This post is part 2 in a series on sales techniques. Click here to read part 1.
So now we understand that customers are defensive and resistant to contact upon entering the retail store. How do we break that paradigm and get the customers to see us as a necessary and helpful assistant in what is a difficult decision making process?
First of all, we must understand that sales at any level is equal parts “science” and “art”. Al most anyone can learn the science but the art is individual and is not as much learned as it is instinctive: hence the expression “he/she is a born salesperson”
As a salesperson you will be called upon at any given time to be a psychiatrist, an actor, an artist or technician.
The science of the initial contract is:
- Be busy, have something in your hand, appear to be going somewhere or engaged in a task. This makes you non-threatening to the customer. Never congregate with other salespeople or stand around the sales counter, etc.
- Never approach a customer from directly in front; people are protective of the space in front of them and even at a distance this is threatening.
- Catch their eye, smile, look away and go back to what you were doing. After a two count, say “Excuse me, may I ask you a question?” If you do this right, they will respond by meeting your eyes, and in some cases even taking a step toward you. From their perspective they are now meeting you for the SECOND time and your threat level has lowered. You must have a question ready that:
- Does not relate to business!
- Is open ended and cannot be easily answered by “yes or “no”
- Something as simple as “Is it still raining outside” can work, but it is better to be creative so try and ask something about them, maybe about their logo-ed clothing or a hat they are wearing. i.e.” I just love that jacket/ring/hat/shoes would you mind telling me where you found that”
Done correctly this is so powerful that you will find yourself in a conversation with a new friend, and that conversation has nothing to do with business.
Now the artistry kicks in: the “Smoozing”, or small talk, can take just a few seconds or much longer depending on the customer’s level of defensiveness. Remember to listen carefully if a customer talks about themselves. Repeating a personal detail back to them sometime later in the sale proves that you listened. i.e. “When your daughter gets home next week, she will love this” and goes a long way in building confidence.
With this as your foundation, most customers will make the transition to business without help, which is a “buying signal” in itself. If the customer is slow to make the transition, the salesperson needs to judge when the time is right.
Strangely enough you have now earned the right to ask, AS A NEW FRIEND (not a salesperson), what brings them into your store. Their response will be much more positive if you have done your job, lowered their defences and earned the right to ask the question.
From here we would follow the “railroad track” of a sale:
- Probing or qualifying
- Trial close
- Handling objections
- Closing the sale
- Adding on
- Confirmations and invitations.
Constructing a sales process is critical for success; arguably the first step that I have spent so much time explaining here is the most important. Without a solid foundation of trust and confidence between you and your customer, it will make the whole process more difficult and frustrating for both of you.
What sales techniques do you find effective? As a customer, what kind of approach do you appreciate?
I have been reading with interest the comments on the “can I help you” post. Personally, from 20+ years of retail experience (sales, training, management and ownership) I can verify this is the number one block to a successful sales experience for both the customer and the salesperson.
Teaching a salesperson to avoid the phrase or anything that sounds like that phrase MUST be the first goal of any training program.
Substituting the phrase with “what brings you in today?” “What are you looking for?” “Can I show you something?” blah, blah, blah does not help one bit. Yes. You’ve changed the question, but not the premise behind it.
The fact is; your customer is expecting to hear “Can I help you?” so even if you ask “Is it raining outside?” or “Ever run through Rome wearing nothing but shoulder pads and goat leggings?” – two out of five customers will respond “No thanks. I’m just looking”. The reality is, they’re paying very little attention to what you’re saying.
In my world of retail electronics in the 80’s, it was such a competitive environment that every new sales trainee was told in no uncertain terms that “if I hear anything that sounds like can I help you, what brings you in today etc. you are “fired”, no second chances.
So… “WHY” does this happen? Why are customers so resistant when first entering a store? They presumably have an interest or need for something your store has to offer. They recognize that at one point they will have to interact with an employee at some point.
So why the “FEAR”?
