Retail selling begins before the customer arrives. Salespeople need knowledge, training, and rehearsal—before helping customers.
Unfortunately, retailing seldom allows time and expense for that ideal. Too often our salespeople get their training on the sales floor, searching for information and answers beside our customers, and learning their communication skills from their mistakes.
Confidence is contagious in retail selling; unfortunately, so is lack of confidence.
A relaxed and assured manner fosters trust and communication. Customers subconsciously sense a salesperson’s attitude and assume it’s based on his confidence in his products and recommendations.
Conversations tend to mesh in style, attitude, and focus. When a customer perceives a salesperson’s expectation that the conversation will culminate in a sale, he tends to adopt that expectation himself.
Confidence in retail selling goes a long way in explaining how a salesperson can “get on a roll” and why busy salespeople typically have higher closing ratios.
Great salespeople are easy to spot; they listen when their customers speak. They know that what the customer says is more important than what they say. And when they listen they learn what the customer needs and will buy.
Listening builds trust and lowers customers’ apprehension, defensiveness, and resistance. Customers’ reluctance to talk to salespeople is due largely to salespeople’s reputation (sometimes deserved) for being more interested in selling what they have than what the customer needs or wants. Asking and listening attentively is the obvious solution.
But listening requires discipline and self-restraint. When a strong sales point comes to mind, we’re naturally eager to present it. A good salesperson resists that urge until the timing is right. When a customer speaks, he stops what he’s saying—often mid-sentence—no matter how important his thought. He knows a customer who is talking isn’t listening. If the idea is important, it will get better consideration if he holds it for a more receptive moment.
Salespeople sometimes talk about “closing” as though what the salesperson says at the end of the conversation makes everything that came before it irrelevant. “He’s getting customers; he just doesn’t know how to close them.”
There is no secret combination of words or mystic phrase that causes customers to buy indiscriminately. A customer buys when all the pieces are in place: he has a need, the need is correctly identified, suitable products are shown, he believes a product matches his need, he feels the price is fair, the money is available ….
True, once an appropriate product is identified, the salesperson should maintain focus on a decision and ask what else needs to be done to facilitate the sale. Many customers need that encouragement.
However, if any of the requisite steps haven’t been adequately completed, there is no (legal) phrase that will make the customer buy. The problem is not in the “close” but in the steps that came before it.
The purpose of a return policy is to encourage sales, not to limit when and how customers can return something they’re unhappy with. “Take it with you. If you don’t like it, you can bring it back.”
Smart retailers don’t reluctantly offer return policies—they promote and advertise them. Not only do such policies create more sales, but if a customer is unhappy with a purchase, we don’t want him to keep it and be continually reminded of the bad experience with our store.
We have to forget about the few who abuse a return policy and focus on those who buy more because of the reassurance. The cost of a return is negligible if the merchandise isn’t damaged. And even those who buy intending to return often don’t get around to it or change their minds and keep the product.
A rookie salesperson counts “be backs” as future sales; veterans recognize them as missed sales.
“I’ll be back” is what customers say to extricate themselves from the situation without disappointing the salesperson. Even those customers who believe they’ll come back seldom do; they get distracted, lose their motivation, find other options, or simply procrastinate.
When a customer says he’ll be back or asks for a card, we should ask if we’ve shown him the correct product, answered his questions, and provided enough information. If he answers yes, he’ll typically say he just needs to think about it, which translates as “I’m not yet convinced that this is the right product or best price.” If he is receptive to further discussion, we should continue asking questions and providing information.
If the customer declines to continue the conversation, we can offer to send him some literature, collect some additional information for him, or call him if it goes on sale.
Following up means staying in touch with prospective buyers, calling, mailing, or emailing with additional information, keeping the purchase active in the customer’s mind, and providing whatever help the customer needs to make his decision.
For big ticket merchandise, it’s virtually impossible to be a top salesperson without consistent follow-up in retail selling. It can as much as double or triple sales.
A salesperson should always have a helpful reason for calling or mailing—collected more information about the product, availability, options, or pricing; located an alternative product they might be interested in; an invitation to a coming event; an upcoming sale…. Reasons are abundant when the salesman has determination.
Ever notice that our most loyal customers are often those who once had a complaint that we resolved? (Should we screw up more often just so we can fix it?)
A little attention usually makes up for a mistake, and our concern and determination to make it right demonstrate our standards and trustworthiness. The resulting relationship is a bond competitors can’t easily break.