How shared experiences help foster sales

By Gordon Hecht, YSN Contributor

Business communication has evolved over the last 20 years, although some aspects never change.

Phone calls have been around for over 125 years. I can get more done on one call than in 20 emails and texts.

Calling cards originated in the 19th century. Attend any meeting or convention and you’ll still see people exchanging business cards.

But you’ll rarely see a handwritten note, and Western Union quit doing telegrams a decade-and-a-half ago. We use less paper notes and more electronic communication.

A couple years back I saw an online image of an interoffice mail envelope. It’s that large yellow-manila packet. It has 18 rows of spaces across three columns in which to fill in and cross out names as the memos and other mail inside gets shifted from department to department. The envelope has a cool red string closure, and they even drilled holes in it so you’ll know if it’s empty or full.

I posted the image on LinkedIn and wrote “Old Schoolin’ It” under the photo. Within days the post had 175 reactions and 21 comments, more than any of my other posts. Just that simple image resonated with people I had never met, many from around the world.

People connect with shared experiences. Get a couple of salespeople together and whether they sell jet engines or steak knives, they’ll be swapping war stories in minutes. Check out the waiting area of any airport, especially in a resort town, and you’ll hear strangers sharing the highs or lows of their vacations.

Shared experiences help in education too.  Children absorb their lessons from teachers, mostly because it’s the first time the kiddies have heard it. But adults learn better when a lesson is framed as a common experience.

Think about how a task is compared to “riding a bicycle.” Or how technology is “easier that an ATM.” Or the price comparison “costs less than a cup of coffee” (thanks to Starbucks, every purchase now qualifies).

In case you haven’t heard, selling = educating + causing a decision. Greeting and qualifying helps the sales person learn about shopper’s needs. Demonstrating is pure education. Same for overcoming objections, followed by educating the shopper on payment options.

Every step of the sales process should include finding common ground in a shared experience.

When working the retail floor I liked to greet shoppers with, “How is the traffic out there?” We could chat about how bad or good the roads are, whether they made every light or got stuck behind a Crown Victoria flashing a permanent left signal. The bonus is that they got any bad vibes out of their system. Then they could concentrate on the store experience.

I’d never ask if they slept warm or cold. Instead, the question was, “Do you spend more time under the covers or over the covers?” For emphasis I’d wave my arms with a throwing-off-blankets motion.

If they had a TV in the bedroom I’d ask, “How many pillows do you stack up to watch?” The follow up was, “How often do you have to adjust them?” Once I knew the shopper was tired of the constant pillow arranging, I’d prop them up on an adjustable base.

The delivery charge was an easy sale when my shopper would agree that it’s simpler to watch professionals carry in a mattress than rounding up a bunch of friends, including one with a pickup truck, and then rewarding them with pizza and beer for scratching the walls and the floor.

The LinkedIn comments included a few from people who still use interoffice mail envelopes. So long as they provide value, chances are good that they may never go away. Likewise, personal selling, i.e., good ol’ one-on-one conversations, can never be fully replaced by texting, emailing or point-and-click. 

Searching for the shared, personal connection can be fun. It will enhance your sales presentation.

Make the bond, make a friend and make the sale.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at

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