“Can I help you” is conditioning from our past, it screams “SALESMAN, SALESMAN, BEWARE, BEWARE”
It is only in relatively recent times, as our population and the quantity and the variety of available goods has exploded, that competition for customers and profit has taken centre stage. Previous to this, “sales” consisted mainly of order taking. You usually went to a General Store. You knew what you wanted. You asked for it or picked it out, paid for it, and you were out the door.
Simple. And emblematic of a simpler time.
There was little or no competition, little selection, and everyone “knew the rules”. “Can I help you” was genuine, expected and accepted as a sincere gesture in a kinder, gentler time.
The competition for customers and profit produced the “Salesperson” as a ruthless, conniving, sleazy, fast talking individual that would be expected to lie, cheat and steal to take all your money and give you little or nothing in return. This was heightened and broadcast by Television caricatures of the “used car salesman” with the loud clothes and fast talking style that everyone hated. Unfortunately due to ignorance and inadequate training “Can I help you” was carried forward
Fast forward to today: most everyone entering a store is programmed to expect a fast-talking, insincere individual who will attack immediately and force them to buy items they don’t want or need. Before they ever enter the store, they consciously or unconsciously prep themselves, raising their defences, and mutter to themselves (figuratively) “I’ll just tell him to get lost”.
And so “Can I help you” has come to mean “I see you and I’m going to pressure you into a 200-year extended warranty”. And “No thanks I’m just looking” has come to mean “Not a chance. Get away from me”.
My next post will cover the solution to this ever present challenge in today’s retail environment and explain the right way to approach your customers.
I’m a very methodical (and slow) shopper. This is especially true for big-ticket or important items. Before I make such a purchase, I spend hours researching various products. When I have made my shortlist of suitable options, I read every available online review to check for potential shortcomings. Finally, I head in-store to evaluate the possibilities in person. Finally, I make my purchase and head home…
…where I re-research the product again.
It sounds a little nutty…but chances are you’ve probably done this too.
According to a recent article by the Marketing Science Institute, my behaviour is a classic example of the well-documented “post-purchase bias”. The bias was first discovered by Ehrlich et al. in a 1957 study. They found that new car buyers read more advertisements for the car they had just purchased than for the cars that they had considered, but not purchased. This effect has been reproduced many times and is considered to be one of the most robust findings in consumer behaviour.
Why do we do this? By re-affirming the reasons for our initial purchase, we defend the wisdom of our acquisition and are able to allay the dreaded “buyer’s remorse”.
More recently, researchers have discovered that we also distort product information to reinforce our decision after a sale. When presented with such information, we ignore the bad and inflate the good. More importantly, because this interpretation is self-driven, we are more likely to believe in these positive evaluations.
This has big implications for business. Traditionally, we think of marketing as something that occurs before the sale. However, this study suggests that marketing is just as important after the sale has already occurred.
The MSI article outlines four implications for business:
1) Managers should always find ways to follow through after a recent purchase. Good customer service practices aside – when customers are given more information about a product, they positively interpret this information to create a stronger brand preference.
2) This follow-up should take place as soon as possible after the initial purchase, while the customer still feels strongly about the product.
3) After the initial purchase, we are likely to hear from some customers again – some products may be returned, others may require repair, or the customer may need additional instructions. Every encounter offers businesses the chance to strengthen the customer’s product preference.
4) The best kind of marketing is free-marketing – specifically when customers talk to friends about their experiences. The more post-purchase follow-up, the more loyal the customer, and the more likely they are to offer positive feedback regarding the product. Most importantly, because they are passionate about the product, this feedback is inherently more believable.
Remember: Your work as a retailer doesn’t end when the customer reaches the cash register – it has only just begun.
Do you research products you’ve already purchased? How does your business market itself to existing customers?
