What’s the easiest thing you’ve ever sold? What product was a home run for you?
For me, the easiest thing I’ve ever sold is Girl Scout Cookies. And by “me”, I mean, my daughter, and her troop. I’m just the driver and logistics support for the outfit.
Maybe this isn’t exactly a subjective comparison to the other things I’ve sold . . . TV Ads, Office Space, Print, Flowers, or Business Services . . . but looking at how easily my daughter and her Girl Scout counterparts have been able to sell cookies, I can’t help but think, “DANG – I wish everything was this easy to sell!”
This is our third year selling Girl Scout Cookies and aside from the incredible back-end administrative operation responsible for organizing, administrating, and coordinating the delivery of a nationwide hot commodity – the cookies almost sell themselves.
I say “almost.”
They almost sell themselves but the key to Girl Scout Cookies is that they’re only sold by Girl Scouts – not on the shelves of grocery stores.
Looking at this product and the sellers, I tried to see if there are some lessons that I can take away from the success and apply to my own products or my clients’ sales efforts. This was actually pretty easy. A far cry from most customer surveys, people actually stop to tell you exactly WHY they love buying the cookies. Some, dare I say, even GUSH about their reasoning and are happy to make the purchase.
First, I studied why people buy Girl Scout Cookies:
They create feelings of nostalgia – So many women tell our girls, “I was a Girl Scout too!” They share if they were Brownies, or Juniors, where they went to camp, things they did, badges they earned, and memorable moments. Even dads would chime in with, “My daughters were Girl Scouts for 4 years and we would load up the car and go out selling!” The memories associated with these boxes of cookies are STRONG!
These cookies are a slice of Americana – Ask a military person if they’ve ever received a box of cookies in their care package and they’ll brighten right up. Each year, Girl Scout Councils across the nation send hundreds of thousands of boxes to servicemen and women in the “Troop to Troop” program. Girl Scout cookies remind them of home and scouts marching in parades, going door to door . . . all those slices of Americana that give you the warm and fuzzies.
They do it to support their community – Many who bought at cookie booths expressed their obligation to “Support the Girls in our community.” The girls you’re buying from are your neighbors and grow up to be your doctors, your lawyers, your engineers, your teachers, or your astronauts. To quote one neighbor, “If you say no to Girl Scouts . . . what’s next, kicking cats?”
They buy because these cookies are tasty – Some might even say “addictive”. Everyone has a favorite cookie, a favorite way to eat it, or a favorite recipe. Have you tried frozen thin mints (or used them in a milkshake?) Last year I layered those smooth peanut butter Tag A Longs into my brownie batter. And when I had leftover Trefoils, I used them in a pie crust. Yeah, they’re versatile and delicious. Just do a quick internet search on “Wine pairing for Girl Scout Cookies” and you’ll see thousands of results. People take these cookies very seriously.
So what do Girl Scouts DO with this knowledge?
They pre-sell and create a sense of urgency – Knowing that there is a “season” to cookie sales and that when they’re gone, you have to wait a whole 10 months for them to return is a pretty good story to tell. There could be a Thin Mint shortage and then where would you be? Girls start talking up cookies and taking pre-orders so troops (and the operation as a whole) can manage inventory and maximize their sales.
They present in uniform – Wearing those iconic sashes or vests create immediate brand recognition and draw on all those reasons above as to why people buy. It’s a brilliant way to make your customers connect with your product. Look sharp. Dress the part.
They ask for the business – Something even the best sellers find tough to do, Girl Scouts are trained to make the ask. It’s actually a cool part of the process. Watching girls get more confident at talking to people, looking strangers in the eye and engaging them really boosts their self-esteem. I’ve seen my daughter and other girls progress through the years. My daughter ran me ragged through our neighborhood on a freezing day because she found the thrill of success addictive. We’ve actually talked extensively about ways to engage and compel people to buy. I may have created a monster with this one.
They counter – Again, even some of the best sellers have a tough time with this one. I don’t know about all Girl Scouts but my girls – almost instinctively – don’t give up after the first “no.” When they got a “no thanks” they would counter with “OK, so no cookies, but would you consider a donation to our troop? Every bit helps us get closer to our goals.” I don’t have the stats on our conversion rate with this counter but I know it works.
They show up where their customers are – Another brilliant bit of strategy here. Girls sell cookies where their customer base is. They go where they’re known, recognized, and where buyers are primed. It seems counter-intuitive that girls would set up booths to sell $4.00 boxes of cookies outside the grocery store but those are highly coveted spots with incredible conversion rates. Scores of people with food on the brain pass them by and many stop to make purchases. Girls set up booths at home improvement stores, banks, big box retailers, and even in their own neighborhoods. Lastly, girls can also sell online now in their own Digital Cookie Stores. These allow the girls to get the word out via Facebook and email – showing up in all the places their customers are spending time.
So what do can YOU do with this knowledge?
I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to take the lessons of this multi-million dollar industry and incorporate them into my sales practices.
First, I’m going to help my clients probe deeper into WHY their customers buy. Please don’t read this as a “send out another survey” directive. Surveys are good but people open up to people, not forms.
Create a list of your customers and vary the types by size, location, product, or other variables. Figure out what questions will help loosen them up to get them to share deeper, more meaningful information with you. Not just data, get stories, gather testimonials, gain insights into their experiences – good, bad, and NEED TO FIX PRONTO.
Next, I’m going to make sure all those “WHY they buy” moments are packed into our communication. From emails to presentations to website and marketing materials, those very “real” customer insights should show up – in their own words, not yours. This is a good checks and balances moment to make sure you’re not throwing industry or product jargon out to your customers.
Lastly, we’re going to train our sellers harder – like the Girl Scouts: Understand why our customers buy. Figure out WHY now. Make the ask. Don’t give up with brush-offs. Show up where our customers are.
Everything in my life seems to fall into two categories: Coaching and Selling. So this blog about being a Girl Scout leader selling cookies and extracting the “coaching” or training gems shouldn’t surprise you. Neither should this . . .
If you found this helpful and want to support Girl Scouts and the next generation of Leaders and Women Sales Professionals by buying those tasty cookies. And, by the way, Girl Scout Cookies can last in your freezer for about 6 months or you can designate your purchase to be donated to troops.
How’d I do there?
Until next time, stop hoping, start SELLING!
Such a great organization.
I had the honor of training a room full of Girl Scouts, prior to cookie selling season, on how to sell more cookies. It was SO much fun working with young girls (not that working with rooms filled with seasoned professional salespeople isn’t fun (it is) and they, and their parents, were so grateful it was a joy. Even better was receiving acknowledgement after the sale was done on having helped them to sell substantially more than the year before, including their top performers!!
Thanks for sharing, Jeff! I love that we’re training and witnessing what could be our next generation of sales pros!
Such a great post! As a Troop Cookie Coordinator this year, I can wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said here. It’s amazing how well they sell BUT the extra effort of the “ask” makes all the difference.
And boy do these girls WORK HARD. Try pulling three two-hour cookie shifts on a Saturday, in three difference locals – at Seven or Eight Years old! The girls and the parents that support them are amazing.
And those Tagalongs you speak of? 1 quart heavy whipping cream, 1 quart half and half, 2 cups sugar – two Tbl Spoons Vanilla Extract and 1 box of Tagalongs….all into the ice cream maker….aaaaannnnnddd YOU’RE WELCOME!
They do work hard! Especially if they have a goal and a purpose! My scouts decided to use their proceeds for a big camping trip and hit their goal this year. They’re so proud of themselves. What a phenomenal experience you’ve helped create, Derek! Can’t wait to try that ice cream recipe!