This week, I noticed something scary happening (and yes, Halloween is already over). Retail stores have exploded with wrapping paper, bows and garlands. Radio ads proclaim “Outdoor light sale, get a jump on your decorating!” And two days ago, one of my social media acquaintances proudly boasted that their Christmas presents were bought, wrapped and already placed underneath the decorated Christmas tree.
It was November 4th.
For those that are bothered by this, it’s easy enough to ignore the premature festivity. But there is one aspect that is harder to tune out, and you can bet it will be starting soon, if it hasn’t already.
The Christmas music.
Some love it. Some hate it. Marketing wisdom tells us that it puts shoppers in the “right frame of mind”, and encourages them to buy more. It’s hard to argue with this business strategy and its bottom-line results (see last year’s post Deck the Malls for an overview).
For this reason, I’ve been waiting for someone to take Christmas music to the next level. Now that the holiday season officially runs from November to January, the next logical step is to write a new carol that reflects our modern reality. The “61 days of Christmas” seems like an appropriate title. By my calculations, it would take several days of continuous play to reach the end, and it could be placed on an endless loop in retail stores. And think of the possibilities for product advertising! “On the 49th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Windows 8 Surface Tablet!” It could be changed up every year to reflect the hottest products.
Then, to my relief, I came across a news article that dissuaded my fears of a 24/7-carol-o-thon. This week, Shoppers Drug Mart found itself in hot water after pumping out the Christmas tunes on November 1st. Customers complained that the pharmacy giant had overstepped the unwritten rule of “No Christmas before Remembrance Day” and the soundtrack was yanked “until further notice”. I skimmed through the 100+ comments on the article and the consensus was overwhelming: “No Christmas before December 1st please”.
Will retailers hear the message? Or will it be lost in the chorus of “fa la la la la-s” and register “cha-chings”?
Do you think the Christmas hype starts too early? Or should retailers use every sales tool at their disposal?
What’s your favourite part about the movie theatre experience? Some, no doubt, would argue it’s the popcorn. It’s not difficult to see why as it’s certainly hard to ignore. From the moment you step out of your car you can already smell it, its buttery popcorn-y goodness encircling your nostrils. Suddenly, even the fullest of stomachs can make room.
But did you know that what you really smell is payday for the theatre? The theatre industry is dependent on concession sales for its profits and uses every method at its disposal to persuade you to buy more food. To boot, that popcorn smell is really diacetyl, the artificial butter chemical favoured for its anti-spoilage properties, but perhaps more valuable for its potent smell. This chemically enhanced popcorn smells even better than the real thing. The result? People open their wallets and their mouths.
Sure, good smelling food leading to more sales is not a giant leap. But did you know even non-food retailers are using scents to sell everyday products? This marketing technique is known as environmental fragrancing; businesses use smells to elicit emotions that encourage shoppers to spend more dough.
In the cracked.com article “6 ways your sense of smell is secretly controlling your mind”, the science behind the strategy is explained. Smells are interpreted by the limbic system, one of the oldest portions of the brain. This system subconsciously associates smells with emotions, without the interference of higher brain functions like logic and reasoning. These associations are both powerful, and long-lasting. It’s why we experience sudden flashbacks when encountering a stranger wearing the same brand of perfume or cologne as an ex-lover.
This strategy not only places shoppers in “the right frame of mind”, it actually makes them spend more too. The cracked.com article recounts one study that showed “sales of men’s and women’s clothing nearly doubled when ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ scents were used nearby, an effect that disappeared when the smells were reversed”. It’s the same reason that car manufacturers infuse cars with “new car smell”. It’s why grocery stores place high-priced items around fresh bread and coffee, and flowers are placed right at the entrance. And it’s why home sellers will bake fresh bread and cookies before their open house. Scents make us impulsive, which invariably leads to more sales.
The next time you’re out shopping, take note of what you smell. It could really be the scent of cold hard cash.
Do you use scent-based marketing strategies? As a consumer, have you noticed this strategy while shopping?
I have writer’s block, and I’ve had it for a few months now. I spend at least an hour a day staring at the keyboard, waiting for words to flow. Instead, they’re stuck behind a stress-induced wall in my brain and they can’t make their way onto the page. It usually takes a while, but I eventually come up with enough words to string together to make a coherent though. Caffeine helps this process.