Every weekday, I compile the best retail and technology news from Twitter into our “we get retail” Daily paper.li newspaper. Through my monitoring, I’ve noticed several technology trends that are poised to shape the retail industry like never before. I have compiled a list of my top five emerging retail technologies:
Tablet PCs are increasingly being used in retail environments to speed up sales. Couple this with mobile payments, and several interesting possibilities arise. Sales staff can help you find a product and ring it in, right on the sales floor, with no need to line up at the cash register. Product you need not in stock? Staff can check inventory levels right then and there, and tell you when the next shipment will arrive. I can see this technology becoming an invaluable customer service tool.
Most of us are already familiar with QR codes: “scan here to go to our website” or “scan here for our coupon of the day”. While QR codes are excellent promotional tools, businesses are also recognizing their benefits after the sale. For example, whirlpool includes QR codes on their dryers that link to animated instructions on the proper installation of vent material. QR codes can be used to provide usage instructions, replacement part numbers, contact information, etc. This customer friendly solution provides yet another way of promoting product entanglement, as well as maintaining brand integrity.
Apple’s passbook is an intriguing offering; it allows customers to electronically collect, store and organize store cards, gift cards, and coupons. Passbook uses the iPhone’s geo-location capability to identify when you’re in a particular store, and load the appropriate card. For example, it will load your Movie gift card when you enter the theatre, presenting it on-screen to be scanned. Aside from its obvious convenience, this technology makes it easy to carry your store loyalty cards (how many times have you signed up for something, but left the card at home?) It’s an interesting product for consumers and retailers alike.
Radio Frequency Identification is another new trend hitting the retail world, and widespread adoption is expected in the next 3-5 years. Inventory is tagged, and can be tracked at any point from warehouse to the storefront. Because locations are tracked in real time, RFID offers retailers unparalleled supply chain accuracy. The completeness of incoming shipments can be quickly assessed, rather than relying on random inspections. Other benefits include prevention of vendor fraud, administrative errors, and employee theft.
Nokia City Lens
Nokia’s City Lens (currently in beta) uses your smartphone camera and augmented reality technology to recognize your location and superimpose relevant information right on your screen. Wave your phone, and City Lens will identify nearby landmarks, restaurants, and shops near you. Imagine – customers wave their phone at your store front, and you are able to see your hours of operation, special sales, reviews, etc. It will provide unparalleled visibility to potential customers. When this takes hold, this could be a boon to retailers, or a bane for those unprepared.
Will these technologies impact the retail industry? What other technologies will be of use to consumers and retailers alike?
Picture this. You’re in your favourite restaurant with a group of friends, eagerly awaiting your meal. Everyone else at your table receives their meal, except for you. It eventually arrives 15 minutes later, but it’s loaded with the ingredient you specifically asked to be excluded. When you finally manage to flag down your server, it goes back to the kitchen, but its replacement doesn’t arrive for another 15 minutes. Then to top it off, your drink is spilled in your lap.
At this point, what would you do?
Did texting the manager cross your mind?
A new service called Talk to the Manager allows restaurant-goers to anonymously complain to the restaurant owner via text. “Every cellphone is a comment card”, their website boasts. The rationale behind the service is that management has direct (and confidential) access to complaints, rather than scouring nasty public reviews on sites like Yelp or Urbanspoon.
When I first heard about this service, my initial reaction was that it seemed a little ridiculous. What happened to speaking to people directly? We are increasingly placing more and more layers of technology between customers and businesses in the name of efficiency and improvement.
That being said, a few years ago, could you imagine “tweeting” your complaints to a company? There is no question that Twitter has become the new frontline of customer service. In fact, I would not be surprised if social media eclipses the traditional call centre as the preferred method of contact.
Are services like “Talk to the Manager” just the latest evolution of customer service? And, would more people offer feedback in an anonymous fashion? Perhaps managers would finally hear from the non-confrontational customers who might otherwise have kept quiet. Of course this type of service would be more suitable to some industries than others. (How’s my driving? Text 555-4435)
As a retailer, would you appreciate a service like this?
