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Lessons from an Umbrella Salesman

14705332 9Bf5295F15Warning – Tangent Ahead

Yesterday I was in the centre of Melbourne and got stuck in the rain (no comments from my interstate friends please). I had left home without an Umbrella and quickly made the decision that I needed to buy one as I was going to be spending a fair bit of time walking around and I wasn’t in the mood for getting drenched.

Being the researcher that I am when it comes to making purchases I decided to check out a number of options for umbrellas before buying one. I started with a larger department store (it was where I was when I first saw it was raining).

I couldn’t find anyone to ask where they were so set out on my journey to discover the ‘umbrella department’.

After about 15 minutes of searching up and down floors and in different sections I eventually found it hidden away in an obscure corner on an upstairs floor. I was quie hot and flustered by the time I found them and wasn’t really too impressed with the range or prices (they started at $30). I guess they were nice enough umbrellas to look at but I wasn’t in the mood after my hike around the shop to fork out that much for an umbrella. It seems no one else was impressed by the location or the range because in the 5 or so minutes that I was there testing what they did have I saw no one else shopping for umbrellas despite the heavy rain outside.

I left the department store (without making a purchase) and proceeded down the street that the department store was on. Within 20 or so meters, just a few doors up, I saw a guy with a bit of a crow around him. He was standing outside of a discount shop next to a massive stand of umbrellas with a massive sign that said ‘UMBRELLAS $5′.

As I approached him I was fascinated to see people digging around in their pockets for loose change and handing him money in exchange for an umbrella as they walked by (barely stopping). The umbrellas he was selling were all the same color and quality (not the best as you’d expect for $5) and virtually no one was stopping to check out whether they were any good or not.

As I stopped to watch him sell the umbrellas I was amazed to see how many he sold in just a few minutes. He was selling so many that other sales people came out to help, bringing with them more boxes of umbrellas to sell. The scene couldn’t have been more different to the umbrella department I’d just been in.

Obviously this discount store had thought through their umbrella sales strategy and knew that most people buy umbrellas when it’s raining (the umbrella stand wasn’t there the week before when it was sunny) and that if you have them at a low enough price point they’ll buy them on impulse. They’d learned the art of positioning and were exploiting it for all it was worth. They also had learned the art of making it as easy as possible for people to engage with them by bringing the stand onto the street and by making the price accessible for a quick sale.

Lessons from an Umbrella Salesman

As I watched the umbrella sales guy doing his job I asked myself what I could learn as a blogger from his strategy. A number of ‘lessons’ came to mind:

1. Anticipate Needs: The umbrella guy had obviously planned for rain. Maybe not that day, but he had a plan in place for the day that rain did happen (not an uncommon thing at this time on year in Melbourne). He knew what he’d do and how he’d do it when the opportunity came.

Bloggers need to learn to anticipate the needs of their readers also.

Mothers DayA prime example of an opportunity for this happened yesterday where many parts of the world celebrated Mothers Day. Technorati’s front page shows that ‘mothers day’ is one of the most searched for terms in their engine today and that it’s also one of the ‘hottest tags’ in the blogosphere also.

I talked with one entrepreneurial blogger who is in a ‘mother’ related niche yesterday and she told me that she’d had big traffic this week from people searching for gift ideas for their mums.

Of course to capitalize on this interest in people searching the web for ‘mothers day’ related keywords you would have needed to write about it some time ago. The blogger I spoke with had been writing keyword specific posts for over a month in anticipation of the opportunity.

The same thing happens all year long.

Another example – Bloggers writing today about the Da Vinci Code Movie (released later in the week) have left it too late to get highly ranked in Google.

Smart bloggers watch their niche for future trends and opportunities and respond as quickly as possible to be positioned to reap the rewards.

2. Identify Goals and Position Self for them: The umbrella sales guy had the goal of selling as many umbrellas as possible and so when the window of opportunity presented itself he positioned himself perfectly for it.

One of the first questions I ask bloggers that I consult with is:

‘what are the goals you have for your blog?’

The reason for this is that whatever the answer is will help us to determine what should be in the prime positions on a blog.

Blogs have ‘hot spots’ on them – physical places on a blog which tend to attract the eye of a reader. These are positions that tend to convert better than others when it comes to the goals that we might have.

