Salesmanship: Be a conversationalist

Home Columns Salesmanship: Be a conversationalist

by Warren Tyler

During the last few years as consumers shop more intensely than ever, I have been advising salespeople that the secret to stopping customers in their tracks is to talk about anything except what you’re selling. This comes from years of me reading books by salespeople who make $1 million a year, not just sell $1 million a year.

A common thread that runs through these books is they talk about anything except what they’re selling. The sale is ancillary to the conversation. I understand this goes against every natural instinct of most salespeople. After all, salespeople think, “Why did they come into the store in the first place?” In most instances now, they came to shop. In the cur- rent economy they shop harder and try to compare prices more aggressively than ever before. If you frame the sale around the lowest price, the odds you won’t get the sale increases.

As the economy toughens, the lies increase and the more willing the consumer is to believe the myth of $37 installation, free padding or 70% off. Few retail operations carry the same materials with the same names. Every merchandising group and home center has its own brand and even proprietary products. Major manufacturers make products that look exactly like yours but are a few ounces lighter or a few millimeters thinner. Desperate to save money and confused about which product is which, consumers are even more susceptible to the retail lies.

This is real hardball. Rather than whining about difficult customers, you should be winning them over. Given their druthers, people buy from people they like. First of all you should know your competition. Find out how they make up for free padding or the $37 install. Even though you are able to explain these ploys, if customers don’t like you more than the next salesperson, why should they believe you? Consumers trust only those they like. While advice to become a conversationalist is easy for some of us, others are flummoxed and simply can’t deal with customers other than, “Which room are you looking for?” “Let me show you our sale items,” or “We have free pad today,” which puts you in the same league as everyone else.

If you find it difficult to start conversations, it takes practice. Find out about them. Ask how they are. Usually, they will say, “Oh, I’m alright.” To which I say, “I’m fantastic, which is much better than alright.” This starts another conversation. More men come into our stores now than ever before. You know you can’t sell them. Mostly they are doing the groundwork for the real buyer, their wife. I start the conversation by asking whether they made a mistake coming into a flooring store. “This isn’t Bass World, you know!” You have to convince men you will give her the best value and men are just as susceptible to the liking thing. If they like you, they will send their spouse.

Have courage. Do what others are afraid to do. One little guy shuffled in with almost every limb crooked and bent. He couldn’t have weighed 70 pounds. “What on Earth happened to you?” I asked, to which he gave me a history of this horrendous malady, which started when he was 17. Other people would just look away and ignore him. People who have tragedy in their lives want to talk about it.

Widows frequently redecorate to feel better. Most people who have lost a loved one want to talk about it. Who are they going to buy from—sales- people who ignore their situation or someone who cares enough to talk about it with them? If you persist to sell as usual, it will only serve to make shoppers even more defensive. If they like you, they’ll trust you and you will stop them in their tracks.

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