Salesmanship: How may I help you?

Home Columns Salesmanship: How may I help you?

by Warren Tyler

By now most people should know the most ineffective words in sales are, “May I help you?” In fact, some genius for a national chain had these words printed on the backs of their clerks’ (sorry, sales associates’) shirts.

Here are two more equally inane starting points: “How may I help you?” and “How may I be of assistance to you?”

All are guaranteed to bring the same response: “No thanks, I’m just looking.”

Let me assure you that a wise guy with a smile is much more effective than a kinder, gentler person who makes no effort to get close to people.

Another common customer response is, “I just want to see what you have.”

What? I don’t know what your response would be, but mine is, “Well, we don’t carry Brighton purses. What did you expect to find in a flooring store?” I am a tester and I handle the rest of the conversation according to her response, which most always is accepted as a joke.

How much better is a warm, friendly greeting such as, “Welcome to Country Flooring.” That always elicits a thank you, which gives us many more ways to proceed than the “Just looking” response.

For instance, “How are you folks today?” In today’s economy the typical answer is, “Oh, alright,” or just “OK.” To which I say, “Ask me how I am.” My answer is always “Terrific,” which then leads to all sorts of conversation.

The “new ‘sell’ is ‘no-sell.’” I know I have covered this dozens of times, but it is so critical right now. The only thing that will separate you from your competition is how close you are able to get to your customer.

I visit dozens of stores and it seems as though most salespeople have studied an impersonal script and it’s as if two strangers are talking to each other at best. At worst, the salesperson gives up and says, “If you need anything I’ll be right here,” or just follows the customer around the showroom.

If a salesperson has so little regard for other people, why even be in the business? On the other hand, when I walk into a store and the salesperson and customer are laughing and joking, I know a sale is going to be made. They obviously like each other and people buy from people they like.

As a retailer, I provided my people with the human skills needed to connect with heretofore total strangers so they had no excuse.

I am currently in a discussion group in which a consultant talks about non-compliant customers. My comment is always, “I’ve never met one.” Armed with human skills, there is no person with whom you can’t get into a meaningful conversation.

If any of my people ever let a customer walk unescorted through the showroom

they would have been fired. I constantly hear salespeople in other stores saying, “She just wants to be left alone.” If I were subjected to someone so devoid of personality, they couldn’t start a conversation with a fellow human being I would want to be left alone as well.

Left alone, customers are left alone to walk out. Left alone, customers are left alone to never find what they were looking for and, left alone, they are perfectly free to make the decision that this store is just like all the other stores and walk out. It would be the rare shopper who could sell herself an installed product. Customers come in with wildly preconceived notions and feel embarrassed if what they were thinking about is impractical or not even available. All these issues will surface during a normal conversation and can be comfortably handled.

Warren Tyler has 52 years of retail flooring experience. He is one of the industry’s most sought after speakers, and his training materials are among the most requested. Call 804.384.7588 or email

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