Friday, March 30, 2007

Heads Up, Eyes Open

I recently traveled to another city to conduct a sales training workshop for a retail client of mine. At the end of the day I ventured into a local restaurant for dinner, and because I was by myself, I chose to sit at the bar. The only other people at the bar were a group of 3 people to my left and a lone female patron to my right. I sat patiently, waiting for one of the 2 bartenders to approach me.

Eventually, one of them made his way to my end of the bar to check on the group of three. He swiveled, walked directly past me, and asked the female customer if she wanted anything else. It wasn’t until I requested service several minutes later that someone approached me.
This isn’t an uncommon scenario in the hospitality business OR in retail.

I have noticed that most people don’t watch what is happening around them. If you work in a retail environment, you need to be aware of what is going on around you. You need to be aware of customers who require assistance, who is ready to pay for their purchase, and potential secruity issues.

Talking to your coworkers, calling a friend on your cell phone, reading a magazine, or dazing off into space prevents you from being aware of your surroundings and what is going on around you.

Improve your service, sales and business. Keep your head up and your eyes open.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Talk To Me

What one thing do most people want to talk about?

If you said "themselves" you are absolutely right. So, what does this have to do with retail?

Well, smart retailers engage their customers in conversation. And not just about products or promotions. And they definitely don't wait until the customer is standing at the sales counter to strike up a conversation.

I certainly won't dispute that this can be a challenge, especially with today's consumers. Many customer's tend to be closed, and perhaps somewhat aloof, when we first approach them. The primary reason is that they don't want to be sold something they don't need or want. And, if they know you or your team work on commission, they may be even more reluctant to talk to you.

Another reason people may be hesitant to talk to you is your initial approach.

Too many front-line retail staff approach people with a greeting similar to "Can I help you?" This old, tired greeting does nothing to elicit any type of response from customers except for something like, "Just look."

Finally, too many retail staff wait for customers to take the initiative and approach them rather than being proactive. I think I wrote about this on a previous blog.

Ultimately, we need to change our approach AND our greeting. And how we view this intial, yet important stage of the sales process.

A comfortable way to engage people in a conversation is to focus on THEM. Strike up a conversation, just like you would a friend (just make sure it's professional!). Talk to them about their children, the weather, sports, local events, world news, etc.

If you can't bear the thought of starting a conversation of this nature, change your approach and focus on helping them by saying, "It's looks like you're having difficulty making a decision" or "I see you're looking at our new..." or "That's a great product." Each of these openings encourages the other person to respond, and because it is different, you will generally receive a genuine, open response. Try works.



Friday, March 16, 2007

Managers Make A Difference

I read this article which reinforces the impact a manager can have on a retail store. If you are experiencing high than usual turnover rates then maybe you need to take a look at your approach (assuming of course you are the manager).

Walking around, carrying a big stick and beating people into submission does not foster a great work environment. If you're serious about improving your business focus on taking care of your staff. This will reduce turnover which usually leads to better customer service, and ultimately, an increase in sales.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Employee Creativity & Brainstorming

I read an article in the Globe & Mail recently that intrigued me. It focuses on tapping into the creativity and ideas of your employees. Take a few minutes and read it because I think it has merit for virtually every type of retailer.

Most retailers don't utilize their employees to their full potential. I'm not talking about task completion but rather, seeking their ideas on how the business can be improved. Many front-line staff haves tremendous insights and ideas that can help improve your business...if you take the time to tap into them. Read this article and think of how you can use the strategies in YOUR business.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Working with a Failing Star

I read the following article in Sales & Marketing Managment magazine and immediately thought of its relevance to retail. Here is the article:

It's a problem you're likely to face at some point in your management career: A talented rep joins the team, only to reveal poor working habits and a bad attitude. Do you fire the rep? Try to change him? Rick Pitino (basketball coach, author, speaker) faced this dilemma with Derrick Caracter, a freshman this year who, talent-wise, was considered one of the top few recruits in the nation. But it was well-known that Caracter had a lazy streak. For that reason, Pitino never pursued him, but when Caracter asked to play for Louisville, the coach accepted him conditionally.

"I pointed out all the consequences of being late to class, and I told him the consequences of not working hard," Pitino says. "I told him what our program was about and he said he was buying into it. He's a terrific young man but the unfortunate thing is old habits are tough to break."

