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Smooth Sellers

Smooth Seller: Neil Prati

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Top salespeople share their secrets

[h3]Neil Prati[/h3]

[h5]Josephs Jewelers; Des Moines, IA[/h5]

[componentheading]PROFILE[/componentheading]

Smooth Sellers: Neil Prati

[dropcap cap=N]eil Prati embodies the phrase, “you can take the boy out of the country, but not the country out of the boy.” Born in a small town in Iowa, Prati is and remains the consummate small-town kid, with one exception — his high-dollar, city slicker sales. With Prati serving as store manager/top salesperson, Josephs sold roughly $5 million in 2004, $1 million of which was sold by Prati alone thanks in part to an 80% closing ratio. Prati’s retail jewelry selling career started as a jewelry customer when he bought his wife’s engagement ring. His then-fiancée dropped out of college and began working at the jewelry store where the young couple purchased their ring. After several visits to his wife’s store, Prati began selling jewelry. That was over 34 years ago and the 53-year-old salesman shows no signs of slowing down.

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A fourth-generation store, JOSEPHS JEWELERS opened its doors in Des Moines, IA in 1871 when Solomon Joseph calibrated watches for men working on the railroad. Over 130 years later, brothers John and Toby Joseph have three jewelry stores, offering customers in this Midwestern city’s market a wide inventory of quality jewelry and watches. Josephs is a member of the New York Diamond Dealers Club and the stores are staffed with American Gem Society Registered Jewelers and Certified Gemologists[/dropcap]

[componentheading]INTERVIEW[/componentheading]

[blockquote class=orange]I recall how tense it was the day before starting my job. I didn’t know anything about jewelry…[/blockquote]

• I got my start in jewelry when shopping for my wife’s engagement ring. I recall how tense it was the day before starting my job. I didn’t know anything about jewelry so the most logical approach to starting this job was remembering the 12 birthstones before my first day. I liked geology and appreciated what it took to produce a beautiful gemstone. There’s a lot of rocks and gravel in this world … but not many gemstones.  

• You’ve got to think in different scales for different customers. For some women, a 1-carat diamond is a promise ring, while for others a 10-point diamond in a setting is an engagement ring.  

• The only limits to making a big sale are the ones I place on myself. A salesperson must be confident in what they’re doing; they have to push the envelope a bit so they can do something that big.  

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• A line I like to use on guys when showing them an expensive diamond ring, about $10,000, is “what cars are to guys, diamonds are to women … you don’t buy an expensive car because you need it, you buy one because you want it — same goes for women and diamonds.” I go on to explain that there’s not a car on the lot that costs less than $10,000. You buy a car, drive for five years, then sell it or trade it in for much less than you paid for it. But with a diamond, you buy it and it lasts forever. Everyone has silly things that they spend too much money on. If you get people to think about such spending behaviors, they’re more inclined to spend more on a diamond.  

• I’ve never gotten angry at a customer in the 34 years I’ve been working retail. It’s simply not professional. I’ve never thought a person was so completely wrong that I’d get angry at them. If people do want to make a salesperson angry, they’re being irrational and I feel sorry for them. If I’m ever in that situation, it’s best not to let them leave on a bad note. Say something like “I’m really sorry you’re having a bad day.”

• I never turn over a sale,
I turn it around. I’m the store manager and a salesperson so I blend the two positions in a “solutions-oriented” way when it comes to sales. As the store manager, I’m the one people turn over sales to — I’m the go-to guy. As [former US president Harry] Truman said, “the buck stops here” with me. If you ask enough questions, there’s always a way to find common ground with a customer.

[blockquote class=orange]I read two or three trade magazines a week outside of work. Anyone who reads that much work-related material during work should be fired[/blockquote]

• I don’t need to get psyched up for a day at work. I have so much energy I need to calm down before going to work.  

• I read two or three trade magazines a week outside of work. Anyone who reads that much work-related material during work should be fired. They’re not spending enough time on selling.  

• I only call a customer when it’s a favor to them. If it’s about me and the sale I don’t call. But if a customer has been in and shown interest in something I think they might like, I’ll give them a call when something special comes in. If you call too often, it’s like crying wolf. When I call them about something special I want their visit to the store to be that way. So, I save such calls for only special occasions.  

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• It’s important that I dress better than my customers. If a guy comes in wearing a suit, I want him to know that I’m as well-dressed for my job as he is dressed for his job. For the guy who comes in wearing jeans, he’ll know I’m professional enough to complete the sale. It’s important to present the proper image. If you’re dressed too casual, people making a lifetime purchase won’t take you seriously.  

• When I approach a customer
I say to myself that this person is going to be my friend and he’ll know why he or she is shopping at Joseph’s. I help the customer do what it is they want to do in our store. And, that the customer is confident in the product and its value so that means they’ll be back.  

• I don’t go looking for sales advice. If you’re the best at what you do, you know how to stay on top of your game. I read a lot of magazines, but some are filled with bad advice. Always take what’s in print with a pinch of salt.

• I don’t have any opening lines. They don’t work. I don’t like structure and I like to keep nimble on the sales floor during a presentation and enjoy spontaneity.  

• If I see a couple leaning toward one purchase over another I usually say, “Then it’s unanimous?” This helps nudge them towards making a consensus.  

• The best sales help
I ever got was from a guy at a stereo shop. When he approached me we had a great conversation. Eventually he learned that I was in the store to just look around and we agreed that should I need his assistance he would make himself available. But when I heard him use the exact same opening lines on another customer it turned me off. The rapport he established with me suddenly felt disingenuous. I was so put off by that experience that I stormed out of the store quite upset. The experience taught me a lot about the way I wanted to sell. I never want my customer approach to be so practiced.  

• I don’t use risky lines
but I tend to put my head in the lion’s mouth a lot. Many salespeople in the same market go the same sales training and they all sound the same. For customers, their jewelry buying experience is like a McDonald’s franchise. Jewelry isn’t about selling two billion of anything. It’s about white linen tablecloths and candles.

[blockquote class=orange]I’m an Iowa farm boy and if you don’t show up for work on a farm, living things die.[/blockquote]

• A good closing signal is when a customer asks “what do you think?” When they ask for my input, I go from being a salesperson to a counselor on their side. In fact, that’s how I always start a sale — on their side of the counter.  

• When I’m making a sale, I like to think of myself as MacGyver [from the 1980s television show]. I like solving problems by thinking outside the box. Customers appreciate the approach when they are presented with an unusual solution to an unusual challenge.  

• If I’m sick or tired, I just get up and do it. I don’t even think about it. I’m an Iowa farm boy and if you don’t show up for work on a farm, living things die. In my 27 years here at Joseph’s, I’ve been absent about six or seven days.  

• People who think closing a sale is better than sex don’t know my wife!

• I can’t believe I used to wait for things to happen.
I thought for the first two years that customers would just come in and buy jewelry. At about that time, I realized that wasn’t how jewelry sales happened. I also realized what it meant when my boss said to me on my first day that “you won’t be any use to me for about five years.” It took me about three years to realize what I didn’t know about selling jewelry. Then I started causing things to happen by keeping customer records. It completely changed the way I sold jewelry.  

• If I wasn’t selling jewelry,
I’d be a bricklayer. I don’t mind hard work and like things that last. My grandfather was a brick layer and I remember him pointing to buildings he helped build in town. Today those buildings are still standing and haven’t worn much over the years.

[span class=note]This story is from the July 2005 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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