Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Selling books

This past weekend Elli's school had their annual Fun Fair.  The Fun Fair is an event that has a lot of traditional carnival type elements and is used as a massive fundraiser for the school.  I volunteered for it last year and again this year; this time my duty was to display books that people had donated to the school and sell them to people passing by.  I was completely floored by the utter rubbish that people donated in the guise of 'helping out' like instruction manuals for food processors built in 1978 (which came with a couple recipes!), ripped editions of People magazine from ten years ago and gigantic tomes containing nothing but Prince Charles and Lady Diana photos and information from their wedding.  The is a pro tip for those who overvalue their own possessions:  Your crap that you haven't looked at in three decades isn't a wonderful collector's item.  It is crap and should be recycled or tossed as such and not inflicted on hapless volunteers who then have to cart it about before donating it to *other* hapless volunteers at other charities.

There were of course a good number of decent books donated and about 1/3 of the total pile got sold for the low low price of one dollar each.  It was easy to predict which books would sell!  I actually liked doing the book selling gig and although it wasn't exactly exciting it was kind of fun to sort through the piles of books to attempt to put the good stuff out front so that we could actually get it sold.  There were lots of interesting finds amongst all the random clutter and I got to spend some of the day reading excerpts from books I otherwise would never have touched.  We did encounter a problem as the day went on though which was primarily an issue of a lack of sales training.

Back when I sold things for a living we were regularly told that any hack could drop the price on something until somebody bought but real salespeople built up the value of the product instead through information, correct product choice, and occasional exaggeration.  You could drop the price when needed, of course, but often when someone chose not to buy it simply was not a price objection.  Sometimes the product was not what they needed, sometimes they were unsure of policies, sometimes they needed to consult with somebody else.  It was very important both from the salesperson's viewpoint and the customer's viewpoint to actually figure out *why* the customer was not buying.

In the case of the book sale we began by selling books for a dollar but some volunteers changed partway through to giving away books and asking for any donation at all.  I found this strange and troubling because we had signs all over trumpeting the one dollar per book price and customers were very confused.  We even ended up with several very angry people who were getting different stories from different volunteers; they would have been fine with donating or buying at a fixed price but the inconsistency bothered them.  The trouble was that people weren't avoiding buying books because of the cost.  Lowering the price wasn't going to produce more sales!  If someone doesn't buy a book for a dollar they just aren't interested in the book and changing prices only makes people feel confused or taken advantage of.

People like helping the local school and they like a bargain.  What they really hate is feeling like other people got a better deal than they did or that if they had just talked to a different person or come at a different time that the price would have been different.  One of the worst things we can do for the longterm success of the school and the fundraiser is make people go away feeling like they got scammed.

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