For most people, feeling creatively barren isn’t a big deal in their job. Even I have to admit that while this debilitating condition has affected my blogging, for the most part I’m able to continue on with my 9-5 life as per normal. But then again, my job also tends to be about data and numbers and it doesn’t require a lot of imagination or artistry. If I was in a sales position, I’d have a much bigger problem.
Most people don’t pair creativity with salesmanship, but the two really do go hand-in-hand. Being a salesperson is more than selling a product. You have to be better, smarter, and faster about selling that product than the guy in the store next door that is selling the same product. What is going to make me pick your pitch over his? It’s not because of your tie or because I like your smile. It’s because you’ve said or done something to draw my attention to you. You’ve made yourself stand out in such a way that I can see you and nothing else.
For a lot of salespeople, creativity can be a problem. They didn’t sign up for their jobs because they had great ideas and needed an outlet for them. Most salespeople are involved in an industry that they have some sort of knowledge in and therefore they can speak intelligently about a product. And don’t misunderstand – that is a very valuable tool. But unless your company is the only one on the planet that sells that product, chances are high that you’re going to have some competition in the marketplace. Knowledge of the product won’t be enough to sell it – you’re going to have to come up with an unique approach to the sale.
So if you’re not a naturally creative person, what can you do to spark that side of your brain into waking up? There are tons of great suggestions to be found online for getting you and your sales force into an inspired state of mind. Beyond that, though, you need to have the creative mentality in place in your organization. Encourage your sales reps get together to brainstorm and communicate and think outside-the-box. The one of the biggest mistakes that most companies make is that they pit their sales reps against each other in a competition to see who can get the most sales/commission. And that will usually work….to a point. If you want to build a long-lasting relationship with a customer, the foundation needs to be stronger than a load of nonsense that was served up out of desperation because your sales agent had a power bill coming due. It needs to be about being memorable. I have to see something in you and your product that makes me keep coming back. I’ve got my own power bill to pay, so scamming me and making me regret the transaction probably isn’t going to accomplish much over the long run. But if you can put some thought and imagination and resourcefulness into an approach that is going to make me want to come back to you over and over again, then everyone will benefit from that burst of originality.
Do you see a need for creativity in sales? As a salesperson, what creative methods do you use?
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.
OK, you are not going to die but rather the company you own or work for will – maybe. It’s no surprise that continuously looking for, and executing opportunities to make your business better is a necessity. Unless you are advancing more rapidly than your competition, you are moving backwards. Do you think your competition is sitting back waiting for things to happen? Some are. But some are not. The latter are aggressively improving – or perhaps reinventing – their business in response to financial, market, customer or competitive pressures.
I have always had respect and admiration for companies that successfully develop or utilize technology. Further back than I would care to admit (my computer was a 286 Compaq if that gives you any idea) I was keen to learn how new technology was impacting businesses and their efforts to innovate and compete for customers.
General Electric recently released a report based on an independent survey of 1,000 business executives in 12 countries. The “GE Global Innovation Barometer” looks at big-picture innovation questions such as economic policy, national growth, innovation drivers, likely opportunities where innovation will have the most societal impact and so on. Now, “innovation” can be considered the extreme of “advancement”. Innovation, in my view, is a game-changer and disruptive like the iPod, Amazon etc. These are well-known consumer examples but in each industry there are companies that break new ground and change the rules.
The GE survey highlights some interesting thoughts for small business and individuals.
- 75% of executives Strongly Agree that SMEs and individuals can be as innovative as large companies
- 69% Strongly Agree that innovation is driven more by people’s creativity than by high level scientific research
- 76% Strongly Agree that, more than ever, innovation needs to be localized to serve specific market needs
- 75% Strongly Agree that the way companies will innovate in the 21st century is totally different than the way they have innovated in the past.
The GE survey focuses on technology innovation with a global perspective. But, does this mean that the results have no relevance to smaller businesses? I don’t think so. Notice that SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprise) and individuals were prominently mentioned.
And what if your company doesn’t build new technology? What if you are in retail? A rare, few companies will develop and introduce a disruptive new innovation that redefines the rules (i.e. iPod). But even without ground breaking innovation, every business needs to advance the way they do business if they want to grow. Maybe your advancement is a unique and better customer buying experience, superior training for managers and staff, leapfrogging your competition by employing technology, a new customer service model, etc.
