Selling Your Vision

with Melissa Bernstein

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Sales Personae

How to develop your pitch and persona

Melissa Bernstein

Co-Founder of Melissa & Doug Toys, Sales Expert, Toy Inventor

Lessons Learned

Your first pitch won't be good. You need to hear a lot of no’s to hone in on the right message.

Paint a picture of your product and how the customer will feel once they have it.

If you feel like you are not suited for sales, try taking on a personae or playing a role.


Lesson: Selling Your Vision with Melissa Bernstein

Step #3 Sales Personae: How to develop your pitch and persona

What we realized of course after doing that for a few years that that really wasn't the way to increase our distribution dramatically because going door to door and driving miles and miles to different states, we could only cover a very small handful of stores. It was exhausting to think about doing that for our lives we wouldn't be able to do anything else much less start a family and all the things we wanted to do. We had to think of another way. Most people would hire a whole bunch of rep companies because basically what you do is you hire again these firms that operate regionally and operate categorically within the industries. So there would be a toy rep in New England, a toy rep in the New York metro area, toy rep in the Southeast and you probably have to cover the country you might have up to a hundred rep groups throughout the country handling different categories. It would be toys, it would be gifts, it would be clothing and it's pretty complicated to get all these groups and to manage them because they're all different groups.

But we said, "You know what? We don't think they're going to do our little product justice," so we decided, again, another one of those fateful decisions, how are we going to expand our distribution? We would get a list of every store we can sell to and we will call them. Again nobody had ever done this before. So what we did is we went to the library in Stamford, Connecticut and we spent two months literally going through microfiche which were those little acetate slides and we couldn't afford to copy them because it was like 25 cents a copy and we were truly broke. I will say for the first five years of our business we ate turkey hot dogs and ramen noodles because ramen noodles were on sale at eight for a dollar and turkey hot dogs were 10 for 99 cents. We were so poor that we had a one burner, one of those little burners in our office and one pot that was pretty disgusting by the end of the five years. We would cook our ramen noodles and cut up the turkey hot dogs in it.

We couldn't afford 25 cents a copy because it would have cost us thousands of dollars to print them. So we copied them. Of course we didn't put a lot of value on our time at that small point but we copied down thousands and thousands of names of toy, gift, children stores throughout the country using the yellow pages on microfiche and came back to our office about two months later with this very large list and proceeded to call all these stores.

These stores were not used to being called by someone in Connecticut to be sold to. Again the relationships were all done through rep groups who would visit these stores and would make appointments and visit. So what would usually happen, a typical phone call at the very beginning would be, “Hi, this is Melissa and I'm calling about this product we have, I would love to tell you about it." And they would say "What rep group are you with" and we'd say "Actually we're our own rep group" and at least 80% of the time you'd hear a click and you would be like "Hello, hello. Nope they're not there." No Rep Group no call.

That was most of them but about 20% of them we'd say "Well, wait stop” because of course I should realize they were about to hang up, I would say "We are young. We are just at a college and we put our life savings into this product and we just want to tell you about it for a sec. We'd be happy to send it to you totally risk free; you don't even have to pay us." And some of them would say, “Okay when can you be here? I will get my calendar." Then, "Actually you're in Iowa, I'm in Connecticut. I'm so sorry, I can't really go there,” and then you'd hear "They can't come here," click. That was the other 20%. So pretty much at the beginning was a complete hang up, whether it would be because we didn't have a rep group or because we couldn't actually go to their store and meet with them.

We learned to tailor our pitch and what it became ultimately was, "Okay hold on. We're going to send you six of these products completely risk free. Literally we will give them to you on a complete consignment, we will give you a free demo to show your customers, allow them to take it home to use it. Then if for any reason they don't sell, they don't work, we will take them back risk free, 100% returnable." It literally became our weigh in. We didn't even send generally anything in advance. We had a little baby at that point into it and I listened to a lot of home shopping network in the middle of the night. I always was very fascinated by the way that those announcers could really paint such a picture of product that I honestly I didn't believe necessarily was that great, but they made people feel so incredible about getting it.

I really learned from that about painting the picture because we really did have a good product and of course Doug and I were not sales people. In fact I'm the most introverted non sales person on the planet and if you asked me the last thing I would ever do in this world it would be selling product. Because I hate rejection, I'm not good at tooting my own horn, I don't like to force people into things and I'm very worried about what people think. But listening to that, it sort of became a little bit of being an actress and really taking on a persona and really convincing people to do something that, the good news is for us and since the very beginning we have believed that our product does really good things.

Best off when you sell an actual consumable you are making that customer money immediately and you're helping them to survive and to send their kids to college and to put food on the table. So you feel it's not like selling an intangible where you can't really define what it's going to do for someone or you can't define what it's going to do for them for a long time like insurance, but for us it's literally that "I'm going to send you these six products and as of five minutes after you get them they theoretically could double your money and then you just have to pay me half and then you can take that money and do whatever you want with it." It was very intoxicating in that sense that we could be offering people a way to really help their stores and get their consumers really excited about what they had to offer.

Over many years we've really honed our skill in over the phone getting people to become really excited about something that you are offering them to be so compelling and so passionate that you could actually change behavior. It became really sort of a psychological study but really exciting to be able to do that and then coming full circle, to send them the product and really have them experience this incredible success with it, not at the beginning but way later on when we actually had a good selling product, to the point where they would call you and say, “Oh my gosh Melissa, I cannot believe you were right." There's no better feeling as a sales person who has convinced someone to do something that they may not want to do, to hear that you were right that it worked and that they're so excited and that they believe you. And now they trust you and are willing to allow you to help them to really grow the relationship. So that's very exciting.

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