The Accidental Sales Seminar

Chris Lytle

Editor’s Note: In this excerpt from his book “The Accidental Salesperson” (Amacom Books, 2012), Chris Lytle relays the “accidental sales training” he experienced while tagging along with his wife on a tour of the Waterford Crystal factory in Ireland.

Lesson 1: Qualify your prospects for interest and money early in the sales process.

After a 42-mile trip on narrow Irish roads lined with hedgerows, we arrive at the Waterford Crystal factory and follow the signs to “The Tour.” They are selling tickets for the next tour, which starts at 11 a.m. We buy two tickets for 2 pounds each and the very pleasant ticket seller invites us to “Please wait in our gallery.”

Lesson 2: Let your prospects know early on that you have worked with other prestigious clients.

People feel more comfortable when they know other smart buyers have recognized quality. There’s a magnificent chandelier and art-gallery quality crystal designed by Waterford’s masters. There are replicas of professional golf trophies and the crystal football that goes to the number one NCAA Division I football team in the United States.

Lesson 3: Tell stories about the founder and the vision. Don’t just sell your product; sell the people who are behind the product. This humanizes your company and adds value.

We board one of three buses. More than 250,000 people take this tour each year. About 120 of us are taking it now. As we move toward the first stop, our guide tells us, in her intriguing Irish accent, that Waterford’s aim is not to be the largest crystal maker in the world, just the best. We learn that the creation of every piece of Waterford Crystal celebrates a tradition of perfection in craftsmanship dating back to 1783. Little has changed since George and William Penrose first opened their glass-making factory in 1783.

Lesson 4: Build value into the product at every stage of your sales or manufacturing process.

We enter the “blowing room” and our guide mentions that it takes five years of apprenticeship before a glassblower can make a product that leaves the factory and goes into a customer’s home. The tour proceeds to the cutting room, where cutters work to release the light trapped in the crystal by the intense heat. It takes eight years of apprenticeship to become a cutter and requires great strength to keep the crystal firm against the wheel. There’s more. If a cutter goes one “silly millimeter” too far with what is essentially a high-speed, diamond-edged saw, he can put a hole in a goblet or vase. Since there are no “seconds” at Waterford (we learn this in the middle of The Tour), the piece is rejected and the cutter loses part of his piecework pay. The goblet is smashed and goes back to the furnace to begin the process again.

Lesson 5: Market the training your people go through and the standards to which they are held, not just your product.

The guide makes sure we see a defective piece. She also shows us the “graduation bowl.” In order to pass from apprentice to cutter, you must put every cut into the bowl. You have three, 20-hour exams to do it to the exacting Waterford standards. Fail and you cannot be a cutter; pass and you get to keep your job and the graduation bowl. It’s your diploma for eight years of apprenticeship.

Lesson 6: Your own facility is a powerful visual aid. Selling prospects on taking a tour is easier than selling them product. Selling them product is easier after they’ve taken the tour.

I witness a buying frenzy as bargain hunters turn into discerning crystal connoisseurs. My fellow tour members queue at cash registers. Sales clerks scan the proffered plastic through the machines so quickly you wonder if it might melt. I marvel at the number of people who thought they were going to get a deal but who are now lining up to pay full retail price.

I paid two pounds to take a tour of the Waterford Crystal factory. We paid a lot more than that for the wine glasses, rocks glasses, brandy snifters, cake knife, limited edition vase, and the seahorse souvenirs. But the sales training was free.