By Bill Scott, President, StoreReport LLC
In the 1960s, I was fortunate enough to have worked for the L.M. Berry company, a well-known telephone directory advertising business. They had an excellent sales school that I was required to attend before I became active in the sales process.
I was a pretty good salesman before joining the company, I thought, but as a young salesman entering their school, I learned the basics of selling, something all of us need to know before we try to sell anything. I was able to take the information I had learned there, and built a successful computer business which continues to sustain me to this day.
Like many other things in life, the basics are easy to learn, and should be mastered by everyone who has entered or is planning on a successful life in sales. These principals apply to anyone, whether their intention is to merely make new friends by selling themselves, or by selling products priced in six figures or more.
I never went to college. I graduated from the school of ‘learning on the job.’ One day I was thinking, ‘Why not impart this basic information to everyone who comes into contact with customers. Whether it’s employees working in retail stores, or in government, where billions of dollars are at stake?’
When I discussed this with others, generally the reasons stated is because managers, who are charged with managing employees, have never learned these basic skills themselves, they never thought about it, or they are ashamed to admit it. Yes, I said ‘ashamed,’ because the majority of people think selling is an art you either possess or you don’t.
There is No Such Thing as a Born Salesman
We often associate ‘art’ with music or painting, but it is extremely rare for an ‘artist’ to be born. Great artists learn the basics of the trade before they become ‘great.’ Although we often hear the term ‘born salesmen,’ there is no such thing. Selling is an art, as is painting and music, but unless it is cultivated with a purpose, you can be the best at whatever you do, but the lessons of appealing to buyers is usually accomplished through trial and error, and a lot of wasted time.
Make Friend First
Customers make up all kinds of excuses for not buying from a particular retailer. But, if you asks them to give you reasons, the first two or three they cite are merely excuses, and not reasons.
- “It’s too far to drive”
- “They don’t sell anything I want.”
- “Their prices are too high.”
But if you press them, you’ll find out the real reason is generally because they don’t feel welcome when they enter your store.
Did you ever buy something from someone you didn’t like? Maybe, but if the truth be known, if you could have purchased the item anywhere else, you would have. Worse, they won’t get more than a few feet from your store before they are complaining about the purchase they made, and they’ll make no bones about telling everyone they know.
I cringe when I hear the phrase, “I bought this from there, because it was convenient.” What does that mean anyway? It tells me, “Don’t buy anything from there unless you don’t have a choice.” Do you need more customers like that?
Increased traffic is NOT the key to a successful retail business. It could also mean your prices are too low to earn a decent profit in your business. And customers who frequent your stores because of price, will go somewhere else when there is a better offer down the street.
Then there are the loyalty programs that say, “If you don’t join our program, and give us your email address, your telephone number, and the dates of birth of all of your children, we don’t want your business, and we are going to charge you more as a punishment.” If loyalty programs are so successful, why don’t we still give out S&H Green Stamps?
Why do we spend so much time trying to avoid making friends of our customers? Is it because we don’t know how, or are we just too lazy to make the effort? You see, making fiends takes a little more work than going through their personal lives and threatening to charge extra if they don’t allow you to do that.
Identify the Reason Customers Shop in Your Store
If you don’t know why customers come to your store in the first place, how do you know how to keep them coming back? Once your business starts dying, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. So, we must continuously know the answer to that question. Some things are obvious like, ‘they opened a Walmart across the street.’ Other things… not so much. If you are tracking your store’s sales day-by-day, identifying a decline in sales may come down to a recent hire, or maybe you are out of a popular product. Getting a customer back is a great deal harder than keeping one to start with.
Do Something Your Competition Cannot Do Easily
This is the way you get ahead. If you do it right, you will steal your competitors’ customers, and once you have them, even if your competition starts doing the same thing, they are already yours to keep.
You may have started your business by doing something different, but if you want to keep your clientele, once you have them, come up with something new, because the chances are a competitor will be cleverer, and take them away.
Nobody said that running and keeping a successful retail business would be easy. But, making friends first, will shield you against all kinds of competition.
You have 10-15 seconds from the time a customer leaves your sales counter until they reach the front door. Do something to make them feel special. Don’t lose that chance, you may never have the opportunity again.