Tag Archives: next byte

Assertive Confidence

There was this one time, at band camp, when a customer brought in a working Macintosh Classic. We just had to display it next to the mid-2010 (?) iMacs for a few days. Wouldn’t be able to do that an an Apple Store.

At its peak, the Australian Apple Premium Reseller called Next Byte had more than 20 stores nationally, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape in Australia is a lot different to what it was a decade ago. Borne off the back of the smartphone era and being one of the biggest companies in the world, we now have more Apple retail stores than we ever had Next Byte stores. In a world of slim profits on Apple hardware and an unparalleled customer experience from the Apple owned-and-operated retail locations that’s extremely difficult if not outright impossible for any reseller to match while maintaining some semblance of profitability, any third-party Apple presence is either small enough to fly under the radar, or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city CBD besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means our in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps covered by Apple’s online presence and general electronics resellers. The latter of which are all too eager to carry products from one of the most popular brands in the world; even if that’s not where they’re making the majority money, it’s yet another drawcard in their fiercely competitive deck.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. The one I want to tell today is about some of the stuff I learned while working there, and the confidence that came from some of those experiences.

In every sales role, there’s always some sales-specific training. Whether you’re a sales consultant1, associate, specialist, or whatever title your corporate overlords have decided to bestow upon you, chances are, at some point, you’ll get some training on sales technique. If you’ve been in the role long enough, you might even see significant changes in your organisation’s sales strategy, which usually goes something along the lines of attempting to move as much product as possible regardless of cost, focusing on metrics like conversions, to something that’s a little more nuanced, while still prioritising metrics like average invoice amount that prove you’ve really listened to the customer while selling them as much as possible. Then you’ll definitely have some sales training.

It’s a normal day in 2014. Probably. I mean, I could have made that up, but I think it sounds about right, if I think about the rough timeframe that I think these events occurred in. It was during one of these aforementioned sales training sessions that I learned about closing the sale and handling objections. You know, the business end of the sales conversation that you usually have. The part where you get to find out what, exactly, the customer has a problem with what you’ve sold them on, or perhaps that they’re just not interested in buying today.

This particular training session was big on roleplay, so we were paired off and practiced closing sales and handling objections. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the recommended approach to handling objections was2, but I can tell you that it didn’t match up with my own. If I had spent the last 15-20 minutes talking to a customer about a new MacBook Pro, for example, and they had been extremely non-committal about taking it today, then apparently you’re not supposed to straight-up ask the customer exactly what they’re hesitant about.

I know, right? News to me too.

But as it turns out, asking the customer about their hesitation is frowned upon. At the time, I didn’t really get it, and the people delivering the sales training were incredulous, mixed with curiosity: why would you directly ask a customer about their trepidations, instead of backing down, accepting their uncertainty, handing them a business card, and letting them go about their business?

As I explained, I thought that if you had determined that they were in the market for whatever they wanted to buy, answered all of their questions, assuaged their fears and concerns, and otherwise completely performed the full sales process, you had some right to know why they weren’t willing to take it then and there. I said that if you had done your job as a sales consultant, listening to their needs and wants, then pairing each of those up with a solution, then why couldn’t you know why they didn’t want to take it home today? It’s not as if that simple question removed their right to give you a perfectly valid reason in return, in which case yes, I would absolutely give them a piece of paper with my name on it, and then let them get on with the rest of their day.

And sure, I get that people have their own reasons for not wanting to drop a few thousand on a new Mac, especially at the drop of a hat. But if, during our sales interaction in the time they were in the store, I had correctly worked out that they were in the market, and was confident enough that I had done everything in my power, and given them all them all the information they needed to be more sure about their own decision, then I would have thought I have some ground to stand on when asking them about their reasons for not whipping out the plastic.

I think I remember the trainers agreeing with me. Perhaps somewhat begrudgingly, but agreeing nonetheless.

I like to think it was this same assertive confidence that let me approach every customer with aplomb. Safe in the knowledge that I would be able to handle every interaction, even if it were slightly technical or needed me to quickly demo some great new feature that was the best thing since sliced bread. I knew that as a fresh teenager and/or awkward unit student, even if I didn’t have the interpersonal skills needed to to quickly secure some kind of rapport within the first five seconds of our interaction, I would be able to nail any kind of product-question they threw my way.

I knew that sometimes, all it took was a enthusiastic attitude and a slight grin to connect with the customer in those first crucial seconds. But knowing when to ask about a customer’s objections? Knowing when to push and how? Now that’s assertive confidence.


  1. Bonus round: given that a lot of my employment at Next Byte was on a casual basis, I took great pride in putting Casual Sales Consultant in my email signature. Not only did it serve as a useful indicator to customers that I wasn’t a full-time employee, on the rare occasions I would email them, but a part of me liked the play on words. Was I a sales consultant employed on a casual basis, like many would think, or a consultant of casual sales? I liked to think the latter, even though the former was probably closer to the truth. 
  2. Ugh, this is going to bug me now. I know it. 

The Support Call

This was perhaps the only time I ever saw all six lines tied up with calls.
Two or three wasn’t uncommon, on busy days, but six was unheard of.

