The Competitive Edge
An important ingredient in the successful retail or service business is good selling. Without it, many sales are lost sales that may mean the difference between success and failure. This article tells you how you can train yourself and your employees to become creative sales people.
To many customers, the salesperson is the business. Therefore, if the sales personnel are good, the business is good. But if the sales personnel are bad, then so is the firm. Although important to all businesses, effective sales personnel are especially important to small businesses. Why? Because it is difficult for a small business to compete with the big firms on things like assortment, price, and promotion. Selling effort, on the other hand, is one place where the small product or service retail business can compete with larger competitors -- and win.
Effective selling doesn't happen by accident. The small entrepreneur must work to achieve a high level of sales effectiveness in his or her business. In order to work toward this goal, the businessperson should be aware of the different types of salesperson, the selling process, and the attributes of effective salespersons. Applying such knowledge to a business situation should result in the desired goal of effective sales personnel -- the competitive edge.
It is important to note that retailing may involve selling services instead of products. Appliance repair, beauty shop, lawn service, and photography studio are all examples of service retailing. Even though services are intangible, personal, nonstandardized, and perishable when compared to products, they are sold by retailers either alone or in conjunction with products. The effective selling of services has the potential to give a business a competitive advantage.
TYPES OF SALESPERSONS
There are three main types of sales personnel.
Order Handler. The ticket-taker at the concert, the checker at the food store -- these salespeople are working in a routine selling environment. But due to the nature of their jobs, they will be asked numerous questions by customers as well as hear complaints about prices and services. A knowledgeable person with a pleasant personality is especially needed for this job, because this is usually the person who is dealing with the customer when the customer's money (payment) is received.
Order-Taker. As noted in Figure 1, more creativity is found in this job as compared to the order-handler. The counter attendant at the fast food restaurant may take the order and then suggest that the customer might also wish to buy a hot apple turnover. Pleasant personality, fast service, and suggestion selling on the part of the order-taker can result in many additional sales.
Order-Getter. For many businesses, the heart of the selling process rests with the creative selling efforts of their salespeople. Of course, one of the greatest problems is that there are numerous order-handlers and order-takers in selling positions that should have order-getters for optimum selling effectiveness. Clothing, furniture, jewelry, and appliances are just some of the many items that call for order-getters (a person who can handle a transaction, take an order and, most importantly, get an order). As for services, the home security salesperson, for example, who calls on a prospect because it is observed that the house has no dead bolt locks, is making that special effort to be an order-getter. Even though all selling situations do not call for order-getters, all salespeople will be called upon to sell creatively from time to time. It is for this reason that all sales personnel need to have a working knowledge of the creative selling process.
CREATIVE SELLING PROCESS
The creative selling process consists of eight steps, none of which is less important than any other if the process is to be effective. It should be emphasized to all employees that all steps are vital to the achievement of effective selling.
1. Pre-Customer Contact.
A smart builder would not attempt to build a house without a good
foundation. Likewise, a businessperson should not place people
on the sales floor or telephone until these people know the
business, merchandise, services and customers. Before any contact
is made with the customer, every salesperson should know.
Polices, Procedures, and Rules. Have these in writing for all
employees to see and to know.
Operation of Equipment. No matter whether the register is
electronic or mechanical, the time to learn how to work it is not
after a ales while the customer waits for change.
Target Market Knowledge. The better sales person knows something
of the likes and dislikes of the firm's primary customers. The
business operator should tell all sales personnel about the
business's customers and their lifestyles. Tell the salespeople
about customer's interests and ability to buy.
Product Knowledge. A salesperson gains confidence by knowing
about the products and services he or she is selling. If a
person sells shoes, it helps to know the merchandise as well as
how to fit them. If a person sells building materials, the
selling job is probably more effective if the salesperson can
also help answer questions about home repairs. It helps the
person who sells clothes to know something about fabrics and
current fashions. If the person is in the lawn service business,
that person should know about lawn care. Most sales personnel
will not take the initiative to acquire product knowledge on
their own. It is management's responsibility to encourage
employees to gain product and service knowledge. Management
should make such knowledge available to them.
