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.