Sales Lessons from a Ministry of Paintball High Street Salesman

Someone tried to sell me paintball tickets on Wednesday, and he did rather a good job at it – though I left empty handed.

While walking down Watford High Street past the Clements building a man successfully caught my attention and drew me into his pitch. I’m certainly no expert on selling but I admired his techniques.

The rules he was working to… (possibly!):

Approach
He led with an open question – “When did you last go paintballing”. It made me think. Out loud. He’d nabbed me. It was pretty obvious he was going to try and sell me paintballing now which I wasn’t really interested in buying off the highstreet, but I suckered.

Familiarity
The salesmen was very friendly. So much so that it put niggling doubt in my mind as to whether or not I actually knew this guy.

In fact he was cunningly disguised as an ordinary citizen!
He wasn’t an obvious salesperson – Unlike the usual High Street menace of Chuggers the chap who approached me didn’t outwardly appear to be accosting shoppers. In didn’t see him approach anyone else, he certainly wasn’t moving up to passers-by, in fact I didn’t even notice him until I heard him.

He wasn’t wearing a brightly coloured tabard and didn’t have ID hanging on an oversized lanyard from his neck either. In fact he appeared totally non-uniformed, although this probably helped him draw me in I certainly wasn’t going to hand over £50 “in cash or by card” to some guy I’d never met before on the street in exchange for a cardboard flyer containing a code I would need to use to later make a phone booking to redeem his offer.

Ownership
He was only too pleased to pass me the three dual sided cardboard sheets he had outlining the offer. Once he had suckered me in it was one of the very first things he did, he wanted me to hold this while he spoke to me. I guess this would give me some sense of “ownership” and a belief that I was going to buy these – in effect I would be giving him something if I rejected his offer of handing him £50.

Digging for Information. And using it.
One of the first things he asked me was my name. Then if I preferred to be called Phil or Philip.
He asked me where I lived.
Where I’d been paintballing before, London Bridge: “that used to be one of our sites”.
Where I worked. What I did. (oh shut up and get on with your selling already, I came to town to buy shoes not to go paintballing or explain my life story…)

I’m sure this was meant to make it personal but whereas he may have started to come across as genuinely interested (clearly fake) it seemed like he ended up crazily stalkerish with the whole “getting to know the customer” thing.

Scarcity
He said he had only 3 packages left to sell before he could go home, or “back to Farringdon” as he put it. This was at 11:30. His pockets looked pretty full to me. Pressure selling eh.

He didn’t reveal his full hand at first
I’m not sure if this worked in his favour or not. He was certainly slow to give out his information with extra benefits of the deal introduced very slowly in the conversation and once it had progressed quite far.
– Lunch would be included
– as would entrance to a comedy club.
Was this to persuade me to stick around and build up some kind of rapport with him? To make people think the deal is getting better and better? I don’t know, it just seemed strange that some of the major selling points weren’t been shoved in my face. They certainly made the deal sound better.

What let him down was lack of knowledge
I asked him where the nearest paintball centre was to Watford. A perfectly reasonable question since he was selling to people in Watford Highstreet.
He rattled off a couple of placenames (Borehamwood was one I think, I forget the other) before uttering something along the lines of “Maidenhead’s quite far innit”.

When he mentioned entrance to a comedy club was included he added “Two in Watford” but he couldn’t tell me what the club was besides Jongulers (Highlight I expect) and I had to prompt him on the Jongulers.

He didn’t volunteer me the name of the company he was working for. “Ministry of Everything” he tells me, eventually. I spot “Ministry of Paintball” on the card and mention I’ve heard of them. He doesn’t mention their name at all.

The actual offer which for him seemed secondary to the conversation
I don’t really want to get in to their business model/what they offer since there is a load of information and reviews of their package already available with a quick Google. Except to say that the salesman remained pretty quiet on the whole issue of price throughout his pitch. Near the start he mentioned the £50 deal. Later he briefly muttered something about £11.50 and “obviously you’ll have to pay for your paintballs”. I didn’t follow up on this with him but a quick search online reveals that if I took them up on their offer as well as paying Ministry £50 for 8 tickets, these 8 people would then have to pay them £11.50 each in order to confirm the booking and get their first 100 paintballs. Apparently they got into some trouble with Groupon over this.

After perhaps 3 minutes of chatting his pitch and personal information digging/fake interest began to bore me so now irritated, mostly at myself for initially engaging with him, I told him I wasn’t interested and turned to leave.

Last chance
“Philip!” he called after me. In an authoritative voice. So much so that I thought, however unlikely it may be, that I had dropped my wallet or done something else silly. I hadn’t. Annoyed that that he had caught me out to once again gain my attention, he was playing with my emotions, the “social compliance” rule certainly stood true here. He commanded my attention and I gave it to him.

He offered me two 8-person passes for £50. I declined.

No really last chance
“Phil!” he called after me, louder than before. But he was slow this time, I had just fallen for the trick once and this time I had already made about ten paces away before I slowed, turned round, shook my head and gave him a dirty look. He would have offered me all 3. I don’t like it when people call me “Phil”, and he knew that. He had mined that information out of me earlier.

The 8 person Ministry of Paintball pass he was trying to flog me costs £50. The company is a middleman, keeps this fee for themselves and their partner paintball site owners give you a free basic package hoping you will spend money with them for more paintballs. A quick Google revealed someone even managed to obtain 4×8 passes from a Ministry of Paintball street seller for £50, and you can pick them up for far less on eBay. You’ll have to pay Ministry an additional £11.50 per person on top of whatever you pay on the street to actually book the deal though, so the £50 deal actually costs £142. I don’t like that pricing strategy.

As an aside they really need to work on managing the results that show for a search of their name:
Ministry of Paintball Google SERP

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