Although not appropriate to every selling situation, prospecting
should be used whenever possible. Essentially, prospecting
involves not waiting for the customer to show up at a store or to
phone about a service. It is concerned with taking the
initiative by going to the customer with a product or service
idea. Prospecting may be of two types: new or regular customer
New Customer Prospecting. A salesperson sees that a person is
getting married. Action is taken on this knowledge by contacting
the person and telling her about appropriate items (or services)
that might be of assistance to a new bride. By using newspapers
and personal contacts, a salesperson can take the initiative to
contact and create new customers.
Regular Customer Prospecting. A firm's best prospects are its
current customers. A salesperson should make a practice of
calling regular customers on a periodic basis to tell them about
products or services. "Hello. Mrs. Anderson, I just want to tell
you about the new shipment of dresses that we received today. As
I unpacked them, I saw several that made me think of you."
Prospecting with regular customers works! All salespeople should
be encouraged to prospect by phone and in-person whenever they
see regular customers. A word of caution must be emphasized.
Don't go to the well too often. Prospecting with the same
regular customer on a frequent basis can make prospecting lose
the special feeling that it can create in customers. Do not
3. Initial Contact.
The most effective way to close a sale is to open it on a
positive note. Unfortunately, most sales do not open this way.
The typical initial store contact begins in this manner:
Clerk: "May I help you?"
Customer: "No thank you. I'm just looking."
This ritual leaves much to be desired. Why? It is an automatic
statement that shows no creativity on the part of the
salesperson. Also, because the customer has heard this statement
many times, his or her response is usually given without thinking
what was said. Every salesperson should be challenged to treat
each customer as an individual by responding differently to each
Initial contact also means responding to customers when they
enter the sales areas even when they cannot be waited on
immediately. Salespeople should be instructed to tell waiting
customers that, "I'll be with you in a moment." Such actions
will reduce the number of customers who leave without being
served. When the employee is free to help the waiting customer,
the initial comment should be, "Thank you, for waiting." A
courteous, creative initial contact with the customer can go a
long way to promote sales.
4. Presentation of Merchandise.
In presenting merchandise (or services) to the customer, the
salesperson should use product knowledge to best advantage. How?
Buy Benefits. Although it is good to talk about the lawnmower's
3 1/2 horsepower mower, customers may be more interested in
hearing about how fast the lawnmower will cut the grass. Product
knowledge is important but the salesperson must remember what
makes the customer buy. Clothes may be made of durable fabrics,
but it is also important to stress the implied benefit that they
will also appeal to the opposite sex. Sell benefits!
Customer Involvement. Product knowledge can be used to get
customer involvement. Show the customer several features of the
digital watch and then have the customer put it on and work it.
If the interest is there, it will be hard for the customer to
take off the watch so that the salesperson can put it back into
the case. The best way to present many products is to get
involvement. Want to sell dance lessons? Get the customer on the
dance floor and let the fun of dancing do some of the selling.
The same is true with clothes, perfume, sports equipment, and
almost anything else.
Limit the Choices. If during the sales presentation more than
three items are in front of the customer, the changes of a sale
are reduced while the possibility of shoplifting is increased.
If, for example, the salesperson continues to carry dresses into
the fitting room for the customer to try without removing any
from consideration, the customer will likely not buy any because
of the inability to decide from among so many choices. Also, with
so many items under study, the clerk may lose track of how many
items are in the fitting room. It is possible that some may be
put on under the customer's clothes while the clerk is not
present, thereby resulting in an expensive experience for the
store. Likewise, if a travel agency attempts to sell a customer
a Caribbean cruise, the changes of making the sale will diminish
if too many trip options are presented. Unless there is a
definite reason for an exception, the rule of three (never show
more than three choices at one time) should be followed whenever
merchandise is presented. Limited choices have been found to
Use Showmanship. In presenting merchandise to the customer,
encourage all personnel to be creative. Be enthusiastic about
the merchandise. Hold the necklace up for the customer to see
it. Make the portable baby crib "look" easy to work. Lay the
different pieces of the cookware set before the customer in an
attractive easy-to-see everything manner. Ask your salespeople to
think like a customer. If I were a customer, what would I like
Message Adaptation. A knowledgeable salesperson should know
about the products being sold. Message adaptation involves
deciding what information is needed to sell a particular customer
and how that information should be presented to that customer.
