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What the Red Light District Can Teach You About Sales

My son was studying abroad in Prague, so my fiancée and I took advantage of the opportunity to visit him. And since we were so close, we thought, why not visit Amsterdam and its famous red light district?

Wouldn't you?

There was a lot to look at. But I couldn't help noticing that the women's sales skills were... well, lame. Yeah, I know that most of the onlookers weren't thinking about their sales skills, but I just can't help myself. Believe it or not, most of the women were talking on their cell phones instead of paying attention to their potential customers!

When I walk into a store to shop and find the salesperson on his or her cell phone, it definitely puts the kibosh on our potential interaction.

When potential customers come to you, whether it's in person, on the phone, or on your website, they're expecting your attention. That's true for your prospects -- and doubly true for your existing customers.

You already know that your existing customers are more valuable to you than your prospects, right? Your continued attention to their concerns will ensure that you'll keep getting their business. They'll also be more likely to refer you to their friends and colleagues. If you don't pay attention to them, they certainly won't pay attention to you

So how do you pay attention? Here are some ways:

  1. Be fast. Answer your phone/emails/website inquiries quickly. Measure it. At, we try to answer our phones within 18 seconds.
  2. Keep up. That means always updating your product technology, your website -- even your logo, product literature, and packaging. Don't do it capriciously or you risk a customer revolt. Remember what happened to The Gap and Ikea? But thoughtful updates, based on your customers' needs, demonstrate that you're paying attention.
  3. Ask questions to your customers. How can you do a better job for them? Ask probing, open-ended questions, and be ready to respond.
  4. Don't forget your employees. They're talking with your customers every day, and they already know what you need to hear about improving your business. They'll bring you that knowledge if you ask. And, just as important, paying attention to your employees demonstrates how you want them to pay attention to your customers.
  5. Keep your place of business clean and well organized. Customers must be able to find who or what they want easily.
  6. Use eye contact and acknowledge visitors, even when you're busy helping someone else.
At my company, we focus on what our customers are trying to accomplish when they contact us. Not everyone buys, so sales conversion measurements are not enough for us. We also ask (and measure) if our customers accomplished what they intended (e.g. got information, ordered samples, read reviews). In other words, we pay attention, even to those who don't buy.

How do you pay attention to your customers, both existing and potential? I'd like to hear your ideas.

And if you're visiting Amsterdam anytime soon, maybe you could share those ideas with the women in the windows.

Photo courtesy of, by MinivanNinja
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