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Sam Manfer, Sales Mastery

Sales Force Training and Development - Focusing on Executive Relationships and Selling




Retail Sales: Set the Sale with the Opening Question

Part II in a IV-Part Series of Selling Techniques

By Sam Manfer



What’s the first thing after “Hi” that a retail person says to you.  That’s right, “Can I help you?” To which you say?  Right again, “No, I’m just looking.”  After that they say a few patronizing, sucky somethings and you both walk away. 


Now Southern California retail is a little different or is it.  You decide.  Usually nobody walks up to you to help.  Matter of fact you have to track a worker down and interrupt them from their social conversation or nap.  But that was in the last issue.


Here’s what I mean.  The other day I was out and about and walked into an art store.  A person approached.  I could tell it was the owner because I got a warm smile and the desire to sell me something.  He did the usual, “Is there something I can help you with?”  I could have slammed him with, “Na’ I’m just here for the Air Conditioning” or some other rude remark to teach him never to ask that question again.  But I just said - you got it - “No, just looking.”  Guess what he said? “Take your time and if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”  Now, I should have really nailed him. “What do you think I’d do if I had a question? … Wait for divine inspiration?” But to be civil I said, “I will.”  I walked around the store and left.  I left because I found nothing and he lost because he didn’t sell anything.


You may think I’m being obnoxious, and you’d be right again – isn’t this fun - but these standards are useless and stupid.  If you’re a store owner or a commission sales person and someone comes in, please do not go through this routine.  Here’s why.  Let’s go back


  1. The store had nice stuff – that’s what caught my eye to wonder in.

  2. I need something for walls of my new condo – that’s why I wondered in.

  3. I love artwork – that’s why I wondered in.

  4. A few pieces caught my eye from his outside display – that’s why I wondered in.


I ask you, did he know any of that by the time I left – of course not, but he did make an effort and asked me something.


So test yourself.  What might you have asked me? 


That’s right - now that he’s been trashed – something like, “Hi there, and thanks for stopping in my store.  So how come you wondered in??”  This question is critical because it goes to my motivation.  Motivated buyers buy. 


I could have been aloof and said, “Just looking.” But since he was now trained by Slam’n Sammy, he would have said, “What kind of art do you like?”  This is a framed question (just so happens to also be a pun.)  That is, a question designed to get the potential buyer to talk about himself or herself in an area that’s important to you the seller.  You’re in an art store so it’s safe to talk about art – art as this buyer sees it – not you. 


I could have continued to be a jerk and then just said, “No really, I’m just looking.”  To which he could have said, “That’s great.  What (or what in particular) are you looking for?”  Again, it is an effort by him to get “something to work with”.  Now, if I continued to be resistant / unrevealing, then he’d have to let it go, or else risk becoming very annoying - not good for selling.


Let’s go back to “something to work with”.  I’m a lead – someone who came into this sales person’s store/world.  I could have just been a tourist – looking, but for some reason I wondered in.  Face it, if he was cooking liver and onions as his business, I probably would not have walked in under any circumstance.  Moral of this short is that when someone wonders in or calls, there is an interest - motivation.  It may be weak or very strong and this is what you have to determine – ala “something to work with”.  This will only come by asking a few strategic questions. 


Notice I didn’t do the next most popular tactic.  “Let me show you this little beauty.” or “We’re having a great sale on …” or the one that drives me up a wall, “My favorite is ….”  Who cares what your favorite is?


The point here is DON’T PRESENT until you know what to talk about.  Don’t even guess. If you’re wrong, it’s annoying – even if the person gives you a patronizing smile to continue.  Don’t try to convince either – which is another popular move, “I know you said, ‘No,’ but….”   If the person doesn’t want to give you the time of day, don’t tell them you’d be happy to answer any of theirs questions.  Just excuse yourself politely and tell them to enjoy their time in your store.


Some sales people will throw out enticements or exposures as I call them, such as history of the art or some fascinating features and benefits to excite the person.  I don’t recommend this in the retail world.  It is time consuming and if the person is just a looky-lou, he’ll drain you and leave. If you think that you didn’t have anything better to do, let me suggest, you start pushing yourself to do some prospecting by phone or stock the shelves.  However, once the person gives you a sign of motivation – a problem or desire that needs attention, then you can elaborate, expose, entice, etc.  The above is a little different in business to business selling.


Now let’s go back to me.  If this art shop owner had asked me why I was there, I probably would have told him one of the 1-4 reasons from above.  He could have then moved to the next level with me.  I’ll explain the next level in your next issue, but let’s get this level first. 


Here’s the truth.  Most sales people have no idea why someone buys from them – they’re usually delusional about their technique.  Buyers usually figure it out – with or without the sales person.  Sales people throw stuff out, hoping something sticks and sometimes it does.  Unfortunately, they don’t know why it does and never understand the hot buttons of the buyers.  This is why sales people can not control the sale.  Think about this.  If  the art store owner knew what I wanted badly enough (inexpensive, appealing to me, wall covering), just think of how much control/influence he would have had over me.  Unfortunately, motivated buyers know that if they start panting, they will lose their negotiating power and not lose the annoying sales person.  That’s why they stay aloof, “Just looking”.  So disarm them.  You’re not an idiot.  She didn’t come-in / call / agree to meet you because she’s looking for a lost puppy.  Why did she wonder in? 


So here’s the final final.  Explore to find out why they’re “Just looking,” but ask in an inviting, open-ended manner. Don’t present until you know what they want.  If they’re limp, politely excuse yourself.  This will go against every bit of sales savvy you think you have.  That’s why my Interviewing and Presenting seminars and coaching are so popular.  Any great sale person will tell you that if the prospect doesn’t give energy (answers questions, gives information), then back off and look for those that will.  That is, find the real buyers don’t try to create them.


See the next article “Uncovering Your Customers’ Hot Buttons.” This will discuss how to determine what they will buy and what else you can sell.


Sam Manfer delivers key note speeches and in-depth selling work shops for those anxious to increase sales.  His hands-on coaching turns individuals and sales organizations into selling whirlwinds.  Sam’s selling awards and $ Million sales  recognitions support his methods. His book, TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER$ along with his Matching Chemistry’s CD and sales seminars replace selling myths and clichés that frustrate decision makers with a proven approach that captures their attention.  Follow Sam’s C-Level Selling Blog for more insights.   Sign-up for his free Selling E-Zine



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