While I am getting ready to have 30 people over for dinner on Thanksgiving (I'm crazy, I know) Jim was gracious enough to write a few guest posts for this month as my Hometown Track Minnesota Author in the Spotlight.
If you are interested in reading/winning a copy of Jim's new book Fatal Incident please click the link: Fatal Incident Contest
Engage, don’t Sell at Book signings by Jim Proebstle
I’m new as an author, so I’m reluctant to give advice. I am not new, however, in professional selling. My entire career in corporations, like Xerox, involved responsibilities with customers, both as a salesman and as an executive. For the last twenty years I have offered consulting advice to large and small corporations in their sales management practices through Prodyne, Inc., a consulting firm I founded in 1991. The following observations and suggestions are rooted in that experience.
My first book signing was in a small B. Dalton store in Bemidji, MN. The longer I sat behind the table, the more people felt awkward in approaching me. I also knew that being a large man can make it harder for some people to warm up. It seemed intuitively obvious that day that the people who were “hovering” in the store wanted to talk to me, but didn’t know how. Being a Rotarian and sharing that value of friendship with others helped. I didn’t have to sell them the book—they knew I was selling books. I needed to engage them in the topic of reading, something we both shared as an interest.
This is where the professional selling model of listening 75% of the time comes in. But the dilemma is “How do I do that?” It starts with a smile, getting out from behind the table, shaking hands, making clear eye contact, introducing yourself and engaging them in a conversation with questions. What kinds of books do you like to read? Are you a frequent customer of the store? Have you found what you’re looking for? Is that t-shirt from the college you went to? Can I help you with a recommendation? Would you like to know more about my book? You get the picture—the list goes on. Within minutes this first book signing went from a flop to a success and, more importantly, everybody had fun.
As I gained additional exposure at book signings, the concept of being paired with other authors presented itself. Many authors, by nature, are more on the introverted side of the personality spectrum. As a result, they sit there waiting. A lady next to me fit this mode at a book signing at the Sister Wolf Bookstore in Dorset, MN. It was crowded so the prospect of getting up and wandering around wouldn’t work. She asked me what to do. I suggested that if she had a broken leg and someone came to visit at her home, what would she do? She wouldn’t sit there and say nothing. “Of course not,” she said. Think of this as the same thing. No. 1, believe they are coming to see you. No. 2, they may, or may not, buy your book. No. 3, they will buy or refer your book based on the experience they have with you, as a person. Be welcoming, be friendly, and be inquisitive. Take the pressure off them and you by engaging, not selling. They are more likely to remember your book if they have a pleasant experience to attach it to.
She asked, “How do I get people to come to my table in the first place?”
“Let me show you.” With that the next person into the store had a Michigan State University hat on. This was too easy as I am green and white clear through. I said, “Go green,” just loud enough for the person to hear.
He stopped, looked in my direction and said, “Go white.” He came to my table and bought a book. When I was done I admitted to the lady that it’s not always that easy, but she got the point. Engage people in a friendly way.
The dark side of this method is that you will occasionally attract the person who wants to tell you their life story, or about the book they want to write. Control the discussion by offering to talk more after the book signing or by simply excusing yourself to transfer the discussion as another interested reader arrives. If my wife, Carole, is with me and senses that this is happening she’ll come to my aid at the table and engage the “talker,” luring them away so I can focus my attention on others. As in every case, however, the person needs to feel good about the experience through a pleasant enjoyable dialogue.
I’m still new at this, but I don’t look at book signings the same anymore. It’s really an opportunity to meet a lot of nice people who share my interest in books. Sales of your book will be an enjoyable byproduct.