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The Talk

Foster sales skills with a litter of kittens

Psst....while I have your attention...
Psst....while I have your attention...

Anyone who has ever sold anything knows that selling is hard. It doesn’t matter what the product is, selling is an art.

Some people have the gift and can sell the proverbial ice to the Eskimos, but some folks couldn’t sell a raft to a drowning man.

Practice helps, and so does persistence.

But, if you really want to gain experience and skill as a forged-in-the-fires-of-rejection, never-say-no salesperson … try fostering kittens.

For several years, I have been fostering kittens for a number of volunteer organizations in the region. I love kittens – and cats – and I love knowing I’m helping to save the lives of some pretty adorable little creatures.

If you’re going to volunteer for something, it’s definitely the way to go. Your hours of service are spent snuggling and playing with four-legged balls of cuteness. Sure, there’s litter to clean up, but it’s a small price to pay for the joyful and rewarding work.

But one thing I’ve found out over the years is that finding homes for kittens is no easy task. I like to joke to my friends that giving away free kittens often seems like I’m asking people if they’d like a nice, free STD.

That is, I’d joke with my friends if anyone would return my calls during “kitten season.”

Most try to avoid me for fear that it’s “that time of the year” and again I’ll be trying to pawn a pussycat off on them.

But I’ve gotten better at it. I’ve expanded my network of potential suckers, um, I mean adopters, by networking and even the “kitten-equivalent” of cold calling.

In its corporate giving program, the United Way tells organizers that the main reason people cite for not donating to the United Way is “no one asked me.”

The charity encourages those running donation drives at their office to remember to ask everyone, because you never know who might have been interested but didn’t know how to start.

I take that same theory into trying to drum up adopters.

I have been known to approach total strangers and say, “You look like a kitten person. You wouldn’t be interested in adopting a sweet, friendly kitten, would you?”

My husband jokes that he’s waiting for me to buy a trench coat, line it with kittens and walk around dark alleys asking people “Psst. Hey buster, you lookin’ for a kitten? These just fell off the back of a van and I can get you a good deal.”

Funny thing is – sometimes it works. (The asking, not the trench coat thing.)

While most people politely decline, I’ve sparked interest more than once.

I also ask my friends for help. Most of them would have adopted a kitten by now if they actually wanted one – though I did get a friend to adopt a particularly fantastic calico from my last group of fosters.

But, even those who may not be on the market for a sweet little tabby may be willing to pass on kitten pictures to their friends or co-workers on Facebook or email and help widen my search for the perfect home.

Then there’s the sales pitch.

I found out long ago that “hey wanna kitten?” isn’t a very good pitch.

They can find free kittens anywhere, and most fosters I go through generally charge a small fee.

So I take a different approach.

I explain that the upfront cost is a solid bargain compared to what they’d pay on their own for vet costs, and that many of the kitten’s shots and neutering are included – saving them hundreds in the long run.

Why, by golly, you can’t afford NOT to adopt this kitten.

But I also make sure they understand that I wouldn’t try to pass a lousy kitten off on them. I tell them about the kitten’s personality and behavior and why a little one or two would be a great addition to their home.

But like a salesperson who needs a good sale, it’s got to be a good adoption.

Most salespeople want to make sure they make sales to the right people, who will be a good fit for their company, make money not problems and maybe become a long-term business contact.

It’s a little different with kittens. You’re not necessarily looking for repeat business, but you want the right customers.

You can’t oversell your furry little merchandise and end up with a customer with buyer’s remorse. That could mean the heartbreak of a returned cat that’s older and harder to place in another home.

Finding the right adopter is as important as finding an adopter at all.

It’s a delicate balance, as intricate as selling the most complicated widget to the most seasoned corporate buyer. And it’s a great way to gain skills that are usable in the real business world, and being loved unconditionally while you’re doing it.

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