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Teach Your Team These Basic Skills to Create Return Customers

While it may sound obvious, if you want to have a profitable retail business, sales associates need to be good at selling. That doesn’t mean you have to resort to used-car-salesman, high-pressure tactics to close the deal. But they need to do more than just direct traffic around the salesfloor.

An effective sales approach requires employees to proactively engage customers, understand their needs and create an excellent shopping experience. If it’s successful, you’ll build lasting relationships so customers will return again and again.

To give you pointers on how to teach employees to sell more effectively, Hardware Retailing spoke with Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender, with retail consulting firm KIZER & BENDER, who have worked with thousands of businesses to help them better understand their customers. Their explanation of the sales process will help your employees create an atmosphere of excellent customer service while at the same time encourage customers to buy.

Break the Ice

Creating a positive shopping experience starts as soon as customers walk in the door of your business. While helping customers find what they need is your ultimate objective, that shouldn’t necessarily be the way you start a conversation.

“In your first contact with a customer, you’re just breaking the ice. Talk about anything that doesn’t have anything to do with the store,” Bender says. “Use those first 30 seconds of the conversation to create an aura of partnership with the customer.”

For example, you might comment on the weather or ask how their day has been so far; anything that will help establish rapport and make them feel at ease.

From there, transition to an open-ended question to start the conversation about why they came into the store. Ask questions such as “What brings you in today?” or “What project are you working on today?” Never ask “May I help you?” or “Do you need help?” or any other question with a yes or no answer.

The hospitality you show with the initial greeting should be consistent wherever the customer goes in the store.

“We tell employees to use our Seven Tile Rule,” Bender says. “Greet every customer who comes within 7 feet, or about seven floor tiles, of you. Every single customer needs to be acknowledged by any employee who gets within 7 feet.”

That acknowledgment could be a greeting or a simple check-in to make sure they are finding what they need.

“If I walk into a store and the employees do nothing to acknowledge me or offer to help, then I’m not likely to return,” Kizer says. “However, if I go to a store and they treat me as if I’m a guest in their house, then I’m going to be a long-term customer.”

Demonstrate the Product

If you’ve established rapport with a customer and become their partner in helping them get what they need, then they’re likely to be receptive to your help when they have questions about the product they’re buying.

Employees acquire product knowledge in a variety of ways, including hands-on training and vendor workshops. Also remember to have employees read product labeling. Most customers are going to be reading the packaging, so if employees don’t at least know what the manufacturer says about a product, then customers might wonder if they know anything at all.

“Everyone should be reading product labels,” Kizer says. “You don’t necessarily have to know everything about the product, but it’s important to at least know the three or four features or benefits that make that product unique.”

If they are buying a high-ticket item, make sure customers understand why that product is the best choice for their project, especially if there is a choice between several price points of the same item.

“Get customers to the point where they understand and agree with what you are telling them about the product,” Kizer says.

Customers shouldn’t feel pressured into buying something, because they might only regret their purchase once they return home.
Managers can create an environment that places high value on product knowledge by recognizing employees who have excelled in their training.

“Recognize and reinforce high performers,” Kizer says. “Create a culture in your business where top-performing employees are recognized. Management has to be involved in that so employees know their efforts are recognized at the top.”

The reward could be as simple as a badge that lets customers know in what areas the employee specializes.

You can also offer recognition at employee meetings or bonus pay for high performance. When employees know you appreciate their work, they’ll be motivated to continue to provide a high service level.

How Should You Respond?

When you ask customers how you can help them, here are a few different responses you might receive. Here’s what you could do next.

“I know what I need.”
Show them where to find the products they’re looking for and recommend add-on items.

“I’m just looking.”
Let them know you’re available if they need help. Attempt to ask general questions about what they need so you can get them pointed in the right direction.

“I’m not really sure what I need.”
Ask follow-up questions to learn more about their project and be ready to make product recommendations that best suit their needs.

Add to the Sale

An often misunderstood part of the sale, add-on selling is critical to good customer service. As you train employees on selling skills, remind them that suggesting additional items is not pushing customers to purchase something they don’t need. Rather it’s helping them avoid an extra trip to get something they forgot. Add-on selling skills require a solid grasp of product knowledge and take practice.

“Add-on selling needs to be a natural part of the conversation,” Bender says. “There needs to be a level of comfort with selling related items, and it can sometimes be hard for people to want to talk about it.”

Kizer and Bender recommend making add-on selling practice a regular part of employee meetings by doing an activity called “Give Me 5.” To do it, take a handful of items from anywhere in the store, hold them up in a meeting and ask employees to call out five additional items they could sell with each product. It’s a simple yet effective exercise to get employees thinking about what they should be suggesting with each sale.

Cement the Relationship

After you’ve answered all your customer’s questions and suggested relevant add-on items, it’s time to close the sale and help them make the purchase. There are many different ways to close a sale, such as asking, “Would you like me to help you carry this to the cash register?” or “Is there anything else you need today?” or “Would you like to take advantage of the special pricing we have on that item?”

However, the most important way you can close a sale is to find a way to follow up. Let customers know you’re interested in their project beyond the point where they make a purchase and head out the door.

“Before a customer leaves, ask them to come back and tell you how their project turned out,” Bender says. “The paint department is a great example. Before the customer leaves, say something like, ‘Would you do me a favor? When you’re finished painting, would you take a picture and bring it in to show me? I would love to see how it turned out.’ When a customer comes back and shows you that picture, you know you’ve turned an ordinary shopper into a loyal customer.”

About Jesse Carleton

Jesse Carleton has visited independent hardware retailers, conducted original research on the industry and written extensively about the business of hardware retailing. Jesse has written for more than a dozen of NHPA’s contract publishing titles, all related to the hardware retailing industry. He also was instrumental in developing the Basic Training in Hardware Retailing courses now used by thousands of retailers across the country.

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