By Bill Scott, founder and president StoreReport LLC & Scott Systems Inc.
I have made many new acquaintances since becoming a LinkedIn member several years ago. Most people know me as Bill Scott, the author of ‘Turning Convenience Stores Into Cash Generating Monsters,’ ‘Retail Is Detail’ and a few other published non-business related subjects; a self-taught accountant, a computer programmer, the creator of the ‘Convenience Store Supply Chain Management’ forum and the ‘StoreReport Perpetual Inventory Control System.’ However, few ever think of me as a salesman. For over 56 years I have marketed a rock ‘n roll band, check-writing machines, radio and television advertising, telephone and city directory advertising, computers, computer software and, most recently, cloud services.
Come to think of it, selling is one of the first vocations all of us humans must learn in order to survive. Not very long after birth, a child learns to beg, “Please, please, can I have that toy?” Begging often leads to demanding, “I want that toy.” In some cases petty thievery is involved and the child lies about taking it. “Did you take that cookie after I told you that you couldn’t have it?” But, most children quickly learn the art of negotiation, and negotiating requires a degree of selling. Some of the best salespeople on earth are still wearing diapers.
As proof, I submit to you a video I saw recently on Facebook, where a four year-old was trying to convince his mother why he deserved a cookie. It was one of the most heart-warming videos I have ever seen, and this little child knew exactly how to push the right buttons to get exactly what he wanted. I have often surmised that if I had retained that talent through adulthood, I would be the proud owner of more cookies than anybody.
Negotiating requires skills that are learned, but skills that can be easily learned with a little bit of knowledge. Effective selling requires far more common sense than it does education. Some of us sell for recreation, some sell to feed and raise our families and some sell out of desperation. At one time or another in my life, I have been in all three situations. Selling can be enormous fun, or it can be a painful drudgery.
Selling requires time, and in a fast-moving retail environment, such as in a convenience store, the usual sales techniques don’t work.
How Do You Employ Selling In a Fast-Moving Retail Environment?
That’s a question that remains on my mind constantly. Sales is the ‘force’ that drives American commerce… pure and simple.
On several occasions in my life, I have advanced to the top 1% of the greatest salespeople on Earth. But, that in itself is nothing unusual, because at various times in your life, at least for a short time, you have passed through the ranks of ‘super-salesmen.’ A successful sales situation is one in which both parties gain something from the exchange.
Learning to be a salesperson is a natural talent that comes with birth. It’s what we choose to do with that God-given talent that determines whether we become a salesperson or not. But, it is a choice you make, no one that is given to you.
From Jesus Christ, the man many people proclaim to be the greatest salesman that ever lived, to Norman Vincent Peale, to the caterpillar that can make itself appear poisonous so birds don’t eat it, to the flower that advertises its sweet, succulent pollen by catering to the perceivable color range of a honey bee; selling comes in all forms and life without selling is, well, impossible.
In the early 1970s, my expertise in selling resulted in me leading a large sales force in Florida, but the time I spent as a sales leader weren’t the happiest times I can remember. My greatest memories come from isolated situations involving one-on-one sales, whether it be with an individual person, or an auditorium filled with scores of attendees.
The rule book on selling is a short one indeed. The list of things you should do, and things you should not do could be written on a single sheet of paper. Good selling requires getting acquainted first. There are only three absolute taboos that a salesperson should not discuss in a sales situation. Politics, religion and in the case of men, never talk about your customer’s secretary. You never can tell, it may be his wife or daughter that looks exceptionally beautiful this morning. Selling can be enormous fun, and selling is a natural talent that every living creature on earth must use at various times in order to survive.
Becoming a great salesperson is simple, and doing it consistently is merely a question of persistence. The most common reason people perform well in sales is a mixture of persistence and knowledge. Even when I considered myself as being a great salesman, I too had my bad days.
