How To Use The Right Questions To Sell More Effectively

By Bob Phibbs

retail sales training tipsHow do I make my shop busier?

I get a lot of variations of this question from retailers...

Like everything is perfect; I just need more customers.

They are like gamblers who say they just need more chips.

But if they aren’t playing the game at the best of their ability, those poker chips are quickly squandered.

Likewise, if you aren’t getting the most out of those who are already visiting your store…

You’re settling for crumbs when you can have the whole feast.

That’s because you are probably making some huge assumptions:

  1. That customers know what they want.
  2. That they’ve gotten all the information they need from the web.
  3. That it’s all about price.

 All three of these are wrong.

  1. Customers know they want something, or they aren’t shopping. She may not have given voice to the fact that she feels like a frump every time she looks in her closet; she just knows she needs a change. And that’s the real reason she’s in your store.

  2. Customers only know what they learned from Google based on the quality of the criteria they entered. That doesn’t mean their results are the best, those results are just one answer. And your customer is searching for more answers to choose from in your store.

  3. Customers can always find somewhere cheaper to buy. There’s always someone cheaper. And you probably won’t be the lowest price...

To drive higher sales, you need to change the assumptions you’ve made and the questions you are asking customers.

Instead of assuming the customer knows what they want and asking, “Can I help you find something?” ask yourself, “What are they trying to solve?

It’s a subtle difference but one that yields bigger sales.

Why? 

Because when you assume the customer knows your inventory and it’s just a matter of bringing it to them, you haven’t engaged your own creativity, interest, or questioning skills. You’ve become passive in the selling process.

Your ability to look at things from the customer’s perspective lets you sell side-by-side like you are both trying to figure it out.

Your customer may not even know their problem, so your job as a salesperson hinges much more on problem-finding than on problem-solving.

That’s where you can really grow your sales...by asking better questions.

It isn’t that he needs a new propane torch for his kitchen, it’s finding that he just enrolled in his first class at cooking school.

It isn’t that the guy needs a new clothes washer, it’s finding out he and his partner just moved into a new home because his parents are moving in with them.

It isn’t that the secretary needs a new pair of running shoes, it’s that she is trying to lose forty pounds for her high school reunion in four months.

You can potentially take away a lot of problems because you have solutions to things they haven’t even considered yet.

When you are concerned with identifying the customers’ problems…your mind begins to race...

The new chef will need much more than just a torch.

The demands on all the appliances will be greater than just the washer for this guy.

The woman will be running in the dark before she goes to work.

Thinking like this opens a world of possibilities to sell multiple products in your store.

And that’s how you surprise and delight your customers.

But even more…

The questions you ask keep your mind engaged…

In addition to asking better questions to uncover problems, you need to ask additional questions to build your sale. Putting yourself in the customers’ shoes helps you to also understand what they might like to do.

So why not ask the guy who has just ordered flowers for his mom, “So how about some for yourself today?”

Oh right, that’s icky.  That’s sales-y.

No, that’s how you build a business.

By encouraging people to treat themselves...

To experience joy...

To have hope they can win the race, pass the course, lose the weight.

Today a salesperson needs to be good at asking the right questions to uncover and amplify possibilities, to discover underlying problems and unexpected opportunities...and to treat themselves.

That keeps the mind active and makes every customer a unique individual, rather than the same old, same old.

Why today did this person make the effort to come into our store? What all can I help them with?

Contrast that attitude to the experience I had on Madison Avenue in New York City last week with some of the most expensive products being sold on this planet by employees without sales training who could only ask, “Can I help you find something?”

Do not treat your brick and mortar store as a warehouse... just waiting for the right person to ask for a specific product so you can deliver and charge their credit card.

Do not treat your customers like they are just clickers, buying products online.

Otherwise sales and salespeople become mindless, robotic and monotonous. And less profitable.

But it’s up to you.

See also, Excellent Customer Service Starts With A Positive Attitude 

In Sum

So instead of looking for how to attract more customers, you must change the way you look at the ones you already have.

They will buy more, if you just ask the right questions.

If they are looking for cheap flooring for their rental units, throw care to the wind and ask, “Now may I show you the good stuff for your own home?” as you walk to your premium flooring.

Or if they are holding a wool, sale sweater say, “That’s a great value for next fall. Did you see this that we just received for Spring?”

You get the idea.

It starts with the idea that you don’t effectively need more customers, you need to be more effective with your customers.

Stop settling for the crumbs customers tell you they are looking for. Use retail sales training to bring out your own creativity when asking questions, so you can have the whole feast.

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