Salesmanship: Building relationships

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by Warren Tyler

A lot of space has been devoted in this column to building relationships as the most important aspect of selling—as it has always been. However, because of today’s more knowledgeable, sophisticated customer and, unfortunately, more aggressive and defensive, the relationship is not only important, it is critical.

We are still in a time warp. As much as I and other sales educators scream out the importance of this, in 99 out of 100 sales encounters the salesperson opens with some inane statement about: “May I help you?” or “Can I point you in a direction?” to which my answer would be, “Yes, out of the store.”

The “new sell” is “no-sell.” I’ve pointed it out a hundred times. Read any book by super salespeople who make $1 million a year and an overriding theme is they never talk about the product they’re selling until the customer is ready.

Why is this so important on a retail sales floor? Because the customer, who is unsure of her future as a result of the economy, is cautious about spending money and every store she enters the salesperson immediately tries to sell her. This only hardens her defenses, making her less confident about a purchase and throws you into the group of just another avaricious salesperson. Everything you say now is just selling.

Let’s say you get over this hump of not diving into the old selling mode. It’s not about you. After a few sessions of actually making friends and developing the relationship, this will become just as comfortable. Moreover you will find that instead of a customer, you will meet a truly enjoyable individual with which to speak.

“OK,” you say. “Now how do I get into this wonderful conversation?” First of all, for most of us it’s awkward to get into an intimate conversation with strangers. It takes courage to try.

People wear their heart on their sleeve. If you live in a lower-income area and someone well-dressed comes through the door, a response could be: “You don’t live in Gloucester, do you?” They will ask why and you might respond that you aren’t used to seeing people this well dressed around here. Many may think this is rude, but I’ve never had a customer not be delighted that I thought she was better dressed than most. This conversation leads to where she lives, what she does for a living or what her spouse does.

Let’s say she is looking for bedroom carpet. The question would be as to whose bedroom this is—girl or boy, age, name, activities, school accomplishments. “Will my dogs slip on this flooring? What kind of dogs? Knowing the physical and mental traits of different breeds is more important than product knowledge. What is his or her name and the conversation continues. Getting on common ground is the gateway to relationships. Never let this pass. If you don’t like kids and dogs, get out of the business.

Adversity is the surest way of bonding. Be the friend her friends and relatives won’t be. Ask about any infirmity or injury. Believe it or not, people love to talk about their problems. It makes you a unique friend because her friends and relatives don’t want to hear it. It’s the same thing with tragedy—death of a loved one or fatal illnesses. Many people shop to alleviate their grief and they always welcome the opportunity to talk about it with a caring person.

Next time, I’ll give you more on the subject. Remember, it takes courage to be a real human and moreover, great salespeople know they have to be able to give the same love and respect to strangers that lesser people can only give to friends and relatives.

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