Canned sales presentations do not allow for adaptation. The
effective sales person will make an effort to adjust the
presentation to the customer. If the customer knows about gardens
and lawns, the person selling a lawn service should adapt the
sales presentation to the level of the customer's expertise.
Don't bore the customer with known facts. It could lose a sale.
5. Handling Objections.
Remember, if objections are present, progress is probably being
made on the sale. Most salespeople are afraid of objections.
Stress to all employees that objections are a natural part of the
selling process. They do not mean that the sale is lost. In
most cases, all that is required to overcome an objection is more
selling on the part of the salesperson.
Common types of customer objections that are faced by a
Product: "That dress looks out-of-date."
Store: "You never have the right merchandise."
Service: "If I believe what I hear, I can't get good service from
Price: :It is just too expensive."
Salesperson: "Are you sure these shoes fit right?"
These and other objections can be met by the salesperson in
several ways. Using the above product objection as an example,
these methods include:
Yet-But: "Yes, it does look out-of-date, but it is the latest."
This approach beings on a positive note by agreeing with the
customer and then moves on to answer the objection.
Counterquestion. "Why do you feel it's out-of-date?" The
counterquestion puts the ball back in the customer's court. By
asking "Why?" the real reason for the objection may become known.
Restate Objection. "You feel that the dress looks out-of-date."
By restating the objection, the customer may respond by saying,
"No, I mean it just doesn't look right on me," or something of a
similar nature. This approach tends to reduce the magnitude of
the objection in the eyes of the customer.
Direct Response. "The dress you have on was first shown at the
market this season It is the latest thing." Although offensive
to some, this approach may be necessary if the customer is not
going to buy unless the untruth can be corrected. Tact is
important when using this approach.
These four approaches for handling objections are not meant to be
all-inclusive. These and other approaches do point out, however,
that objections should and can be answered by the salesperson.
Unless objections are overcome to the satisfaction of the
customer, it is questionable the sale will be made.
6. Closing the Sale.
In various ways, the salesperson can assist the customer by
helping him or her to make the buying decision. Closing
techniques that can aid in this effort include:
Offer a Service. "Let us deliver it to you this afternoon." A
"Yes" implies purchase.
Give a Choice: "Do you want the five-piece or eight-piece cooking
set? Either choice implies purchase. Note that "No" was not one
of the choices.
Offer an Incentive. "If you buy now, you get 10 percent off the
already low price." If you wait, you don't get the 10 percent
Better Not Wait. "If you want this refrigerator, butter get it
now. It's the last one in stock." Note it pays to be honest. If
the customer buys and then comes by the store the next day and
sees that the store did have another one, this closing technique
may have made the sale, but it could lose the customer.
7. Suggestion Selling.
The customer has made a purchase. Now what? Encourage your sales
personnel to make a definite suggestion for a possible additional
sale. For many businesses, sales can be increased by 25 percent
through positive suggestion selling. Please note that statements
such as: "Will there be something else?" or"Can I get you
something else?" are not suggestion selling. They do not make a
positive suggestion. When the customer buys a lamp, what about a
light bulb to go in it? IF a picture is purchased, what about
the necessary hardware to hang it properly? If a suit is bought,
what about a new blouse or shirt that goes well with the color?
Where appropriate, the creative sales person will actually get
the suggested item and show it to the customer. Or if a person
brings in a watch to be repaired, why not also clean it while it
is taken apart? This type of initiative usually results in more
sales. It should be emphasized that most customers like to
receive a valid suggestion. In some cases, suggestions may even
permit the customer to avoid another shopping trip to pick up
that needed item that they had not thought about. Good
suggestion selling makes sales and builds confidence in the
8. Sales Follow-Up
Although not apparent to many salespeople, follow-up is a part of
every sale. The closing statement, "Thank you for shopping at
(name of store," is a form of sales follow-up if done with
enthusiasm. Unfortunately, just making the statement in an
automatic manner is about as effective as that other worn out
phrase, "May I help you?" If done correctly, however, it allows
the customer to leave on a positive note, thereby increasing the
changes of repeat business by the customer.