Do receive feedback from customers? Are text-feedback systems just the latest evolution of customer service?
The restaurant world is filled with various idioms. I’m sure everyone has heard them; phrases like “Can I tempt you with our hot peanut fudge quadruple scoop sundae?” delivered by the server in a rushed, robotic manner. As diners, we can almost anticipate them we hear them so often. But that may be about to change.
Last week, I read an article in The Globe and Mail newspaper that examined the latest service trend in the restaurant industry. Restaurants, the ultimate service business, are recognizing that they need to move beyond scripts to stay competitive. With so many restaurants to choose from, quality of service can be a distinguishing factor. As an Applebee’s executive so eloquently put it, “Food is easy to copy, a building is easy to copy, but it’s not easy to copy our people”.
So what are they doing instead? Teaching human observation skills. Or, in other words, asking servers to pay attention to their clientele. Some examples? “Customers who arrive early and well-dressed are likely on the way to the theatre and need fast service” and “chatty tables are more likely to respond to suggestive food and beverage selling”, among others. Similar insights could be applied to the retail industry as a whole.
As a consumer, I can attest that what I find to be “good service” is never scripted. It’s real human interaction that is timely, and relevant. It’s when I feel the salesperson is speaking to me, and not saying something because they were told to in an attempt to upsell. If scripts are not the answer, is teaching observation skills the new magic bullet?
Personally, I think that good servers already do this intuitively. And I think that’s why part of me remains skeptical about this new trend. I am fully behind the idea of investing in one’s employees, but I wonder, is good service something that can be taught at all? Sure, you can teach someone the mechanics of painting, but can you teach them to produce art? It may be a case of “you’ve got it or you don’t”. Many businesses believe they can hire any warm body and train them. What’s the result? Poor performance. High turnover. The feeling that anyone can work retail, and the resulting undervaluing of retail employees.
I propose retail businesses adopt a new approach: hire the right people – the ones with a talent for service – and invest to keep them there. The right people will do an amazing job, and if you treat them well, and pay them well, they will stay. Some level of training is always required, but starting from the right place is a smarter return on investment. So start by hiring the right people. You’d be well served.
Is truly “good service” something that can be taught? How do you invest in your employees?
I first discovered my passion for gadgets in 2004. Back home in my small town after completing first year of university, I found a job at a cell phone store in the mall. I figured ‘Hey, I get along with other human beings quite well, why not try out sales?’
It’s harder than it looks! Apparently, reading a product brochure verbatim to a customer while they are standing in front of you wasn’t exactly a sales booster. After a few unsuccessful and slightly stressful shifts, I discovered that knowing what the heck I was asking people to spend their hard earned cash on was going to be important. Right around here is where I learned about and fell in love with the awesome devices I was selling and began to love working in sales for that reason.
Of course now I had to get my own cell phone! Oh man, the Audiovox 8500 was it! A sleek little flip phone with changeable backlight colours. I rocked that hardware.
Alas, as is technological tradition, it was soon outdated and dumped for something that could better entertain me. My subsequent cellular relationships ended similarly, as I spent the next six years in wireless sales. This obsession with having the coolest devices kept me at the top of my game, however.
One of the most important tools to have in any sales environment, to me, is knowledge. Know what you have and know what’s coming next.
Everybody “Googles” before they shop now. Why wouldn’t we? It’s harder to get roped into a spiffed product by an apathetic sales person when you already have an idea of what you’re buying, right? Or worse yet, you get to the store and the sales person knows less than your minuscule “googling” taught you…
I challenge anyone who has spent time in retail to say you’ve never experienced that horrific moment where your client was more informed about your product than you. If you are not familiar with this situation, I applaud you. It’s painful, it sucks, it’s embarrassing and you can flush all that confidence and rapport you’ve built with that smarty pants right down the porcelain throne.
Avoid this! Control your sale, try teaching your client something about the product. Show them why they came to see you instead of ordering it online while checking out the user reviews. Keep up to date with your industry news through newspapers, handheld apps or blogs.
