What are the best ways to greet or approach a customer? How do I get customers to start a conversation with me, and what are some of the best conversation-starting questions?
What are some questions to avoid when interacting with customers? What do I need to understand when dealing with customers from different generations or different personality styles?
You’ll quickly find that coming up with the idea to change the way you sell is the easy part. Actually executing on that idea is where it gets interesting.
A retail sales strategy is how you plan to make more sales in your brick and mortar store. A full lifecycle of selling in a store includes how to greet a shopper, how to build rapport, how to get customers to tell you their wants—not just needs—handling objections, closing the sale, and following up.
In the not-too-distant past, retailers and their employees could count on a never-ending stream of shoppers in their store. If they missed one or two, there would be plenty of others. With retail sales high, employees could get away with bad habits and still do well.
That all changed after 9/11 as shoppers pulled back from shopping at previous levels. Then, to make themselves feel better, homeowners took out equity loans and spent lavishly. That lasted until the financial crisis of 2008 took hold, when many believe shopping fundamentally changed. And with the advent of online giant Amazon, it was only a matter of time until employees were sacked and those who were left were having to do more with less.
If you’re a retailer in search of why it is important to improve your associates’ retail selling skills or if you are an individual employee, you need to get a higher conversion rate of shoppers browsing your merchandise to customers purchasing it than you ever had to before.
Unless you get more from those who do come through your door, sales will decline and your own job may be in jeopardy.
The common theme around the top strategies that the best retail sellers employ is to have employees who are able to build rapport and trust before trying to direct customers to merchandise. The best salespeople use a step-by-step sales process that builds on your good hiring skills. When you create an exceptional shopping experience, your conversions increase.
Are you interested in learning what it takes to become the best salesperson at your store?
When I was selling clothing as I put myself through college, I had a guy who came into the store and told me that he needed a red shirt for a party. "Why red?" I asked. "My girlfriend told me to wear red," he replied.
I showed him how red really wasn't a good color for his skin, shared the mistake I'd made getting one once, and showed him a good blue shirt he would wear be able to wear after the party. Because I’d built rapport before showing the merchandise and challenged his request, he also purchased about $300 more clothing.
After I sent him a handwritten note thanking him for his purchase, he returned to the store. He said, "You know, most people would have just gotten me the shirt and been done with it. But you took the time to educate me. Everybody said I looked so great that I should get more, so I'm changing my wardrobe." With that, he purchased thousands of dollars worth of clothes.
A lazy clerk would have simply sold him the $30 red shirt.
The essential skills you need to learn in order to approach customers more effectively, increase ticket value, and close more sales is to master my five-step selling process:
1. The Greeting
2. Windows of Contact
3. Your Question
4. Features and Benefits
5. Close with an add-on
When you do all of this, everyone wins. The customer gets more of what they really wanted because you made the effort to get it right, and you included all the other items that would make that first purchase even better.
And you did all of this with a helpful attitude, so you grew sales.
The best way to greet a shopper or approach a customer is with an open heart. You have to be more curious about who they are than what they are looking for. Then, you want to:
It’s always a good idea to approach a shopper at about a 45 degree angle, so they can pass by you easily without feeling trapped or forced to say something.
Beyond that, your first goal is to get the shopper to build enough trust in you that your recommendations are valued. The best way to start a conversation with a stranger after the greeting is to open what I call a Window of Contact:
Get this right, and you form the basis for a great conversation that most often leads to a sale. Blow it, and you face objection after objection and often lose the sale simply because they didn’t trust you.
The five worst questions and things to avoid saying when first interacting with shoppers and customers are:
Other things to note when you are trying to build rapport and get the sale is the differences between generations.
Baby Boomer customers like me enter a retail store more often than not to purchase a branded product. They are met on the floor by Millennials who grew up around various brands but with no particular loyalty. Since those employees themselves can't afford the premium brands—the ones my generation looks for—they suggest a cheaper version that is “just as good” and “not overpriced”.
Because of this, premium brands have become secondary as price becomes the primary criteria for quality and purchase. But...many people don’t just want the cheapest price.
Unless your salespeople really understand the value of your more expensive products and get that a cheap flannel shirt is the most expensive because the material will shrink appreciably, that the higher priced tool offers much less fatigue, that the engineers at your firm made this one product to specifically do X when the others only do Y, your premium products will remain on the shelf.
It’s not just generational differences throwing up sales roadblocks. There are personality style differences to consider as well. Here are the four personality types and what drives their purchasing habits:
The Driver personality type likes to be in charge, speaks in shorter sentences, and needs to be seen as an achiever.
