The Story Behind the Story (Issue 565)

In which we are reminded that our sales occur in a context and woe be unto us if we jump forward to“take the order” or “make the sale” without understanding that contextual influence.

Imagine for a moment: You’re the owner/manager of a successful wine and spirits store. A guy you know as an occasional customer comes in one morning and says, “I am ready to start developing a small wine cellar, it’s been about 25 years since I really paid attention, I prefer reds to whites, I have a few bottles left from the early days, I like wines that are predominantly made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, I’m thinking I’d like a mix of Bordeaux reds, Napa Valley cabernets, and a sprinkling of wines from Australia and New Zealand. I want some for current consumption, and some to lay down for the next five to ten years. I need some help from you deciding what I should be buying.”

You’d be all over that, wouldn’t you? A knowledgeable buyer, someone you could work with?

So, over the course of a morning, you spend about two hours with the prospect, answering questions, sharing stories, poking into trade publications and wine ratings, telling the prospect about the best years since your prospect stopped paying attention.

At the end of the two hours, your prospective customer sighs, says “You’ve been wonderful to spend so much time with me, thank you,” leaves with several trade magazines under his arm, without spending a dime, saying, “I’m overwhelmed.” You apologize, say, “yes, go home and think about it, sorry I talked so much, I love wine, I love to talk about wine, come back and we’ll get you started.”

Several weeks go by. Your prospective customer does not return. He does not return your phone calls. What has happened?

Well… Yes, the prospect seemed ripe and ready. Yes, the prospect wanted and needed information about wines – advice and counsel. Yes, the prospect had the means to complete the purchase. And, yes, the wine wizard carried the wines that the prospect wanted. But……….

There was something missing from the conversation — the discussion of issues RELATED TO the wine purchase, the story behind the story, about which there was an enormous hint in the customer’s opening. “It’s been about 25 years since I paid attention.”

What was that about? Sounds like the prospect was “in the game” at one point, and he’s been out for 25 years. What happened to take him out of the game? What’s changed to get him back in the game? Are any of the issues that took him out of the game still a challenge? Are there any new challenges that would stop him from moving forward?

And, if there are, how will the prospect resolve those challenges (not the least of which is where to store the wines he seeks in a way that doesn’t further irritate his wife who has made it pretty clear she thinks that wine is a goofy way to spend money and no, there’s no space in her basement to set up the cellar, and ‘when are you going to drink this stuff?’, and so on.)

The sale….really….will NOT be made on the basis of information about wine. That would be the EASY part. The prospect could, with some effort, generate all of this information on his own, through the Web.

The sale will be made  IF the prospect is able to resolve the nagging issues other than choice of vintage and vineyard.

The wine wizard’s best chance of closing the sale and making his money during his lifetime comes if he is able to help his prospect resolve these issues –  think through this story-behind-the-story. This sale isn’t just about product features, prices, and ‘how many of those would you like?’


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