I have complained before about customer service in Sweden. How when I walk into a store I have to actively search for someone if I want help finding a product. How I am very seldom approached by anyone. Sometimes, it is amazing. Sometimes wandering around and finding what I want for myself is just what I need. Sometimes it drives me crazy.
Of all of the stores I have been in since moving here, the only stores I ever walk into and am immediately paid attention to are the cell phone stores. They assault you. Sometimes I walk into one of those stores just to be reminded of what some semblance of customer service is like. But they are alone in their eagerness to sell.
It turns out, that this is a bit of a phenomenon seen throughout the sales industry. Especially in Sweden. A recent article briefly summarizes a couple of studies here: New Research: Sweden's Salespeople Too Hesitant?
While the whole idea of hesitant salespeople is quite the paradox, some of the numbers really stood out. And so, in a blatant act of large scale quotations I give you the following from the PR Newswire:
· “In social situations, 25% of Swedish salespeople wait for others to initiate conversation first.
· Currently, 12% of Swedish salespeople would rather be working in a procedural profession like research and development, not sales or marketing.
· 11% of Swedish salespeople are not comfortable using the telephone to contact prospective buyers.
· In Sweden, the number of contact reluctant salespeople is steadily growing. It was 6.7% in 2001, 7.1% in 2003, 8.4% in 2004 and 9.4% in 2008.”
I’ve been in Sweden for about 20 months now. Suddenly, all those wasted hours in stores looking for help, for a salesperson, make sense. Swedish people fear social interaction. And it seems like it is getting worse. Last year nearly 10% of salespeople didn’t want to talk with you. They are paid to make sales, but are afraid to initiate any sort of interaction. Or reluctant as the quote above says.
One quarter of them don’t want to initiate conversation. What do they do during their working hours then? Hide in corners? Twelve percent don’t want to be working in sales. Which, considering that they are afraid to talk with anyone or actually do what they have been hired to do shouldn’t be all that surprising.
I have been suckered into some sales stuff in previous jobs. And I am a horrible salesperson. Bad. Some people can sell ice to Eskimos. I can’t sell ice to a drowning polar bear. But I’m ok with that. Not the drowning polar bear, but just that I’m not a good salesperson. And that is why I don’t apply for sales jobs. It’s really quite simple.
But this all seems very Swedish. It all seems to tie in with the silence on the buses. The stereotypical shyness of the average Swede. The neutrality and avoidance of anything that can be seen as aggression. Even just a simple sales pitch in the confines of a store. It is Swedishness spilled over into the workforce. Although, it doesn’t seem to be just Sweden. Some of Sweden’s neighbors are even worse.
Also mentioned in the summary is the following: “That study produced a surprising paradox: A number of people now working in sales who don't want to talk to anyone. How many? ‘7-9% of the salespeople in Sweden, 20% in Norway and a larger percent in Finland,’ Bryant estimates.”
Seven to nine percent in Sweden. Twenty percent in Norway. Even more in Finland. Not just hesitant to initiate, but downright don’t want to talk to you. The Nordic countries seem to have some issues with social interaction that need to be worked out.
Welcome to Sweden. And the Nordic countries. And salespeople who fear the customer.