The Analytical type has a logical process to buying which means they want all of the features and benefits explained to their satisfaction before buying...and that can take a while.
The Expressive type sees the possibilities in everything and will follow their own instincts; they know what they like and buy on feeling, not on facts.
The Amiable type doesn’t want to make waves and likes to purchase something that is popular or used by celebrities.
Once you understand the personality styles, you’ll realize most shoppers aren’t trying to be difficult or take a long time—it’s just how they navigate the world. And you’ll be able to navigate alongside them.
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To really succeed in selling most anything, from products in your store to at-home services and more, you need to master the retail selling strategy of selling the value of a product over the price.
Let’s face it: we are living in an era where the only marketing message anyone seems to be able to come up with is a discount—from how to get more followers by offering discounts, to price-matching online retailers’ sales, to never-ending limited-time-only sales.
The problem with all of this discounting is that when you can only sell something when it is discounted, you’ve given up your profit margins. That margin could be the difference between you getting a raise or your store opening another location. Or even your store surviving the “retail apocalypse”.
To sell value over price, you have to have to get your shopper to open up to you about what they are trying to fix, add, complete, or gift. When you have all those personal details, you can understand what is important to them and highlight those time-saving, energy-saving, all-in-one, one-of-a-kind benefits of the higher priced merchandise you are showing them.
Here’s the key: you have to be genuinely interested in them in the first place to understand where that customer is coming from. And if they continually say it’s all about price, that’s often a defense mechanism used to make themselves seem more knowledgeable, and not as someone’s fool to be taken advantage of.
You know yourself that there are products you’ve purchased based on what a great employee told you. And you know that those products gave back more than you thought possible.
That’s why it is so important to bone up not only on the features of your top 100 higher-priced products (that’s what they have) but even moreso on their benefits (which is what they give).
This is the fourth part of a sale where you put on a show about how lightweight the earrings feel in her ears, how the automatic settings take user error totally out of taking a picture, or about how the materials in the fine wool jacket compare and contrast to one of lesser quality.
Here’s also where your storytelling abilities can shine.
I used to sell Pendleton shirts, which ran about $100 each. Inside the collar was a label: 100% Virgin Wool. Invariably someone would ask what that meant and I’d make a joke, it’s wool from ugly sheep. Then I would go on to explain how Virgin Wool refers to wool taken from a lamb's first shearing.
I’d ask them if they’d had worn wool shirts before. Most had and immediately told me how scratchy they were or how they shrank while being cleaned.
That’s when I would let them know that Virgin Wool is the softest, finest wool of the sheep's life. A lot of cheaper wool shirts are actually recycled rags or other scraps reprocessed and re-dyed. That’s why they get scratchy and lose their shape. That’s never the case with a Pendleton, and that’s why it costs more than those scratchy ones.
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While I’m on the subject of presenting the product features and benefits, you might wonder what the difference is between upselling and cross-selling.
It’s simple, upselling is showing a shopper a better product like the Pendleton after showing them a cheaper wool shirt. Cross-selling, also referred to as adding-on or suggestive selling, is showing a customer a companion product or system of products that makes the original product choice more complete. Think the bag with the shoes, the nails with the hammer, the router with the new tablet.
In both cases, you have to believe in your product. How are you going to do that when you can’t conceivably buy most of what you sell? One way to build your confidence is by simply asking the customer at the end: when did you know you were going to buy it? Was it something you said? Something they felt? Anything that helps you understand their mindset is great.
Next, don’t get so wrapped up in the formula of sell, then upsell. If you’ve already sold them on a premium product, don’t talk yourself out of the sale by making it sound like more work than the basic version. If they balk at the price, always talk about how you lose the X benefit by stepping down. Don’t present the two products as about the same, or you’ll only sell the cheaper version.
The add-on, however, differs from the upsell. You want to make sure the shopper has decided on the main item first. Once they have gone through the stress of allowing themselves to spend their money and said Yes, I’ll take it, it’s much easier for them to say yes again.
I remember when I was getting a DSL camera. The poor, untrained salesman kept mentioning filters and batteries and pulling out memory cards, and he overwhelmed me. I didn’t buy a thing until I found a better salesman.
If you present all the add-ons too soon, you have again made shopping into work. You’ve not only tripped their fear of being too stupid to understand or use it properly, but also potentially made them feel like they are in too far over their heads to understand all you’re saying.
And that should make sense—they’ve just dropped into your store like an alien first landing on Earth. They don’t work around these products day in and day out. They don’t wear or use them. They are lucky to see one is red and the other is black.
