I was in a Buckle store the other day. I asked the sales girl if they had a particular shirt in my size. I didn’t see it on on the table and I really liked it. As with most retails sales clerks, she looked through the stack of shirts I was just looking through, as if I couldn’t find my size in a pile of shirts no more than 4 high, and said nope, this is all we have. She then quickly turned and said we have some more shirts over here. She then started to walk to another part of the store. Thinking she might have more of the shirt I liked, I asked her; “Are there more of these over there?” No she said, there are just more shirts similar to this one.
I asked why she was talking me down there if they don’t have the shirt I want. Her reply: “I thought there might be something else you might like.” I told her I wasn’t interested in any other shirts and called her out on her tactic. She argued and said what she was doing was called; “The art of the substitution.”
I’ve never heard of the art of the substitution. A Google search returned stuff about basketball coaching and substituting players, but nothing from a sales perspective. (I didn’t search too hard.) My initial reaction was the art of substitution is an old school, hardline sales tactic. If you don’t have what the buyer wants, steer them into something they don’t need. The idea that you are going to try and sell them something they don’t want, because you don’t have it seems disingeniuos. BUT! After I left the store, I had to rethink that position. Why? I bought a shirt from the area she tried taking me to. I substituted on my own.
They didn’t have the shirt I wanted in my size. I went into the store for a shirt. Not the particular one I liked first, but for a shirt. Offering me an alternative is a good move. It expands my options. Now that I have my two, cool, new shirts I’m reconsidering the art of the substitution.
In sales, providing alternatives is good practice. Giving prospects options can be a valuable selling tool. I’m not sure I like the term art of the substitution, but I do like the idea of offering alternatives. The key to this approach is in the delivery. Just assuming folks want an alternative isn’t the way to go. The lead in should be subtle and progressive. If you can lead your clients to an alternative that works for them your doing good work. Just don’t call it a substitution, it sounds like settling and no one likes to settle.