If you believe, as these 1000 leaders do, that innovation is the key to growth, then how are you going to foster and tap into the creativity of your people? How are you developing your staff and what environment do you have in place so they can express their views? What about execution? Unless the idea gets successfully executed, it is still just an idea. And, if you have been an innovation leader in the past, how are you going to maintain that energy and ability to deliver? I bet you can name a tech giant or two that is struggling to keep pace with the competition’s new product and service offerings.
Successful business owners and entrepreneurs know that there is always a better way, always an opportunity. Relying on past successes as an indicator of future performance, or not delivering a product or service that is somehow superior compared to your competition, is a recipe for a slow or quick death. You don’t want to die, do you? That’s a rhetorical question.
If you had to name one challenge that gets in your way of advancing or innovating in your business, what would it be?
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?
I have a confession to make. As it relates to the battle of wills, I am known to succumb to good sales people every time I go shopping. It’s even worse near Christmas when I’m getting desperate to find better gifts than a gas-station jug of washer fluid.
I bought so much junk that I didn’t intend to buy that I had to take a step back and figure out what had happened to me. It turns out we’re all victims of our own minds. There are so many hidden biases trapped in our minds that it’s almost amazing we don’t constantly trade our houses and cars for magic beans.
So I looked into it a bit. It turns out we anchor our choices to a single trait when making a decision. If the salesperson knows this (and which trait to target), they only have to convince you of the one useless (but superior) feature in order to make the sale.
We also like to think we’re always right, so we look for support of a previous decision. Again, if the salesperson knows this, they can push the right buttons. This is part of the reason salespeople always ask you what you’re looking for – it’s much easier to encourage an existing opinion than to change it. That’s also probably why I bought this year’s release of the same crappy phone I was unhappy with last year – somehow it was still a good move in my mind.
These effects don’t just occur when we’re purchasing something new, but also when we’re being sold “add-ons” like extended warranties. For some reason, I’m happy to pay more to prevent the malfunction of something than I would be to just buy it for the first time. Evidently this happens to a lot of people, since they have a name for it: the ‘endowment effect’.
The surprising part of these biases is that they work on us even when we’re aware of them. And further: we all believe we are less biased than everyone else. This is related to our universal belief that we’re all above average (despite the mathematical difficulties inherent in this claim). Somehow, ninety percent of us believe we’re better than average drivers. But alas, ninety percent of skilled sales people probably already knew that.
Are your sales staff aware of these behaviour biases? Do they utilize them when making sales?
After 5 years, my laptop finally gave up the ghost. I ventured down to a big box electronics store on my lunch break. My salesperson was friendly, got my name, and helped me with my purchase. To my surprise, he did a lot of things right. Until…
The extended warranty spiel.
I listened patiently as he outlined every benefit of the extended warranty. Five minutes later it was finally over. My response?
“I think I’ll pass.”
He looked surprised. “Can I ask why?”
I gave him points for that. Rather than saying the real reason (I’m too cheap), I replied with a more elusive, “I’ll take my chances”
He actually grimaced at me. “Well you will certainly be rolling the dice”. His tone was if I had decided to drop out of school, or take up cake juggling, not refuse a $200 warranty on a $500 laptop.
He went on, “The failure rate on laptops is quite high. And the power cords? They generally only last 12-14 months before they give out from regular use, and then you’re looking at $100 to replace them. If you need parts for repairs, it can take weeks to get them from the manufacturer” And on and on.
He did relent after I refused again, but it left a sour note on an otherwise pleasant sale.
So what was he selling me exactly? It didn’t sound like an extended warranty anymore. It sounded like he was serving me a big heaping pile of fear – though he did stop short of claiming my computer could (and certainly would) burst into flames at any moment.
Why do we sell warranties this way? The fear tactic must work on some people. But I have to wonder, are those people satisfied customers?
Extended warranties can be great, and are valuable and necessary in the right circumstances. That said, I am curious if there is a better way to sell them that doesn’t sabotage the salesperson’s hard work on the floor. What do you think?
What techniques do you use to sell extended warranties? As a shopper, what has convinced you to purchase them?
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.