Obviously we talk about this in terms of Advertising here at ProBlogger a fair bit. If your goal is to make money directly from a blog then you’ll want to put your ads in the hot spots – but the same principle applies if you have other goals. For instance:

  • If you want to grow an email newsletter – put a way to subscribe in your hotspots
  • If you want to build your RSS subscriber list – put your RSS subscription buttons in the hotspots
  • If you want to build your profile and become famous – sell yourself in the hotspots
  • If you want people to discuss your posts – make sure your comments section is in a hotspot
  • If you want to pick up consulting work – tell potential clients what you do and how to contact you in the hotspots
  • If you want to sell a product – put an ad for it in the hotspots
  • If you want to find a girl friend – put a sexy picture and your phone number…. in the hotspots

You get the idea.

What are the hotspots?
These vary a lot from blog to blog and you should experiment to see what positions convert best however there are a few starting points. If you want to learn about them you might be interested in reading a post I wrote about positioning ads – much of which is applicable for many of the other goals that you might want to achieve using the hotspot strategy.

3. Make it Easy: The last thing that umbrella sales guy did was make it incredibly easy for his customers to buy an umbrella. This was partially about positioning himself smartly – but it was also about his pricing. For starters the umbrellas were cheap and secondly they were an easy amount to pay for. Here in Australia a $5 is a pretty common note to have in a wallet or purse and if you don’t have it you’ll normally have a couple of $2 and a $1 coin. Almost all of his customers had the right change and he rarely had to hold them up to give them change.

He also had open umbrellas ready to be sold. This meant customers could see the umbrella both in it’s folded and open state to determine it’s coverage and made the time between buying and using the umbrella incredibly quick. Lastly because all the umbrellas were the same there was no need to stop and choose – you either bought one or you didn’t. Sales were seamless and incredibly easy.

When you consider your blogging goals it’s worth thinking a little beyond positioning and to consider how easy it is for your readers to do what you want them to do.

I was on one blog recently that obviously wanted me to subscribe to their newsletter. When I tried to do it I was taken through five pages asking for different details before I was subscribed. The only reason I did it was to see how hard it was – but I suspect most people would have given up after a couple of pages. If you want someone’s email address for a newsletter just get their email address and make sure they don’t have to go through any more stages than they have to to get it.

If you want people to contact you about consulting – give them a one click way of sending you an emailing expressing interest.

The easier you make it for people to do what you want them to do the higher the chances are that they’ll do it.

The umbrella sales guy must have sold hundreds of umbrellas yesterday simply by anticipating needs, positioning himself for success and making it easy for his customers to buy his product. How will you work on these principles in your blogging this week?

update: In a nice post ‘Picture my World’ has a post bouncing off this one called Lessons from a Ice Cream Truck.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Damn, you are SOOO right, Darren.

    This month of May is actually Asian Pacific American Hertiage Month. Darn, a potentially wasted opportunity. Must rectify soon.

  2. Ohad says:

    Darren,
    Real insightful post.
    I think most of us (bloggers) need to think this post up and maybe adapt our blogs accordingly (I know I will). The example of the umbrela salesman is a great one and I think it will stick in my mind for a while (until your next post?)

    Waiting for more good stuff from you.

  3. James says:

    Darren, that’s quite a keen sense of observation you’ve got & I think what you wrote is great. Especially the part on timing the trend that is coming and writing content for it early.

    Making it easy for customers to sign in, to buy or anything is also a key thing. Many blogs and companies make it so tough to “purchase” what they are selling.

  4. Razib Ahmed says:

    It is true for the journalists too. I have seen many journalists who are prepared well in advance about a special event or special day from 2-3 months before. This gives them enough time to do the research and think. You gave the example of mother day here and like this everyday there is something to celebrate about. For example, after 3 weeks WOrld Cup football 2006 is going to take place in Germany. I have written a few entries about it and thus I have good feedback from Google search and Blog Search. But those bloggers who will start now or after one week will only regret perhaps for their efforts.

  5. Definitely one of your better posts – and that says a lot. I’ve already written down upcoming trends for my niche and will continue to update on a regular basis. In fact, I’m going to put these on my calendar, with checkpoints for one month before, 2 weeks before, etc. to encourage regular postings on approaching events.

  6. Gina Cobb says:

    Great post!

  7. George Manty says:

    Excellent post! My wife has been anticipating holidays and events on her blog by posting a few weeks ahead of the holiday or event and we have seen some decent search engine traffic spikes right before and during the event or holiday.

    Loved the story as well. A lot of good advice.

    - George

  8. IntelliStore says:

    Probably the best post I’ve read here. Another excellent post!

  9. brem says:

    I always try to incorporate invaluable lessons I learn into my blogging…

    But between “I say I do” and “I do”, there is an ocean sometimes ;)

  10. Really great post!
    Thanks. It is really something to think about and start to work on. Now I have to figure out how to use it. Also, it is just a fantastic story.

