Sometimes our time-tested and proven-to-work retail sales approaches need to be re-evaluated.
Once a store owner with whom I was having a casual conversation remarked: "The salespeople I value most are those who have the habit of getting rid of whatever doesn't work." I asked him to be specific. He replied: "Take the salesperson who keeps hearing 'I'm just looking' from the customer he greets with 'Can I help you,' but keeps on using that non-productive and often irritating question." Of course, I agreed with him. Recently, however, I have begun to examine some of my own habits on the sales floor only to find out that I too had clung to some habits which needed replacing. One of them is the statement put to the customer who says "I'm just looking." I had always taught salespeople to say the following (after inviting the customer to feel comfortable and to make herself at home while looking around in the store): "I'll check back with you in a while to see if you have any questions." At a recent Thomasville seminar I attended, instructor Sally Leigh suggested we ask permission of the customer to check back. I now have witnessed a number of salespeople at Schneiderman's Twin City stores doing exactly that. The results have been highly encouraging. Now that I've analyzed my old approach versus Sally's, I see why hers is so much better. My approach assumed the customer's permission to check back; her approach asks for the customer's permission. No sin in selling is more deadly than that of assuming to know what our customers want.
I'd like to comment on another of my habits which I'm thinking of changing: asking customers, "Who was helping you the last time you were in the store?" Consultant Ted Shepherd, wrote an article in the February 1996 issue of FURNITURE WORLD in which he expressed the thought that putting that question to the customer is self-serving, and more often than not is offensive to customers (I'd welcome responses from our readers on this observation). Any practice on the floor based on the store's needs first and the customer's needs second, ought to be discarded.
On one occasion I suggested to the owner of a furniture chain that his staff should change the manner in which they answered calls for a brand they didn't carry. For example, whenever a customer called about a brand of mattress his store didn't carry, the caller inevitably heard the words, "We don't carry that brand." Again and again his people would hear a click. Another call wasted. I reminded the owner that none of those calls were free: they were the result of telephone, newspaper, and T.V. ads, referrals, and many other investments made in advertising and goodwill over the history of his company. He remarked that far from being free, each call was downright expensive. His yellow pages ad, he told me, cost him about twenty thousand dollars a year. "Then why continue with a practice guaranteed to waste every one of those calls?" I asked. He agreed that he didn't want to continue doing that and inquired what my suggested remedy was.
"Answer as follows," I suggested: "That's a fine brand. Next do either or both of the following. State the brand you do carry and invite the customer to come into the store so that by comparison they might be better able to make the best buying decision. Next, ask some questions about the brand the customer asked for and find out what they liked about it." The owner took my suggestion. The improvement that continued to follow was remarkable. Customers who used to be lost with a click of the phone began to come into his stores to purchase.
A willingness to replace a technique, a probe, a close, etc. with a more effective one must always be a part of the way we sell. The criterion for being willing to make such changes must be based on what the customer prefers. In short, an effective sales strategy leaves the customer feeling glad and not mad, sad, or scared. One final thought: being willing to make necessary changes in our selling calls for humility, a humility based on the truism that those of us who feel we have learned it all run the sad risk that we very probably have. So...
IF IT'S NOT WORKING, SCRAP IT!
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.