March 1, 2010 | last updated March 24, 2012 10:14 pm
BATTER UP

Sweet Success: How To Sell Like A Girl Scout | There's plenty businesses can learn from the teenage cookie trade

Photo/Matthew L. Brown
DOOR TO DOOR: In the last four years, Elizabeth Anderson of Westborough has sold nearly 4,000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies.

From reading "The Art of War" to participating in lofty corporate retreats, successful business people tend to find advice or valuable, usable information in many different places and from many different sources.

One source that may be overlooked, though, is the Girl Scouts of America.

Nationwide, the annual Girl Scout cookie sale, which takes place between Jan. 15 and March 31, will generate more than $700 million. In the scouts' Central and Western Massachusetts region, 14,000 Girl Scouts are expected to move nearly 1.2 million boxes of cookies.

To call the sale anything but a highly successful business venture is failing to do it justice. To dismiss the lessons the scouts learn while taking part in the sale is to do one's business a real disservice.

The scouts' advice is in some cases practically the same as the advice sold by any number of corporate strategy hawkers, marketing gurus, grand poobahs, evangelists or ninjas. In many cases, it's better.

"It shows you that the power of networking is incredible," said Richard Kennedy, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and purchaser of countless boxes of thin mints.

"They engage every civic organization, every neighbor and friend, and it's almost embarrassing not to buy them," Kennedy said. "If one comes by, you buy from her. If 10 come by, you buy from 10."

So, what are the lessons business leaders can learn from the Girl Scouts as they embark on their annual cookie sale? We'll let the scouts themselves, namely Elizabeth Anderson and Hannah Schur of Westborough give the answers:

Perseverance

"The cookie sale is right in the middle of winter, and it's cold; I spend hours on it. It takes up all of my weekends for two months," Anderson, a 16-year-old high school sophomore, said. But it's worth it. In the last three years, Anderson has sold about 4,000 boxes of cookies.

Promotion

"Don't be afraid to promote your products," Anderson said. "I would go door to door and I would be so afraid that people would just kick me out, but if people want a product," they'll buy it.

Be Nice

"You should always be nice to any customers," said Schur, an eighth grader. "Even if they don't buy anything, be polite, because they might become future customers."

Anderson said, "Be friendly and talk to people. Some girls in the troop are really enthusiastic, and some are not." But when it comes time to tally up the sales, "you can tell who's been sitting there with their arms crossed, because they sell half as much."

Be Empathetic

"Put yourself in the customer's shoes," said Schur. "Do everything you can to be convenient to customers," Schur said.

By being convenient, Schur is hoping to hit the biggest sales goal she's had in her eight years selling cookies. In the past, she's averaged about 360 boxes per year. Now, she's shooting for about 700.

Be Opportunistic

"Even thought I wanted to be home, I went out on Super Bowl Sunday to get more sales. Who doesn't want Girl Scout Cookies while watching the football game?" Schur said.

The Incentives

Schur, in setting her ambitious goal of 700 boxes of cookies, knows what's at stake. At 1,500 boxes, scouts get a Wii game system.

"The incentives are not really that big until you get to 1,000," Schur said. At 700, though, more money out of each sale goes toward Schur's goal. She's saving to attend the "100 Years of Girl Scouting" event in Washington, D.C., in 2012.

Anderson has been very successful. With her sales numbers and a successful application essay picked from among the essays of scouts from across the country, she was able to take one of the scouts' "Destinations" trips to Costa Rica last summer.

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