  11. Excellent, on the mark.
    HERE’S A TIP FOR FELLOW READERS ON ANTICIPATING NEEDS:
    Find/Make a calendar with important dates in your niche. For example, I write on Canadian Politics. Our federal politicians will take a break in the summer, and I expect people to look around about how come they get this vacation: the terms of employment of our MPs. Similarly, we have a minority government, which tells me that next April will be an important point in “Canadian Conservative budget” searches, because the government might fall on the budget.

    LeCentre
    Centrerion Canadian Politics
    centrerion.blogspot.com

  12. Roger says:

    Darren,

    You forgot to say if you bought an umbrella in the end…

    Great article – I look forward to reading more soon

  13. Henry says:

    Darren I think the “Anticipation” aspect of the post is probably the best one you’ve put up so far.

    Great work on this man!

  14. Anthony says:

    Great analogy.

    I was in Melbourne two fridays ago and walked from the Southbank precint to Southern Cross Station in the pouring rain. I didn’t see any umbrella salespeople but I wasn’t really looking. Heaps of people offered to let me walk with them under their unbrellas (which I was pleasantly surprised to see) but I was happy feeling the water against my face and doing my own thing in my own little world. A Darren like blogging lesson from my story??? Ummmm ….there is none. Except maybe that Melbourne people are nice, I’m super tough and sometimes it’s cool to do your own thing in your own way just to see what happens.

  15. Nice post Darren, you really got me thinking on looking at everyday things and finding my own tangents on what works and what doesn’t work.

  16. Martin says:

    nice essay =)

  17. Markus Merz says:

    Very beautiful and ‘juicy’ real life story!

    I recommended it at performancing.com. Much better IMO then the little piece I wrote about ‘timing’ :-)

  18. Kat C. says:

    I just finished my blog post on my umbrella habits. I was looking for blogs on people with same eccentricity. I was directed to this problogger article. Nice work, Darren!

  19. waterylife says:

    a great post! I know how to take today’s exercise in the 31 days project. thanks!

  20. Paleez says:

    Great post! Made me think about being more observant out in public.

    I wanted to let you know I absolutely love reading your newsletter. You’ve convinced me that I want to start blogging. I suffer from the same problem as brem does though, “But between “I say I do” and “I do”, there is an ocean sometimes ;)”

  21. Mrs Green says:

    Yes! I have a calender for the year which has all the celebrations and holidays with a green theme that i will want to cover.

    I try to theme things to relevant upcoming events where possible, but I can definitely do more to ensure I do things long enough in advance to get google sitting up and taking note.

    The hotspots idea is fab; I’ll be utilising that for advertising in the future.

    Great umbrella salesman and thank you for sharing all that you learned!

  22. Bloggers and marketers do need to get out more. It is difficult sometimes to allow ourselves “the time” to stop and “smell the roses”. To observe life happening around us, to enjoy and learn from it. Next time I have a cup of coffee after shopping instead of thinking about the next errand that needs to be done I’ll contemplate on what I have observed and really enjoy the moment of drinking the coffee i.e. LIFE. Inspiration for an awesome blog post is sure to follow.

  23. chris adams says:

    Hi, just a note (i’m following the 31 day challenge) and i noticed in your post “crow” where you clearly meant “crowd”.

    You perfection deserves the correction.

  24. Ares Vista says:

    This is awesome! Very educational, this could be used in a business class. Simple business tactics making mad money, gotta love it. This inspires me to look for the opportunity in the rainy days we may face. Thanks!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The combination of two posts from my subscriptions this morning made me realize that Matt Mullenweg would make a great umbrella salesman. The first of them was Darren’s story about what bloggers can learn from a Melbourne umbrella salesman. [...]

  2. [...] This brings me to my example given to us by Darren Rowse from problogger.net. Go read his article he put up today called Lessons from an Umbrella Salesman. From that story you will learn the passion not only from the Umbrella Salesman but from Darren himself. He takes a situation that he got himself into and thinks how he can relate it to blogging. As I watched the umbrella sales guy doing his job I asked myself what I could learn as a blogger from his strategy. A number of ‘lessons’ came to mind: [...]

  3. [...] One blogger in Melbourne learned some important lessons from an umbrella salesman yesterday. [...]

  4. [...] Darren of ProBlogger wrote this excellent post about an experience he had the other day with an umbrella salesman. There are some great marketing lessons to be learned from his post. I just wanted to quickly touch on a couple of them. [...]

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