How To Save A Sale By Dealing With Stump The Chump

By Bob Phibbs

stump the chump sellingStump the Chump usually refers to someone in the audience trying to try to trip up a speaker with aggressive and sometimes downright nasty-sounding questions.

While it’s never easy to deal with that as a speaker because the dynamic can quickly turn into kill the leader where you lose the audience completely, I want to share with you two places Stump the Chump can occur in your store.

The first is when a customer comes in armed with data about one specific model. We’re talking appliances, housewares, sports equipment, jewelry and the like.

They approach a salesperson innocently enough with something like, “Tell me about this product.” The associate, who probably has basic information, but not a deep knowledge does a dutiful job of answering the questions.

For more information about selling, checkout my resource on Retail Sales Training

But the shopper wants to show how foolish the associate is and make themselves look better. Many times they may not recognize their own motivations.

The problem is that the associate feels they have to jump over a fence to build trust with this shopper so they give up entirely which costs you sales.

I’ve had my share of such shoppers on the sales floor and here are my tips to save a sale:

  • Stay in control of the situation and be positive.
  • Say to yourself there is no conflict; it’s just a game.
  • Turn their question back on the person by asking, “Why do you ask about that?” or “Is that important to you?” Both can help gain control again.
  • Their ego is involved here, so compliment their knowledge. Don’t make excuses if you get stumped.
  • If it feels too personal, turnover the sale to someone else saying, “You know, I think (name of person) can help you better with that.” Then introduce them and excuse yourself.

But the salesperson can also initiate Stump the Chump. We’ve all been in the presence of the know-it-all who has to make sure you know he or she knows more than you.

Again, we’re talking ego.

They may point out features very fast or regale the unwitting shopper with personal stories about how they solved another customer’s problem. The danger again is, shoppers do not want to feel stupid. They want to feel smart.

The trick is balancing a product-knowledge expert’s trove of information to the situation. That takes retail sales training, so they can add bite-sized information as needed to make the sale.

The old mantra, You don’t have to tell me how to build a watch when I just want to know the time is valid.

To keep your employees from engaging in Stump the Chump, train these three tactics:

  • Always preface more information by asking permission, “Would you like me to tell you more about it in detail?” This gives the shopper the chance to say no and remain in control.
  • Group your product trainings into three categories: What you would tell a novice, a hobbyist, and a professional.
  • Make sure they can compare and contrast products using language easy for a customer to understand.

And again I remind you this survey that I conducted with Oracle NetSuite found a major disconnect between what retailers think their customers want from the retail experience and what shoppers actually want.

53% of consumers are left feeling stressed, anxious, alone, overwhelmed, or confused in the store, and only 39% of consumers feel confident in retail stores today.

Clearly, retail staff don’t understand how to meet their customers’ needs. Employee sales training can help address this, but retailers first need to recognize the value in this investment. 

Interestingly, 56% of Millennials would feel more welcomed with an increase in store staff interaction.

It’s all about you having the right interactions with staff. If employees aren’t being helpful, no one will want to interact with them. And if they’ve come in contact with a Stump the Chump type associate, they probably won’t seek out another any time soon. 

See also, Are Your Retail Salespeople Vomiting On Your Customers?

In Sum

While you can’t stop Stump the Chump shoppers from challenging your associates, you can and must stop your own salespeople from playing Stump the Chump.


The best retailers understand that one-upmanship is not going to lead to more sales; in fact, just the opposite happens.

Let’s ditch Stump the Chump.

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