Santa Claus, the Consultative Salesman

Reprinted from the Marketing PAD newsletter

By Jeff Bowman

Santa Claus. I know him, I’ve met him, I went to his training school and I impersonated him on many memorable occasions. I know for a fact that he is the king of consultative sales. “What do you want for Christmas little boy/girl?”, “Have you been good this year?” His interest in what others want and need is unsurpassed in the world of childhood icons. The tooth fairy brings money whether you want it or not. The Easter Bunny leaves chocolate eggs, even if you wanted some other type of gift. And the Sandman, well he just puts stuff in your eyes every night.

Father Christmas, like all good sales people, asks and listens. He then decides upon the best solution and agrees, making each and every child part of the process.

I had occasion to meet Mr. Claus when I was quite young, in fact I met him several different times and I have the pictures to prove it. He would ask me what I wanted for Christmas, and I always had a ready answer. Things I actually needed, like Rock-em Sock-em Robots, boxing gloves, a microscope, a hockey net. There are  times that I guess Santa actually consults with parents because I never did ask for socks, gotchies, shirts etc., but I often received them. And as I look back on it now, I figure nobody really wanted to see me out boxing in the nude (and probably still don’t) or going to school in ripped hand- me-down clothes.

I decided in my later years that I had taken advantage of a great relationship that Santa and I had, so I thought like in all good business relationships (and it was a good relationship, he gave me what I wanted in return for being nice, cleaning the house, not fighting with my brothers and sister etc) it was time for me to give a little back.

I attended the Santa Training School and learned a series of valuable and difficult lessons – the ins and outs of being one of the Jolly Old Fellows assistants, (I prefer this to the more common denotation of Elf in training) who takes his place at public appearances such as Breakfast with Santa, photo opportunities and of course the ever popular office Christmas Party.

Many a time I sat upon my Red Velvet throne with children of all ages and nationalities sitting on my lap, discussing the important aspects of the holiday season. Unfortunately, STS (Santa Training School) doesn’t prepare you for some of the questions you are asked by the super intelligent children of today.

Even the best consultative sales approach leaves little room for suppressing the odd laugh or following up a great open-ended question with a closed ended question to narrow down the options. “Where do you go to the bathroom Santa?”, “If my house doesn’t have a chimney do you break a window to get in?” “How many glasses of milk does it take to make you sick?” And if the questions don’t get you, the statements of fact will. “You smell old” (page 13, lesson 2 “Santa stays cool under pressure.” Yeah sure, see what you smell like after 3 hours, 100 kids on your lap and polyester suit that makes you perspire) , “What did that last kid ask for, cause he’s my brother and he is bad”, “Do you have kids?”

My Santa experiences took quite a different turn when adults got involved at parties. Building solid, mutually beneficial relationships took on a whole new meaning. The lap visitations seemed more prolonged, a few extra pictures were taken and the wants, needs and desires were often expressed with more clarity than you might imagine. I called it liquid bravery. It wasn’t just visions of sugar plums dancing in the heads of many a fine adult who graced my throne. One never really thinks of Santa blushing, but I tell you it was a good thing I had that beard.

As a public domain figure, you can’t escape seeing Santa around this time of year on every package, in every ad, flyer and newspaper. He has his own department at the Post Office, his own television shows with huge royalties that allow him to build more toys every year for the increasing population, and he symbolically represents huge corporations like Coke every Christmas. He gives his stamp of approval to many new Seasonal Songs every year, and even goes as far as having his likeness on a PEZ dispenser.

Now I am at an age where it appears my debt has been paid off to Santa, younger plumper individuals are taking my place. The consultative sales go on. The job of Santa selling never seems to be complete, as we now see him in tropical vacation commercials; he is urging us to go green with real trees this year and to use bags instead of shiny wrapping paper for gifts.

Santa continually grows and changes with the times, but his consultative sales approach remains the same – probe, listen, offer solutions and develop relationships. I’ll always remember the lessons I learned at STS, the great times I had as an assistant Santa, my personal encounters with him, and like always, I will listen for the NORAD reports on Unidentified Reindeer-propelled vehicles being spotted over Northern Canada on Christmas Eve. (now available at the Official NORAD Tracking Site for all you parents)

See you soon Santa!

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