Retail Sales Associate Training: 9 Ways To Get Better At Selling

By Bob Phibbs

How to get better at retail sellingWhen you're looking at how to get better at selling, you may think selling comes naturally.

You’ve probably heard it said of someone, “They could sell (snow, ice, a refrigerator) to an Eskimo,” or something similar about sales professionals.

But how did they get that way? Is the ability to excel at selling techniques in retail sales an instinctive talent that you have to be born with and that can't be learned?

Not at all.

Almost anyone can learn how to be a great retail sales person if they follow these principles and selling tips

9 Ways To Get Better At Selling In Retail

1. Make a friend
Rapport-building sounds so technical and de-personal and yet it is the heart of making any human interaction a success. And it is more than how you greet customers. Finding something in common, something not related to the merchandise in front of the customer begins to build rapport. I call this type of personal selling opening a Window of Contact which requires a salesperson to notice something physical like jewelry, clothing, even the type of smartphone the person in front of them has. The salesperson then comments on that item with a question and shares something related about themselves based on what that customer answered.

You can't do it en-mass; you can't do it by formula, by rote or by script. That's why it works. It acknowledges that each person is unique, different and interesting - both the shopper and the salesperson. But it does take retail sales training to avoid reverting to using some sales pitch.

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2. Sell people on value over price.
The “selling snow to an Eskimo” comment may be intended as a compliment of someone’s selling ability, but in truth it highlights what a salesperson shouldn’t do. It inherently makes a salesperson sound dishonest. It really says that the best salespeople are just slick and slimy fast-talkers who can make people buy even what they don’t need.

This is why so many people are afraid to even say they are salespeople – they think that title is icky.

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Selling products or services that aren’t genuinely useful, enjoyable, or in some other way beneficial to a particular customer may help a retail salesperson’s short-term sales, but in the long run, you can’t be a great salesperson if you don’t consistently provide value to your customers.

You’ll be a sham, and customers will smell it on you. Worse, you’ll be selling based on discounts to override the customers’ suspicions you can’t be trusted. You'll be what a prospective customer is most afraid of - being sold something they didn't want. 

Selling merchandise to customers that they’ll later regret buying will result in poor customer service and people who won’t return and will likely spread negative impressions of you and your brand all over social media.

The best salespeople not only understand this principle, they put it to work when they are selling. They show that an item’s unique features give that one customer a unique benefit. For example, “This measuring tape has an eraseable writing surface on the side, so you can write your measurement on it and not forget.”

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3. Challenge their perceptions.
Everything that happens in your store is filtered by customer perception. If a shopper tells you he is looking to buy a cheap 50' garden hose because "every damn one of them breaks after a few months so I don't want to put a lot of money in it," it is up to the salesperson to challenge their perceptions. To sell the premium $40 hose, the successful salesperson has to say something like, "You know the water in a hose that is out in the summer heat can boil? That makes the lining susceptible to tearing and shredding, like you're experiencing now. This hose has a triple reinforced and insulated lining preventing that and staying flexible even when it freezes."

What the shopper really wanted was to not have a hose that broke. The hose company saw a need in those types of customers and came out with premium hoses to help them. When a salesman doesn't challenge a customer's perceptions, the premium items sit - until they are marked down.

4. Be honest.
Most customers are savvy enough to tell when someone is being honest with them—and they like it! If they feel they can trust you, they’re more likely to buy and the greater their customer satisfaction.

Never overstate the value of a merchandise or service, and don’t gloss over potential shortcomings. Not only does dishonesty hurt your retail store and your own reputation – it makes people leave without buying!

That means if you don’t know, you don’t just shrug your shoulders ;you tell them you will find the answer right then from someone else who knows.

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5. Add-on, Suggestively sell or Cross-sell.
Great salespeople always try to increase the sales total once the customer has selected their main item or product. Examples of these suggestive selling techniques include sheets for a bed, purse for a dress, belt for jeans, compost for a tree. Adding-on isn't anything for a sales associate to feel guilty about. As a salesperson, that's their job--as long as they're honest - there's that word again - and sell items that provide value.

Often, you can upsell or cross-sell by identifying a shopper's fears. If you can understand what customers are worried about, then when you are assisting customers, you can demonstrate additional products or services that can genuinely help solve their problems. And that's whether you work in boutiques or department stores.

For example, if you were selling all-leather shoes and a customer kept talking about how much they got caught in the rain, it would be a good upsell to show them the rainproof spray at the counter. You are doing the customer a service, not trying to load them up on worthless product. (Ice to Eskimos.)

Other times, you're appealing to customers' desires, which sometimes are not clarified in their own minds. If you can identify what a shopper is really after, you can gear your personal selling toward meeting that desire... and can often make a larger sale, as well as make the customer happy by finding additional products that will make their purchase easier, faster, more stylish or complete. That's what makes a great salesperson and increases customer satisfaction from making the effort to drive to your store. And that goes far beyond closing a retail sale.

6. Learn from your successes and mistakes.
You don’t stop learning to be a salesperson when your training is over—skills development is an ongoing process. Why? Because great salespeople are students of behaviors. They want to understand why a customer did or didn't buy from them, what they might have done differently or how they might have presented the higher-priced merchandise more appealingly.

Great retail salespeople treat each customer as an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t with potential customers, and they always look for ways to improve.

7. Go the Extra Mile.
Selling is like anything else—persistence pays off. You don’t want to be pushy, but you also want to be diligent in your follow-up, both pre-sale and after-sale if necessary. Show customers that you genuinely care about their experience and want to help them. Thats because so many other retailers couldn't care less about their customers. Consistently making small personalized contact can go a long way toward increasing your sales. In many ways, making a sale is a courtship, and there’s nothing wrong with “wooing” customers as long as you’re honest and forthright.

8. Pay attention to customer psychology.
Great salespeople focus on “reading” customers’ personalities and making adjustments in sales technique based on the personality type. For example, introverts require a different selling approach than extroverts do. Take note of how various kinds of people react differently to sales approaches, and alter your techniques accordingly.

9. Don’t Act Desperate.
No matter how much you want to make a sale or need to make a sale, don’t approach a customer with dollar signs in your eyes. Remember that you’re selling them something that will make their lives better (or you should be), and your attitude ought to reflect that to the customer. They should feel like you’re helping them—not that they’re helping you!

See also, How To Approach A Customer In A Good Way

In Sum

These aren't the only strategies for how to be a retail salesperson, but the best retailers are always are looking for ways to stay the best. Practice these tips daily on your sales floor and you'll enjoy riches your friends who are afraid to sell could never dream of.

The best way to learn a proven retail sales process that covers everything from how to greet a customer to suggestive selling, handling objections and more, checkout my online sales training program SalesRX below.

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