Retailer, Please Sell Me!

Last week, I got the opportunity to go shopping for a new refrigerator. We do secret shopping on a regular basis as part of our consulting, but this time I was a real customer looking to buy something for myself and not a pretend customer. I keep thinking that after 26 years of doing this the results would be different. But I guess that truly is insanity.question

Like most salespeople, I’m a very easy sale. I give you lots of information. I tell you specifically what I’m looking for and I’m happy to answer any questions you may ask me in helping me make my selection. I’m a firm believer (especially in a commission environment) that you have to earn my business. And the way you earn my business is to sell me. Unfortunately, in the state of today’s typical retail environment I rarely get sold anything, but rather get “clerked” a lot.

We visited four different appliance stores and try to get a good mix of national brands and local independent retailers. Upon entering all the stores we were greeted right away, so we’ll start with that positive. However, when it came to selling no one wanted to sell us anything – rather they wanted us to buy something! And there is a huge difference.

In our book the Retail Sales Bible, we teach the G.R.E.A.T. selling system – Greeting, Researching, Experimenting, Add-ons, Tether. While it can be argued that any of these five phases is the most important, in my opinion, the Researching phase is the one that has the most power in selling today. The Researching phase is where we ask questions to understand the customer’s wants, interests, needs, concerns, and desires. We ask questions in three specific focus areas – past experience, expectations, and conditions of use.

Think of the Researching phase as an interview. You are asking open-ended questions of the customer and then listening to their responses. Of all the items you carry in your store, you are trying to determine which are the ones this customer is most likely to buy. And the one they are most likely to buy is the one that closely fits the answers to the Researching questions.

Unfortunately, the questions asked in each of our four shopping experiences were all the same. What is it you’re looking for? How big do you want it? And how much do you want to spend? So in essence, the entire Researching process was to know we were looking for a refrigerator, how big of a refrigerator we were looking for, and how much money we were willing to spend for that big refrigerator. Without fail, every single store we visited gave us the exact same experience.

I would say, “I guess we’re looking for about a 27 cubic foot refrigerator.” And the salesperson would say, “How much are you looking to spend?” The right response from a sales professional would be to Research and ask questions like

  • Tell me a little bit about how you will be using this new refrigerator?
  • How many people live in your home?
  • Do you prepare a lot of fresh foods were a lot of frozen foods?
  • How often do you go shopping at the grocery store?
  • Do you do a lot of entertaining?
  • Tell me about the refrigerator you have last time?
  • What did you like about it?
  • What do not like about it?
  • Are there any special features that you want this new refrigerator to be able to do?
  • Is there anything out there that you’ve heard about or read about or perhaps had a friend recommend that you would like to have on your new refrigerator?

Hear the difference? In the first set of questions the salespeople were simply trying to get us to buy something. They wanted us to tell them exactly what we wanted and exactly what we were willing to pay and then they would ring it up for us. But a sales professional would ask questions to determine which is the right refrigerators for our needs. Think about it. Do I really have any concept of what size of refrigerator I need? What qualifications do I have to be a professional “refrigerator size estimator”? Granted I have tons of experience with using a refrigerator, but most of my experience is in taking things out of the refrigerator not putting things in. On three of the occasions I even asked “is 27 cubic feet big enough?” And all three salesmen said, “That’s pretty typical. It’s what most customers buy.” Am I most customers? Evidently.

In retail selling, questions are answers. The better job of questioning you do (Researching), the more accurate your product selection will be – the more likely you are to close the sale – the higher the customer’s confidence is in your ability – and the more likely you are to add-on to that sale.

The key to researching to put yourself in a position where you can use the most powerful phrase in selling – based on what you told me. When you can use a phrase like this you are telling the customer the product selection is their product selection based on their wants and interests. It’s not your choice; it’s their choice.

Later when you ask for the order if they object you have all the power you need to answer that objection by pointing back to their answers to your questions as a reason why you selected this merchandise in the first place.

In our refrigerator buying experience, not one of the salesmen could say based on what you’ve told me. Not one of them understood anything about my family and our needs in a refrigerator. In fact, not one of them seemed to be interested in my family or me. However, they did seem to be very interested in my wallet.

Solid questioning techniques and solid researching practices lead to higher customer satisfaction rates, higher closing rates, fewer returns, higher referrals, and increased employee satisfaction. Remember this, no one says look at what this guy sold me (unless they hate it); what they say is look at what I bought!

Copyright 2016, Matthew Hudson is an award-winning retailer, keynote speaker, master sales trainer and author of over 4 books on selling, corporate culture, retail, and sales and marketing.

Matt Hudson

Master Sales Trainer with 31 years of sales & marketing experience. Author of 4 books including Advisor Selling and the Retail Sales Bible.