Stop Selling, Start Listening To Your Retail Customers. 5 Ways How

I walked into a men’s boutique the other week when a young woman lurched out from a four-way rack with a small flier telling me how the whole store was now 40% off.  She then asked how I was and what I was looking for that day...all in one breathe.

You could smell the desperation of this once-popular brand. I left.

You don’t have to be much of a listener to be an order taker. And if all we had to do was ask our customers what they were looking for, then listen to their response and just take them to the product, anyone could do it.   

In many ways, that’s what Amazon does in their warehouses. It’s also why so many retailers are struggling.

If you want to get the really big sales, the really loyal customers, the buzz people want to share with their friends about something other than your crazy discounts, you and your crew better learn how to communicate with strangers.  

That starts with a better job of listening. When you do that well you hear opportunities where most retailers don’t.

But quite simply, we’ve all become passive listeners.  

Our ears are letting the information in, but it stops there.

It’s like being at a sports bar talking to a buddy with one eye on the game.  The sound from the TV may be getting to your ears, but you aren’t processing it unless someone says, “Did you just hear that?” At that point your brain tries to rewind what the ears heard.

Swiss Listening

swiss cheese listening when sellingPassive listening is listening without reacting; there is nothing expected from you. As a result, the information going to the processing part of the brain is filled with holes.  For that reason I call it Swiss Listening.

When you are Swiss Listening, the stream of information is not complete. The brain tries to do its best by assuming from the words coming in, what the other person must be saying.

In both cases, you’re just hearing the words, not processing what they mean or connecting them to a person, an activity or something that directly affects you.

On the other hand, when you actively listen, you send a message that you care what the other person says.

Think of a time you were trying to hear someone at a loud concert or crowded mall. You intentionally made yourself focus your hearing and connected it to a purpose. You wanted the details, the emotions. You connected the words your ears heard through to your brain so it could process the information and respond to it. You were actively listening. You were engaged in two-way communication.

Active listening is the foundation of relationship building. It doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.

Five Ways To Listen Better Before Trying To Sell

  1. Focus. One of the first things is to not to allow yourself to get distracted when you are listening to someone. When we miss something, most of us get embarrassed and cover it by asking a question. The problem is customers don’t like to repeat themselves. Look at their face, watch their expressions and wait until they are finished to talk.

  1. Key Words. Listen for the key words in what the other person is saying. Ask yourself, “What is most pressing about this situation?”  When you do that, you’ll hear the critical words that help you solve their problem. That lets you personalize the interaction.

  1. Paraphrase. To make sure the customer knows you understand them, restate what you think you heard them say. When you check for your own comprehension, it helps make your exchange more human. It lets the other person relax.  In a world that doesn’t seem to care – they know you heard them correctly.

  1. Show it. How can another person know you are actively listening to them? You make eye contact. You lean in just a bit. You nod your head. You will be listening not just to the spoken words but to the tone and inflection to tell what emotion they have about what they are speaking about, so you can respond accordingly. Make sure to wait patiently for them to finish.

What not to do?

  1. Get ahead of yourself. There’s only one thing not to do and that is to be talking to yourself while the other person is speaking. You do that because you want try to fix something quickly, which may or may not be what is needed at that moment. Sometimes, people just want to get their thoughts all out. You want to avoid crafting any kind of response to what the person says until you’ve confirmed you understand what they said.

See also, 10 Non-Negotiables Customers Expect When Visiting A Store


In your personal life, you don’t want to be that guy or that gal who just waits for the other person to stop talking so you can talk again. 

I mean…do you?

In a retail store, the first skill you need to master and use is the ability to actively listen and react, restate, and encourage your customer to engage with you. 

Your ability to actively listen when someone is talking to you must come from your own personal discipline. 

Miss that key skill to actively listen and whatever sales training you give them will be worthless. That’s why I’m adding a new course to my online retail sales training program, covering this important topic. 

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