An article in last Friday’s online Wall Street Journal had the title that needed no further explanation: “At The Microsoft Store On Surface Day, A Need For Noble Lies.” Tom Gara, the author of the piece, wrote that on the day Microsoft released one of its most significant new products in recent years, the Surface, their in-house retail salesforce appeared to be ill-equipped to answer some of the most fundamental, not to mention obvious, questions to which prospective customers would demand answers before handing over their hard-earned money.

Perhaps Microsoft forgot to review what selling and buying are before they trained their salespeople. Very simply, buyers are looking to gather the data and information they need to make an fully informed purchase decision about a product with the smallest investment of their time possible. Knowing that, then what is selling? Again, in the simplest of terms, selling is providing the answers to the buyer’s question in the shortest time possible.

One of two situations occurred with Microsoft with the Surface rollout and neither is good. Either Microsoft didn’t correctly anticipate the most basic questions their prospects would ask and furnish their sales team with the corresponding answers. Or they didn’t take the time to drill their team in how to use these answers so that it became second nature for them to provide the right information to the buyer in the heat of a crowded, fast-paced and pressure-filled sales environment.

Let’s deconstruct a few sentences in the story that stood out to illustrate the problems.

1. “(The Surface) is a complex sell, and the staff in this particular store didn’t seem to be up to it.”

Let’s be clear about one thing. The Surface is not a complex sale. I spent years selling large communications networks with prices that ran into the millions of dollars and those were complex sales. The Surface? Not so much. It may very well be a hard sale, given the competitive environment, but that shouldn’t be confused with being complex.

Here was one of the most significant recent product releases for Microsoft, one of the first to be rolled out through their growing network of company-owned retail stores, with their own cadre of Microsoft salespeople. And these salespeople, by the account of the Wall Street Journal reporter, were unable to answer the single most fundamental customer question about Windows compatibility (i.e., can I load my Pc-based Windows software and games onto the Surface.)

2. “We assume that the Times Square staff would be as well trained on this as anyone, given that they operate in walking distance of the Apple Mecca on Fifth Avenue.”

The power of the first perception in selling cannot be underestimated. Customers form indelible, and often irreversible, opinions about vendors and their products within the first minutes of a conversation with a salesperson. Creating the right first perception is especially crucial if the market leader in your space is widely perceived to be doing such a great job in selling and supporting their products.

The experience in an Apple store is first one of being overwhelmed by the crowds followed by being struck by how helpful and knowledgeable are their sales staff. Surely, at some point in this process, it must have occurred to Microsoft’s corporate sales leaders that they can’t have as their goal to create a retail shopping experience for Microsoft products that will be as good as that at an Apple store. To differentiate themselves the experience with the Microsoft retail sales team has to exceed what you would have at an Apple store. According to this Wall Street Journal article the Surface launch has not appeared to be a step in that direction.

3. “But they just didn’t seem to have a well rehearsed set of talking points to explain what is a admittedly a tricky proposition: this is just like the Windows you know and love, but it’s not the full Windows you can load your games and software onto. If you want that, a full version called Surface Pro is coming at a later date that can’t yet be revealed.”

So, Microsoft, when you finally design and release a really cool product that could attract large numbers of prospective buyers to your stores, doesn’t it make sense to be absolutely certain that your sales team is so well trained that it can reliably and consistently provide the most basic answers the customers require to make a purchase decision? You have only 62 stores. This is not a big task.

You need help. My name is Andy Paul, author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps To Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. I teach companies how to transform their sales by learning how to Sell with Maximum Impact in the Least Time. Here is my email: I think we need to talk.


Andy Paul is author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. A frequent speaker, Andy conducts workshops and consults with B2B sales teams of all sizes and shapes to teach them how to sell more by selling faster. Sign up for our monthly newsletter, “The Speed of Selling.” Enjoy what you just read? Subscribe to our blog!

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