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From the Mouths of Babes

Some of the best selling going on right now is performed by children asking for their Christmas booty. I recently read over a hundred "Dear Santa" letters, and it quickly became obvious that there really are natural-born salespeople. Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there's a lot we can learn from these peewee peddlers.

Remember, kids haven't been to a Sales 101 class or even a motivational seminar. They've learned their craft by observing what works for others, practicing on their friends and family, and developing their own selling style. Obviously, you shouldn't act like a child in front of a customer -- children's ideas need to be polished before they're used on the over-20 crowd.

When I studied their letters, I found five basic openings to their sales presentations. They are: "I deserve it," "How's the family," "Give to others first," "You're the greatest," and "Thanks for last year's gift." Here are some ways you can apply their pitches to sell better to adults.

TALK ABOUT THE WEATHER. The first kids' sales-opening strategy sounds like, "I have been good all year at school, home, and church. So here's what I want...." When adults sell, it comes out like, "Ms. Customer, we have exchanged numerous voice mails and e-mails, you agreed to have me present to you and your committee, and you've told me that you need what I'm selling and that our pricing is fair. Now let's get started with an order for a medium-sized system."

Assuming you've covered all the bases that your customer expected, this is a strong strategy. When you start the sales process by asking them what you would need to do to win their business, and you've followed through on each step they asked for to their satisfaction, you should be in a strong position to get the sale.

The second sales-opening strategy children use is, "Dear Santa, How are you? How's Mrs. Claus? How are the reindeer and the elves? How is the weather? So here's what I want...." When adults sell, you say it like, "Mr. Customer, How are you? What did you do last weekend? How's the weather? Did you see the recent big game on TV?"

SHOULDER TO CRY ON. This strategy works great in person so long as you stop the small talk as soon as your customer's eyes glaze over. Remember to always come to a full stop after "How are you?" Many people won't tell you how they really are because they doubt that you genuinely care. You should also accept that there are some buyers who guard their private life intensely and they will never tell you any more about themselves than the fact that they are having a fine day.

The third sales-opening strategy we can learn from kids sounds like, "Please bring some boots for my dad, a necklace for my mom, a doll for my sister, and a chew toy for my dog. Please bring clothes and toys for all the people in the whole world. Don't bring me anything, but if you insist, here's what I want...."

When adults use this technique, you say something like, "I'm not really here to sell you anything. I just want to be your friend. I want to answer all your questions, perform unlimited demonstrations, and give you lots of free samples and advice."

It's great to be a resource to your clients and help them solve their other problems. Don't forget you're in sales though, and remember to sell them something every now and then, or eventually you'll go out of business. Then you can't help them anymore. One good pace you can strive for is for every favor or two you do for them, help them to buy something from you, and then you can do them a few more favors.

HONEYED WORDS. The fourth sales-opening strategy -- flattery -- is used by salespeople of all ages. When kids express it, they write, "You are the greatest in the whole world. I like your moustache. It looks like a cloud. You are my best friend. I love you very much. I love how you say 'Ho ho ho.'" Actually, it sounds about the same when adults use it. We often throw in "Have you lost weight?"

Flattery really can get you somewhere. There's so much negativity today that a compliment is always a good idea -- as long as it's sincere. There's something nice about everyone, so find it and compliment it. Complimenting their jewelry or office is usually a safe bet. Don't go overboard on flattery, but a compliment is like a piece of candy without the calories or guilt.

The last sales-opening strategy we can learn from the younger set starts with, "Thank you for the great toy last year. I really like it. This year I would like...." When adults call on their customers like this, you say, "Thank you for your last order. Would you like to order again?"

TANTRUM TIME. A good question to ask before you request their repeat business is whether it worked out the way they expected. Maybe you could ask how it could have gone better. Sometimes the problem isn't with the product or service itself but with the implementation. Perhaps the instructions are complicated or it's hard for a left-handed person to use or assemble. It's wise to flush this out before you ask for another order.

For more ideas on selling from a child's perspective, check out How to Negotiate Like a Child: Unleash the Little Monster Within to Get Everything You Want by Bill Adler, Jr. (Amacom 2005). It includes chapters wit titles such as "Throw a Tantrum," "Just Cry," "Call in Back-Up," "Be Nice," "Take Your Ball and Go Home," "Play One Side Against the Other," and "Change the Subject."

You can learn a lot from sales books and seminars. You can also discover a lot about sales just from watching children as they persuade their siblings, friends, parents - and even Santa. Happy selling!

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