Follow-up may also concern itself with checking on anything that
was promised the customer after the sale. If delivery is
supposed to take place on Friday, the salesperson will check to
make sure that the promise will be met and, if not, will notify
the customer of the problem. Good sales follow-up will prevent
the type of situation that occurs so often when the customer
calls on Friday asking, "Where is the delivery truck?" A business
with a reputation for sales follow-up is going to obtain
additional business because of its concern after the sale.
Sincere sales follow-up is good business. Imagine the impact
that can be had on a customer when the carpet cleaning service
telephones the customer 48 hours after cleaning her carpets to be
sure that everything is satisfactory. Sales follow-up buildings
good will and repeat business.
Attributes of a Creative Salesperson
In addition to having personnel who understand and apply the
creative selling process, an organization should try to have
salespeople who possess certain attributes that can make them
more effective in their jobs. These attributes, which can be
grouped into mental and physical categories, merit further
Judgment. Common sense, maturity, intelligence -- these and
other terms are used interchangeably with judgment. A
salesperson knows that it does not pay to argue with a customer.
The salesperson also knows that the firm should never be "cut" in
front of customers. These situations reflect the use of good
judgment on the part of the employee. Please note that the term
maturity is sometimes used in place of judgment but that it is
not necessarily a function of age.
Tact. If an employee has a keen sense of what to say and do,
many problems can be overcome before they are created. Many
employees give little thought to the impact of their actions. A
child playing with toys in the toy store is told in a blunt
manner to "quit playing with the toys and go find your mother."
While all this is going on, the mother is standing behind the
salesperson. Was a confrontation with the child necessary? No.
Could it have been handled differently? Yes. How does the child
and mother feel about the store? The feeling is not good. This
salesperson lacked the ability to know what to do and say in
order to maintain good customer relations. Be tactful.
Attitude. A good salesperson will have a positive attitude
toward customers, merchandise, services and the business. A good
attitude means that an employee is willing to accept suggestions,
to learn and to apply the steps in the creative selling process,
and to not be afraid of work. A salesperson with a bad attitude
can create unnecessary problems. A bad attitude is contagious.
If any employee is otherwise competent, management should work
with the employee to develop a positive attitude. Positive
attitudes can result in sales.
Selected Physical Attributes. To be a success, the salesperson
must physically belong in the firm's particular environment.
Personal appearance and personal hygiene are important in the
selling environment. IN terms of personal appearance, a slim
salesperson would be more appropriate than a larger person in a
sales position at a health spa. Equally important in terms of
personal appearance is a clothing salesman who e\wears last
year's clothing. He will have difficulty in selling the latest
fashions to his customers. Personal appearance does count in the
As for personal hygiene -- body odor, bad breath, dirty hair,
soiled clothes, scuffed shoes, and unkept hands are all reasons
why a sale may be lost. Obviously, be tactful when handling
problems of personal hygiene. An observant owner manager should
keep a watchful eye out for hygiene, problems among the staff
and, when necessary, counsel the offending employee in private
about improving his or her appearance. If you don't feel
physical attributes are important, ask yourself if you would like
to buy low-calorie health foods from an overweight salesperson
with body odor. Sound funny? It isn't! Your customers will
usually react unfavorably to this and similar inappropriate
Word of Caution. Mental and physical attributes of salespersons
are important. Management must continue to observe sales
personnel in regard to the desired traits. Either mental or
physical attributes of individuals may change over time relative
to desired attributes. Management must be aware of this
possibility and attempt to correct any deviations from desired
norms before problems are created.
A business can greatly enhance its probability of success by
stressing the creative selling process, giving special attention
to the desired mental and physical attributes of a creative sales
person. Good creative selling can provide the competitive edge.
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