Retail Associate Sales Training: 11 Ways To Get Better at Selling

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This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for accuracy.

Is the ability to excel at retail selling an instinctive talent that you have to be born with and that can’t be learned?

Not at all.

Almost anyone can learn to be a great retail seller if they follow these retail selling skills tips...

11 Ways Retail Associates Can Get Better At Selling

1. How To Smile When Greeting A Customer While Wearing A Mask


Tyra Banks called it "smize" meaning to smile with the eyes. As one of the top fashion models, she knew she had to greet the camera with a genuine-looking smile. What it takes is to flex the muscles on either side of the mouth so they turn up. Some refer to this as Duchenne smiling

You can greet a customer with a smile with or without a mask. The key is for your eyes to show true enjoyment to a stranger. That welcoming smile helps customers drop their wall of self-defense and be open to what you are saying. 

2. How to build rapport with customers

Rapport-building sounds so technical and de-personal and yet it is the heart of making any human interaction a success. Finding something in common, something not related to the merchandise in front of the customer begins to build rapport.

I call it opening a Window of Contact which requires a salesperson to notice something physical like jewelry, clothing, or 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-masse; 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 customer and the salesperson.

But it does take retail sales training to make it happen, you can Download the Complete Buyer's Guide to Online Sales Training.

3. How to sell people on value

The “She could sell 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.

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

Persuading customers to purchase merchandise they’ll later regret buying will result in customers who won’t return and will likely spread negative impressions of you and your brand all over Facebook and the like.

The best salespeople not only understand this principle but also 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 erasable writing surface on the side, so you can write your measurement on it and not forget.” Retail sales staff all need to be able to sell the good, better, and best solution for the customer's needs. 

4. How to challenge customer perceptions

If a guy 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 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 customer 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. 

5. How to sell with integrity

Most customers are savvy enough to tell when a retail associate is being honest with them—and they like it! If they feel they can trust you, they’re more likely to buy.

Never overstate the value of a product or service, and don’t gloss over potential shortcomings. Not only does dishonesty hurt your 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.

6. How to upsell and cross-sell

Great salespeople always use suggestive selling to increase the total sale while closing the sale once the customer has selected their main item or product. Think sheets for a bed, purse for a dress, belt for jeans, compost for a tree.

Upselling isn’t anything for a salesperson to feel guilty about. As a salesperson, that’s their job—as long as they’re honest – there’s that word again – to suggestively sell items that provide value.

Often, you can upsell or cross-sell by identifying a customer’s fears. If you can understand what customers are worried about, you can demonstrate additional products or services that can genuinely help solve their problems.

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 service, not trying to load them up on a 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 person is really after, you can gear your selling toward meeting that desire. Often you can 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.

7. How to learn from your selling successes and mistakes

You don’t stop learning to be a salesperson when your training is over—it’s 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 salespeople treat each customer as an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t, and they always look for ways to improve.

8. How to use persistence in your selling process

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. That's because so many other retailers couldn't care less about their customers.

Consistently making small personalized contact can go a long way toward closing a sale and 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.

9. The psychology of selling

Great retail associates focus on “reading” customers’ personalities and making adjustments in their sales techniques 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.

An easy check on yourself is to understand what is going on in the customer's mind that they aren't telling you.

When you truly understand the customer you hear questions like:

  1. Will this do the job?
  2. Can I trust this guy?
  3. I wonder what their return policy is?
  4. What did he just say?

10. How to use body posture in selling

Besides using a smize to greet customers, the rest of your body must be in a strong state. That means shoulders back, chest lifted at the sternum, and feet balanced so you feel you can walk in any direction at a moment's notice. That preparedness shows confidence to customers.

What takes away from your personal selling power? Having slumped and rounded shoulders, feet planted, and shallow breathing.

Check out these 9 Ways To Improve Your Body Language Nonverbal Skills

11. Don’t Act Desperate

No matter how much you want to make retail sales 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!

Measuring and improving your retail sales training will mean holding your staff accountable for using the correct ways to make a shopper's day. 

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

There is so much retail associates can do to improve selling abilities

These aren’t the only tips for you to become the best retail associate or for your whole team to get better at selling, but the best retailers are always looking for ways to stay the best.

Practice these tips in your daily huddle and you’ll enjoy riches your friends who are afraid to sell could never dream of.

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