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 have been in sales and marketing for about 20 years. I have worked for several telecommunications companies, both large and small. My background and experience has given me the good fortune to work with many companies similar to yours. The product I sell has many great features that I’m sure will help you and your company.
So, quick question; at what point did you stop caring about what I was saying? My guess is right away. Heck, even I was bored pretty much immediately.
In sales, as soon as you start talking about yourself and what you think is important, people stop listening. It’s not about you. Prospective customers don’t care about you. Now, don’t misunderstand; they may like you as a person. I’m sure you are quite likeable. But, when selling to retail or business customers, the only thing they are concerned with is solving their problems or achieving some objective. This problem or objective can be a business problem or it can be a personal situation, but the selling interaction needs to revolve around them. The problem might be a complicated business data requirement or it could be that their cousin Jim has a newer, faster smartphone and Jim keeps teasing him. It depends on the situation. Everybody that is buying something is either resolving a pain or trying to bring some pleasure into their lives.
One other thing that prospects don’t care about is the features of whatever it is you are selling. Obviously, the features are important but only as they are able to make their problem go away. They don’t buy the features, they buy the end result. Using the approach of, “This device is packed with features. Let me show you what X manufacturer has come out with in this model.” can be a deal breaker. It’s not about what the salesperson wants to say (despite the awesome product training they just had), it’s about what the potential customer needs. What they don’t need is to waste time or get confused listening to a sales pitch on features. For many, the features all sound about the same anyway so how does this help them make a decision? What prospects do need is to have a solution to their problem and a well-informed salesperson is in a great position to provide this solution.
So, what is this super secret that keeps the conversation about the prospect, that makes sure you are providing the solution that responds to the needs of the potential customer, and that guarantees you are not wasting their time or yours?
Questions. Learn to ask the right questions. Wow…I bet that is a shocker.
As simple as it seems, the right questions are the only way to know the truth and it is an area where so many salespeople struggle. They have so much information stored in their heads they feel that it just has to come out. Maybe they should ask some questions first? And not just superficial questions where you are not really paying attention (Questions asked…check!) and are just waiting for an opportunity to “sell”.
Asking the right questions will establish if the potential customer has a problem you can fix, how that problem is affecting their business or them personally, has the means (i.e. money) to invest in something that will resolve the problem and is looking to do it in a reasonable timeframe. Once you know this information, then you can use your knowledge of the industry, features, competitors, prices and so on to give them a professional response; a solution. Or, if they can’t afford your product or are not able to make the decision any time soon, then you can decide if you should spend your time with them or gracefully move on.