This is the time of year when Girl Scout Cookies are being delivered around the world. You might have bought a few boxes yourself or even helped a Girl Scout with sales and deliveries. Recently one Girl Scout managed to increase her sales by 25,786 boxes compared to last year—a result that apparently set a new international sales record. The story of 11-year-old Charlotte McCourt is a powerful and tasty reminder that sales authenticity and brutal honesty delivered with sprinkles of humor can help your sales pitch go viral and attract a large number of buyers.
Sales Lesson One: Make Your Message Stand Out
Charlotte McCourt sold 300 boxes of Girl Scout cookies last year—tops in her small troop—and that was her sales goal for this year too. Charlotte heard her father Sean mention that a longtime friend of his was “very rich.” I suppose that sounded like a great new prospect to Charlotte. Less than an hour later, Sean noticed in his Sent folder an email Charlotte had sent to his rich friend.
In the email, Charlotte did not make the typical “you know my parents so please buy some cookies from me” plea. Instead, Charlotte offered her personal rating (on a 1 to 10 scale) of each of the varieties of Girl Scout cookies plus a lot of guidance on what to buy.
I generally advise clients to make their messages brief and not to focus on their products all the time. But if the message is truly distinctive and engaging, then the audience will hang in there with you. Charlotte’s email was lengthy but it was a must-read.
Sales Lesson Two: Sales Authenticity Earns Buyers’ Trust
Charlotte’s message was not a recitation of Girl Scout talking points or a consistently glowing review of the products. Oh, some of the cookies received personal ratings of “9” on the 1 to 10 scale and descriptors like “inspired,” but other cookie varieties were subject to more brutal honesty. Charlotte used words and phrases such as “unoriginality,” “blandness,” and “bleak, flavorless, gluten-free wasteland.” The Girl Scouts in our neighborhood are never that blunt.
One of the best ways to build trust in the eyes of buyers is to be honest, especially when your recommendations seem counter to your interests (such as selling as many boxes and varieties of cookies as possible). Charlotte’s email was a one-way communication so she could not ask questions (such as whether the person was gluten intolerant). In the absence of a two-way conversation, Charlotte’s sales authenticity and candor showed she was willing to potentially lose part of a sale.
Sales Lesson Three: Spread the Word
Charlotte’s father Sean works with Mike Rowe (of “Dirty Jobs” TV fame) on Rowe’s podcast “The Way I Heard It.” Sean showed the email to Rowe—who liked it so much that he read it on his Facebook page. That video now has nearly 10 million views. On the video, between belly laughs, Rowe said, “A basic tenet of sales is that you can’t sell a product unless people first trust you. The best way to get them to trust you is to tell the truth.”
Honesty and sales authenticity were a great policy for Charlotte. She shut down her website after selling 26,086 boxes and donating 12,430 of them.
Charlotte caught lightning in a bottle (or rather, a cookie box) because her dad shared her email with someone who has a huge social-media following. You and I don’t have that many followers. Nevertheless, most companies do not come close to engaging all of their potential messengers (and, by extension, those messengers’ networks of friends). Leaders need to recognize that nearly everyone close to the organization—not just those in sales, marketing, or customer service—is naturally equipped to help spread the word. You can unleash new opportunities in sales, fundraising, or recruiting.
If you have a marketing internship program at your organization, then you might consider an additional step: make a pitch to Charlotte McCourt.