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.
Most of us, at one time or another, have worked in retail. For me, it was a 7 month stint selling hiking boots and clothing at an outdoors store.
My sales usually started the same way. A new customer would walk into the store, eyes darting between the overfilled racks of winter coats, to the wall of footwear, and beyond. I would adorn my most helpful smile and approach them.
“Can I help you find something?”
They would shake their head and reply; “Just looking”…the politer cousin of “Leave me alone”.
I would gracefully back away as they wandered through the merchandise maze, thumbing through accessories and picking shoes off the display wall. It was then my job to a) look for my opportunity to jump into the sale and b) make sure they didn’t steal anything (my manager was an especially suspicious type).
And on it went; the typical retail experience. It’s something that I didn’t think about again, until recently when I read the book ‘New Profits in Wireless Retailing’ by consumer electronics guru Edmond Legum. And Ed really threw me for a loop. He asserts:
“Can I help you?” is one of the quickest ways to build a barrier between you and your customer.
“Customers have been customers much longer than your typical retail salespeople have been salespeople. They have rehearsed their lines for years. They know what to say when a typical salesperson greets them with ‘May I help you?’ The answer is, ‘No, I’m just looking’.”
– Ed Legum, New Profits in Wireless Retailing (2008)
Shut down. Game over. That sale is over before it even begins.
I’m not going to lie, I was taken aback.
And it’s so true. I dutifully follow this script almost every time I enter a retail store, even when I actually am looking for something specific, or really could use some help.
If we don’t know what our customer is looking for, we can’t sell it to them, and they risk walking out empty handed. So we cope by stalking their every move, barraging them with information every time they touch something they pass by. And, the last time I checked, harassment is not a viable sales tactic.
If “Can I help you?” is out, what SHOULD we say?
Legum suggests a personal introduction, followed by a pointed “What brought you into our store today?”
Break the script, and stalk no more.