Standing in the middle of a mass crowd, where nobody pays attention to who you are or what you are doing, can be either the most intimidating feeling or the most relaxing experience—for many, it’s definitely not a calming sensation. I myself tried doing this; I tried marketing at the Big Fresno Fair in Fresno, California.
The fifth largest fair in California, the Big Fresno Fair attracts more than half a million people annually, fair officials say. Marketing alone can be a daunting task, but doing it in a large public arena can definitely appear even more frightening.
Costco Wholesale is a business that has overcome many of the obstacles that have stopped other retailers recently (Mervyns and Gottschalks, to name a few), due to the country’s seemingly ongoing economic crisis. While much of Costco’s profit can be credited to in-store sales, a large fraction of the wholesaler’s success is due to its outside marketing team. I brought it upon myself, this past autumn, to take part in this area of the company as they marketed at the fifth largest fair in the state.
Having never been part of a sales team or involved myself in marketing a company, I knew things were going to be difficult to get across to the public. I’m shy at first. I was not only worried as to what I was going to say to the mass crowd walking by, but also how I was going to sell a $50 membership to people who come to the Fresno Fair without the intention of purchasing something of great value. It’s not easy to reel in a fish if you can’t get the bait right.
Know Your Product
Arriving that morning at the fairgrounds, I felt like a piece of raw meat being thrown into the lion’s den—I was vulnerable. The one thing that saved me from being completely consumed by the crowd was the fact that I was able to do some background research on the memberships themselves. “You need to be knowledgeable of what you’re selling,” Sandi Ehrastom, currently the manager of the foods department with Costco, used to market for the company when they first opened in Fresno in 1985. “While the approach to the sale has changed with time,” Ehrastom continued, “there’s no change in how to prepare for a sale—and that is with research.” By knowing your product, you in turn can give the customer better information on what you’re trying to sell, said Karen Tracy, currently a Refund Clerk at Costco.
With time, one begins to grow more familiar with the product (in this case, the memberships). With growing more familiar, one is able to grow more confident in both the approach to the customer and the sales pitch. With the more confidence a marketer has, the more likely he or she is to make the sale. It’s a simple domino effect, from knowing what you’re selling exactly to making the final sale itself.
Know Your Pitch
“You have to be articulate,” says Jim Harris, General Manager of Costco in North Fresno, “because the way you word the value of the product is extremely important.” After setting up the table that afternoon on the fairgrounds, I reached into my pockets and dried my hands on the napkin I had shoved in there earlier—I was nervous. “If you don’t phrase things correctly,” Harris told me, “the product isn’t going to sound appealing.”
I got my first potential members. As they walked up, I began explaining the benefits of the company to them: It’s an annual fee of $100 if you sign-up for the Executive membership. Wrong. The key to the sale is in the way I word it, I was told. The Executive membership is only $100 at start-up and $50 at most every year after that, as the second half of your membership is guaranteed through the reward check you’ll receive from us.
It can be intimidating to talk with a stranger, yes. The fact of the matter is that you’re not out looking to talk about the weather. You’re there with a purpose—to sell a product; therefore, you need be certain of what you’re going to say to the “stranger,” because that person doesn’t need to be listening to you talk.
Know Your Audience
The public wasn’t interested. As the day wore on, I found myself talking to a crowd without a single person listening. Each family there, it seemed, had its eyes set on buying the Fresno Fair’s famous cinnamon rolls and not purchasing a membership to Costco.
By the afternoon, I was able to grab strangers’ attention; it was keeping their attention that was difficult. Donna La Notte, currently a marketer for Executive membership in Costco, explained to me that with marketing in general, you have to sometimes be persistent; some people are going to not want to listen but you do not want to let them cut you short. I couldn’t give up. I couldn’t let the company down and I couldn’t let myself down.
Persistency is key. I have to be aggressive, to an extent. “If you’re too aggressive,” La Notte told me, “you’ll turn people off.” As the day dragged on, with the heat bearing down on us, I approached another potential member and explained the benefits of Costco. I’ll give it a shot, the member said to me, I have nothing to lose with the program anyways. Success—my first contribution of many to come as I sold my first membership as a marketer.
There are certain things that you can only learn when you’re out in the field and not in a classroom. How to conduct one’s self with the public is one example. It was in unanimous agreement between all those interviewed that to be a successful marketer, one needs to be both professional and personable.
“By representing Costco in an appropriate manner,” Harris said, “you’re not only doing the company a favor, but you’re doing yourself one as well—you gain respect from those around you by acting appropriately.” The way you present yourself is key: dress appropriately and be flexible.
To be successful in the field of marketing, you need to be able to accept rejection, overcome adversity when, economically, times are tough and simply understand your “knows” to finally obtain the “yes” from a potential buyer.