I once had a client ask me to do six workshops on how to close the sale, emphasizing closing the sale techniques. I told them the same thing I’ll tell you:
Because in this day and age, most people who are truly only browsing are doing that in their home, dressed in their PJs, while swiping left or right on an iPad, while half-watching Game of Thrones.
Those who make the effort to come into a brick and mortar store are not truly just browsing. They want help but they probably don’t know how to ask, and have become gun-shy after failing to learn anything from other retailers who simply asked, “can I help you?”
The most effective way to close a sale is to read your shopper’s body language. Oftentimes you’ll see their arms relax; they are not folded across their chest, and the shopper is looking at the product or directly in your eyes. At that point, you’re very close.
Even if you don’t see that, there is a pause that happens usually after they are asking questions about how it might work, how your payment plan works, what’s needed to upkeep, or other questions that arise from seeing themselves owning it.
Then just ask for the sale.
For clothing it could be would you prefer I put it in a box or bag? For a custom order it could be we’ll just need 50% to start the design so you can have it by the end of the month. Will you be paying cash or charge?
If you’re new to sales, you might get nervous asking for such a commitment. After all, it’s a fairly unnatural thing to ask someone to buy something. If you’re a veteran salesperson, you may have used the same line for years; consider making it more personal using the information you learned throughout the selling process.
You’ll know when that moment is there because figuratively a devil and angel show up in the shoppers’ mind. The angel says to go ahead and buy it today, you deserve it, you’ve taken all their time, you trust them. The devil is saying to wait and think about it, to ask your spouse or friend, to wait for the sale, that you don’t really need something so nice.
Your role is to help the angel and minimize the devil, or you’ll lose the sale.
So when you ask, understand there’s a chance the shopper will say no for some reason. If you can just find out why, you may be able to overcome their objections and kill off the devil.
But you don’t want to start fishing for excuses by asking:
• Was it too much?
• Did you want to look around?
• Did you want to wait?
That will just put more doubt in their minds.
Here’s what to do to convert more sales…
Simply recap three things you learned during the sales process about what they were trying to accomplish, and repeat those specifics back to them. Then shut up.
Your goal in doing this is to see that you really did get them what they wanted, and not just what they originally said they needed.
For most shoppers, shopping can feel like work. And work oftentimes feels lonely. Shoppers who take the trouble to come to a brick and mortar retail store are looking for something more truly personal than they can find online.
You create a good in-store experience by making them feel glad they met you that day because of what you added to their shopping experience. There are few greater honors than achieving that—and at the end of the sale, seeing their outreached hand because they just had to connect and say “thank you”.
That can’t be forced. It is a natural progression when you use the Five Parts to a Sale.
As a transaction is being finalized, if you can use their name, so much the better. You want to remove as much friction as possible and make the merchandise feel even more special.
I once purchased a plant as a gift for my niece. The owner took the plant, trimmed off a few leaves, and dunked it in a bucket of water. As it was draining, she polished the leaves a bit and added a bow. That’s an example of how you surprise and delight a customer.
While every retailer is different, it all comes back to what I said at the outset—you need to be more concerned with someone else than yourself. When you just help enough other people get what they want, you’ll find you’ll get what you want in life.
As you are thanking the customer, you could also ask for a review—but for most, that can feel forced. Instead, find a reason to get the shopper’s email address and send a request a day later. If you did everything well, they will be more than happy to share their experience.
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Brick and mortar retail is being challenged daily by new online apps and algorithms trying to steal your customers away. That’s why it’s important to continuously improve your selling skills. Remember to:
• Choose every word carefully starting with the greeting, so you minimize rejection.
• Make sure you engage a customer and build rapport first so they trust your recommendations.
• Be less interested in what they came into your store to buy than why they came in, so you get the full picture of all they could use.
• Use what you learn in the first three steps of the sale to only showcase three specific features that will benefit that specific person.
• Cross-sell or suggestively sell an additional item that goes with the first product the customer said yes to originally.
• Follow up about a day later to make sure they are in love with their purchase where appropriate, or to ask them to share their experience online as a review.
• One thing is for certain: the rise of the empowered, omnichannel shopper has made the retail customer service experience the only way to compete with online retailers.
Your customers are out there demanding a better shopping experience, not just a lower price. And let’s face it, there’s always someone cheaper. Always.
Use these retail selling tips and strategies to open your own heart to a stranger walking in your store, discover higher conversion rates of lookers to buyers, and benefit from a greater satisfaction while working in a retail store.
And don't forget to check out all my services to help you sell more in your brick and mortar store: from in-person training to my online retail sales training program SalesRX or a combination.