Indeed, Caracter found it hard to change and in late December, Pitino asked him to take a break from the team. "I realized that he was not part of this team, he exuded too much negative energy and not enough positive energy," Pitino says. "I sent him home and said… 'if you want to come back I'm going to make you sign a contract. If you violate it you will immediately be suspended and I'm going to work with you because we're going to try and change you.' " Caracter quickly violated two parts of his contract, the terms of which Pitino keeps private, and Pitino showed him to the bench.

"If he was in the corporate world he would immediately be fired," Pitino says. "But here you're dealing with a young person who you're trying to help in life, so you've got to go as far as you can go." In early February, Caracter still had the opportunity to come back if he met the contract terms, but Pitino says that all depended on the player: "The one thing I explained to Derrick before he broke this contract, is once you break this contract it's not me suspending you. If you violate any of these things that you've agreed to, then you're suspending yourself, it's not me."

Asked if it was worth giving up a talented player in the lineup in order to adhere to principles about effort, Pitino says, "When someone says 'your team really worked hard,' to me that's not a compliment. You're supposed to work hard. If your team doesn't work hard, then you don't have a team. That's your common denominator."

I have encountered many retail managers and owners who ignore substandard performance of a key employee because they are afraid of losing sales or having the employee quit and go to a competitor or because the store is short-staffed. However, ignoring this situation adversely affects your ENTIRE team. It is critical to summon up the courage and deal directly with this person's performance even if it means the consequences will be somewhat painful. Those consequences are usually short-lived while the impact of NOT taking action can be felt for a long period of time.

If you are interested in learning more about motivating emplyees, register for my upcoming tele-seminar, "Secrets to Motivating Your Retail Team" scheduled for June 12th. You can get details here.


Friday, March 02, 2007

The Art of Skillful Qualifying

As a trainer, consultant, and consumer I am constantly under whelmed when sales people approach me in a store. I find they typically use one of a few approaches:

1. They stand and wait for me to ask questions.
2. They launch into a pitch about the product.
3. They attempt to make small talk to try to make me open up.

Each of these approaches is very ineffective and does nothing to help the customer move toward making a buying decision. If you really want to make a difference and demonstrate to your customer why they should buy from you need to take a different approach.

First of all, recognize that if you truly want to separate yourself from your competition you must fully understand their needs before you begin talking about a product. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the retail sales situation. However, that can make it very easy for you to begin differentiating yourself from other retailers. Here’s how you do it:

Ask questions.

- What brings you into our store?
- What reasons do you have for buying a…?
- What were you looking for in a…?
- Tell me about your current situation.
- Who else is involved in this purchase?
- What deadlines are you working with?
- What is most important to you with this purchase?
- Where else have you been?
- What else have you seen?
- What was your experience at…?

Each of these questions gives you the chance to uncover the customer’s buying motives. Every time you learn more about your customer the closer you get to actually closing a sale providing you utilize that information properly.

You’ll notice that the above questions are all open ended which means they require the customer to respond with more than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Open-ended questions serve two purposes;

1. They require the customer to think before responding. This means that you will receive quality information that will help you determine their specific needs and wants.
2. They actively engage the customer. This means that they will begin to feel more comfortable with you because they are actually participating in the buying/selling process.

The critical thing to remember is that virtually everyone in the world loves talking about themselves and the more you encourage the customer to talk about themselves or their situation the more they will begin to trust and open up to you.

The majority of retail sales staff do not appreciate the power of this approach. In my training workshops I frequently hear objections such as:

“This takes too long. I need to spend my time overcoming objections.”
“People get defensive when I ask them all these questions.”
“Customers only care about getting the best price.”

I definitely understand these objections. Effective qualifying does take time. Some people do get defensive. And some customers do care only about getting the best price. However, this approach will garner you different results.

First of all, the time you invest qualifying will be saved in presenting your product and trying to overcome objections. If you fully understand what your customer needs and want you will be able to show them a product/service that meets those needs. This means that they will have fewer objections. I have discovered that the more thoroughly you qualify a customer the less likely they will express objections.

Second, if you create a comfortable environment people will answer any question you ask. But you must give them a reason to do so. They must see that the question(s) you are asking are leading somewhere and are being asked for a specific reason.

Third, you need to determine if the price conscious customer is someone you really want as a client.

Skillful qualifying takes effort, energy and practice. I suggest that you develop a list of open-ended questions that are relevant to your industry and practice utilizing them. The more comfortable you become asking valuable questions the more effective you will be become at uncovering your customer’s needs and wants. In turn, you will demonstrate to them why they should buy from you, today, at your price.

If you need help with this I recommend that you read my book, Stop, Ask & Listen. It lists over 400 questions for virtually every type of retail business.