At its peak, Next Byte boasted upwards of 20 stores all around the country, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape in Australia is a lot different to what it was a decade ago. We now have more Apple retail stores than we ever had Next Byte stores. In a world of slim profits on Apple hardware and an unparalleled customer experience from the Apple owned and operated retail locations that’s nigh impossible for any reseller to match, any third-party Apple presence is either small enough to fly under the radar, or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means our in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps covered by Apple’s online presence.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. The one I want to tell today is about this one time I answered the phone. I thought it was going to be like any other support call. It wasn’t.

It’s a regular day in 2014. Or close enough, anyway, for the purposes of this story. I don’t know the exact date.

The phone rings. I answer it, give the usual greeting, and find myself talking to a distraught girl. I brace myself for what I think is going to be a pretty standard support call. You know the type — “my iPhone won’t turn on”, or “I accidentally deleted all my photos from my computer”, or even “I’m 83, just bought my very first computer from you, and can’t remember how you told me to access my email”.

Now at the time, we weren’t, strictly speaking, supposed to provide technical support over the phone. Management frowned upon employees spending lengthy amounts of time on the phone, and you could see where they were coming from; we were employed to sell Apple products, not do Apple Support’s job for them. But being the local Apple brick-and-mortar, we’d often get calls for completely mundane things. In the interests of helping the customer out (and, ideally, an improved chance of their business at a later date), we were unofficially allowed to help out where we could, or where we didn’t think solving the customer’s problem would take very long. If it did, well, there was always Apple Australia’s support number, even though palming the customer off to them felt like a cop out, at times.

Anyway, at first I think it’s a regular support call, and even though we’re not supposed to provide technical support over the phone, I figure I’ll at least hear her out, and see if it’s something I can provide advice on, or point her in the right direction, if not.

But as she starts explaining the issue, I come to the realisation that the issue she’s describing isn’t, strictly speaking, a technical one. She says she accidentally swiped left on someone, and was wondering if there was any way to go back so she could swipe right instead.

Having come across pretty much every problem in the book, at the time I prided myself on my extensive technical knowledge of Apple products and services. Which is why I was unusually confused about this particular issue, and had no idea what this girl was talking about, at least initially. Her refusal to give any further details, or to even name the app in question, only added to my confusion. Eventually something clicked, and I realised that she must have been talking about Tinder, the dating/hook-up app that had come out a few years ago and had only just become popular on our remote, faraway island.

Not being a Tinder user myself and not knowing how the app worked, I remember providing some generic advice along the lines of deleting and reinstalling the app. The idea was to do a kind of reset, even though I had my doubts about whether it would have worked. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about how successful a reinstall would be probably depended on if Tinder stored its matches server-side and remembered who you had previously “liked” or “disliked”. I figured a reinstall was at least worth trying, especially if we were talking about this poor girl meeting the guy of her dreams.

She seemed genuinely upset by her accidental swipe left, and listening to her talk about it, it was almost as if the person she had swiped left on was her ideal type. Even after I told her I wasn’t sure how the app worked and couldn’t guarantee anything would work, she kept asking me if that was the only thing I could think of to try. Recalling something I had heard about the app, I even suggested making another Facebook account1, but she just really, really, wanted to go back in time and re-match with this person.

A few of my Tinder-using male colleagues had a good laugh over that one later, but sometimes I wonder what happened. Did the girl ever find the guy? Are they now living happily after after? Or was he just looking for something different?

I guess we’ll never know.


  1. As an aside, using Tinder (or any other dating app or website) opens up some interesting questions for people looking for love. Sure, the world’s a little different now, and there are more ways than ever to meet new people. But would you want to entrust your future to an algorithm? Then again, maybe using a dating app or website is only half the battle, and it’s all just a numbers game after all, in which case an algorithm becomes your best friend. But that’s a post for another time. 

Gutted

I took this photo the last time I was in Hobart, back in February 2016. By that time, it was about nine or ten months after Next Byte’s parent company had shut down all the Next Byte stores nationally, ending the era of what was once the largest Apple reseller in the southern hemisphere, if not the world. At its peak, Next Byte boasted upwards of 20 stores all around the country, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape is a lot different than it was 10 years ago. We have as many Apple retail stores as we had Next Byte stores, once upon a time, and in a world of slim profits on Apple hardware and a customer experience from the first-party Apple stores that’s impossible to match, any third-party Apple presence is either marginalised enough to fly under the radar or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means our in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps filled by Apple’s online presence.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. But the one I want to tell today is the one of how I got the job in the first place. There was no interview. I didn’t hand over a resume. But somehow, I got the job anyway.

The date is January 2nd, 2007. Ten years to the day.

I’ve been thinking about it for months now. I was promised a job after completing my work experience, but that was back in August last year. Now it’s January, and I’m beginning to question their sincerity. Did they really mean it? Or was it just something said in passing to an impressionable, naive high schooler who was only just beginning to understand the world? Of course, it’s just as plausible that they’ve been busy and have just forgotten.

Either way, today we’re going to find out. Nothing was open yesterday, being New Year’s Day and all, but there’s no chance they’re not open today.

I walk in. Half-faking confidence, I approach the manager. I’m not sure of the exact words I said. But it was definitely along the lines of: “hi, my name is Benny. I did work experience here last year, and at the end of it, I was promised a job. But I haven’t heard from you in several months, so now I’m here to claim in person.”

He said to give him a moment, then he disappeared behind a door.

A few minutes passed.

When he reappeared, he came up to me and said: “can you start tomorrow?”

The rest, as they say, is history.