It has been said that ‘salesmanship’ has become a lost art in retail, but that’s not true. In every retail store, in every country around the globe, there are great salespeople waiting for the opportunity to sell; but we, as retail store managers and retail store owners, may be subconsciously preventing this passion from coming out.
What is the secret of becoming a good salesperson anyway? Selling has always been about putting yourself in another person’s shoes and successfully leading them toward getting what they want. People hate to be sold, but almost everybody loves to buy. As a salesperson, it is your job to tone down your sale, and concentrate on their love to buy. Empathy is the key to selling, coupled with your skill to make your customers see you as a problem solver. If you can do this, you’re on your way to becoming a super-salesperson.
“Problems?” you say. “How do you know what a person’s problem is?” We all have problems. The questions of whether to stop and buy gasoline from one convenience store or another is a problem, albeit a small one. If a potential customer doesn’t have a problem, you can bet your bottom dollar he or she will have a problem soon after meeting me. Yep, your customers always have problems, whether they come into your store with them, or you have to dig one up and show it to them. Your first job is to figure out what their problem is. Think about it. When a customer enters your store, he or she is in there to solve a problem. As they browse through your store, they are looking for the solution.
Maybe they’re just thirsty or hungry, or maybe they are looking for an item to solve a birthday problem, a relationship problem or maybe they are just bored and entered your store to get out of the rain. That in itself is a problem. I have heard umbrella sales go up 80% on rainy days. They are not “just browsing,” else they would have stayed at home, curled up on the couch with a good book. How many times have you gone to the mall with the intention of browsing and not buying anything? It’s the salesperson who engages with the buyer that makes the sale.
When I go to the mall with my wife, and she is shopping for shoes, and I wander over to the Radio Shack, inevitably, I will leave with something, even if it’s just a roll of wire. Why? Because the act of shopping releases mood-lifting endorphins, boosts your immune system, keeps your brain nimble and fulfills basic social needs. By engaging your customers in your store, you are helping them through the process. If you can strike up a friendship, they may feel obligated to buy something from you.
During those times when I was a great salesman, I learned how to spark my customers’ imagination. How did I do this? Regardless of what I was selling, I had to make my product an item that would solve my customers’ problems. I never got anywhere telling them how wonderful my product was. I had to get them to imagine having my product for themselves. Without their imagination at work, most of my sales would not have been made.
Put yourself squarely in their shoes.
“You looking for anything special,” you ask.
“No, just browsing,” the customer exclaims.
“Did you notice we have some really good deals on ladies’ blouses today?”
“I was thinking about buying a new coat,” she responds.
Bingo, the problem reveals itself.
Some retailers, like convenience stores, are handicapped because most of the time the only opportunity to engage the customer is at the point of sale. But your great opportunity here is to insure they come back for a subsequent trip. Here’s a neat trick to do just that. Do you know why they have a receiving line at weddings? It’s to re-enforce the sale. Because, even at a wedding, there is a normal human tendency to suffer from ‘buyer’s remorse.’ “Did I do the right thing? Was this a mistake? All my life I have been independent. What have I gotten myself into?”
Receiving lines are there to make the bride and groom feel good about their decision to get married. To re-enforce the sale. “You’re a lucky man to have married such an intelligent wife. You and Ted are the perfect couple. I’m sure you will be very happy together.”
So when a customer comes to your counter to pay for a candy bar, say something simple like, “These are great aren’t they,” or “Where did you buy that pretty dress?” or “Your hair looks great, where did you get it done?” Force your customer to respond. You have asked a question and the customer is obligated to respond. That’s the social link you need to integrate with your customer’s feelings. This ‘link’ reinforces the sale and aids in releasing mood-lifting endorphins that makes customers come back to your store the next time. Customers will always come back to places where they were made to feel good. They forget about experiences that were neutral, and subconsciously avoid places where they felt uncomfortable.
Remember, everybody is a salesperson, and your cashiers are no exception. It’s the little things we do every day that increase our traffic. If you can’t figure out how to engage your customers in the buying process, you are not much better than a vending machine.