If you haven’t yet, check out the online coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2012) to learn about exciting new product launches and manufacturer’s grocery lists for this year.
What’s on your geeky wish list this year?
Were you one of the unlucky ones whose newest thing-a-ma-bob didn’t work as advertised? Maybe it was hurtled a little too vigorously down the chimney, or maybe the assembly line elf was asleep at the switch. Regardless, I’m sure it was frustrating as you agonized in the customer service line waiting to return that defective product.
If that did happen to you, my sympathies. But, as it turns out, there might not have been anything wrong with it after all.
Before the break, I read an interesting article on the ‘Retail Info System News’ website: “Consumer Electronics Returns Costs $16.7B Called Unsustainable”. You can find the original article here: http://goo.gl/Nd3Ub
This article discusses a study by Accenture which examined the high cost of returning consumer electronics. This includes receiving, diagnosing, repairing, re-packaging, shipping, then eventually re-selling. They found it amounts to $16.7 billion dollars a year.
That’s right. $16.7 billion.
Is this just a cost of doing business? Some would say so. But here’s the kicker. 68% of ‘defective’ product returns, when investigated, are deemed to have ‘No Trouble Found’. Only 5% of returned products are truly defective.
So what does this mean for the retail industry? It seems that a majority of returns are related to poor customer education. Here’s a great opportunity. Imagine implementing an in-store program that helps customers understand, setup, use and optimize the products they purchase. What a great way to improve the customer experience and turn customers into repeat, happy customers.
And, more importantly, save money.
According to Accenture “Reducing the number of NTF customer returns by just one percent would translate to roughly a 4% cut in return/repair costs. For a typical manufacturer, that represents approximately $21 million in annual savings; for a large retailer, about $16 million.”
Now that’s a kind of return we can all appreciate.
How do product returns affect your business? Do you have any programs in place to curb the amount of unnecessary returns?
This may sound funny coming from me, a tech geek that suffers from serious ringxiety and is connected to the Internet 24×7, but I like physical stores better than I like virtual ones. Of course, I’m not talking about convenience. Or price. Buying stuff in my pajamas during a snow day for a few bucks less than I would pay around town is always great. Obviously.
Savings aside, something gets lost in that transaction. It is the difference between shopping and purchasing. I still have an affinity to be treated as a person and not account #189320. When I visit a store, or a restaurant or a veterinarian (ok, not me, my dog) I am actually looking for something beyond the goods or services that I’ve decided to purchase. I want the service. As in… from a human being; a living, breathing, real, live human being. Who wants me to be satisfied.
Now competing with online shopping, it shocks me that some retail companies still don’t get that. How they can’t recognize that I can make my purchase online but that I have decided instead travel to and visit a real place with real human beings in order to receive “service” is baffling. I recently had a couple of experiences that caught my attention.
One was at a restaurant where I was utterly ignored by the servers. My presence was not acknowledged for almost 20 minutes until someone finally asked if I was ordering from the menu or going for the buffet. In their defense, I’ve not had much luck finding online buffets. But I’m sure they’re coming.
Not too long after, I went to a huge book store where the salespeople just didn’t care about the people coming and going. In and out. In and out. In and out. Not so much as a simple “Can I help you”?
It shouldn’t get to a point, I don’t believe, where the “in-person” retail experience feels like you’re asking for a favour instead of paying for a service. It was shocking. How do those people stay in business? I, for one, will never go back to those places.
We can now buy pretty much everything over the Internet. From groceries to ATV’s to cell phones. Restaurants are everywhere and “food” is not what I’m looking for when I go to one of them.
When I go anywhere I’m there for the service. If I go to a book store or to a restaurant it’s not because I can’t buy online or can’t cook my own food. It’s because I want to enjoy some good service provided by knowledgeable and friendly people. I want to feel special.
It was Dale Carnegie who said: “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.” and boy, the world was not that competitive during his time.