn't be caught dead in a t-shirt or cargo shorts.

    1. Thank you very much! We don't get Bill Nye in Australia, but I know more-or-less who he is and he sounds awesome. We have our own equivalent named Dr Karl. Karl isn't quite as palatable, but he'll occasionally throw in fantastic life advise such as "Never have sex with someone who has more problems than you."

      Yep, I often feel too rude to turn down salespeople, which means I'll be dragged into long conversations I don't want to have :P Tell your wife I empathise ;)

      Oh okay, I thought I was in the minority when it comes to men and beauty products :P


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