Retail education: What not to say

Home Columns Retail education: What not to say

by Kelly Kramer

In my educational training manuals I do a lot of writing about the Customer Interview. The Customer Interview is where we ask our customer the important information we need to give her the proper product for her given situation. It is basically the 5 Ws: who, what, why, when and where. Then, when we have her answers, we have the ammunition to act as her Trusted Advisor.

It still amazes me when I see the average sales clerk ask simply, “What are you looking for?” The customer says, “carpet,” and clerks do one of two things. One says, “Let me show you what we have on sale,” while the other takes her right to the most expensive carpet in the store. The first is a very weak sales clerk because he only goes for low price and low profit. The second has been taught to take her to the top because that shows he thinks she has class and only deserves the best. Neither method shows you have a clue what product or price point is correct.

The art of making a sale is the art of meshing a customer’s wants, needs and means. To get there you need to ask all the right questions in the Customer Interview before you take her to any product.

But enough about the good, smart questions to ask. Let’s talk about the equally important questions to not ask. These are questions that are either none of your business, or insult your or your buyer’s intelligence.

What not to ask

The first and most obvious is at the front of your showroom when the customer enters and you immediately ask, “May I help you?” You know the answer to that question: “No, I’m just looking.” This is the question that insults your intelligence because you just guaranteed a “no” for an answer without even knowing this person. Greetings should always be open-ended questions or statements.

So, always open with something that will relax her, make you more human, and keep an open, ongoing dialogue. The minute you allow her to get defensive and say “no,” you’ve just created about 10 minutes of uncomfortable, wasted time.

The question that insults her intelligence is “What is your budget?” Many salespeople think it helps cut to the chase. They ask this in the good spirit of let’s-see-what-I-can-get-you- for-your-money. It sounds like nice and helpful selling, but it backfires. When you ask a person who does not know or respect you about her budget, you make her lie to you, because nobody wants to tip their hand too early. They are on an educational mission to find out what they need to spend to get the job done. So if they do tell you a number, they will give a dollar figure that is lower than they had hoped to spend. They send you in the wrong direction to help them correctly.

Again it comes back to learning her true needs and wants first. Then, when you present a product it does not matter if it costs exactly what she wanted to spend. I can honestly say when I have the facts at hand, I can direct that person to the right product. That product rarely is exactly what she thought it would cost but when I feed the facts about her situation and recommend the right solution, her trusted advisor has helped solve her problem. And that might be a product that costs more than she had hoped or in many cases one that costs less than she had expected.

The saying, “It takes what it takes,” comes to mind. Justify the cost and the sale will follow. For all the correct questions to ask and not ask, you know where they are: in my books. Thanks for reading.

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