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From Pacific Business News
Sales potential tied to polished customer service
By Ron Martin

Multiple choice: You take a poll of the customers as they leave your retail store. Which group of words would you most like to hear them use to describe your retail sales associates?

A) Apathetic, ignorant and arrogant.

B) Aggressive, pushy and obnoxious.

C) Willing, helpful, eager, friendly and considerate.

No, it's not a trick question. The fact is, A and B are often the types of words used to describe retail salespeople or their approaches. Too often customers are either ignored or attacked when they enter a retail store. With today's fierce competition for the retail dollar, you'd think all retailers would want their customers to use adjectives like the ones in choice C. Your customers deserve immediate attention and good information from considerate, sensitive salespeople.

How do we sometimes miss the basic point? Part of the problem lies in how we define the word "selling." Selling is not talking customers into buying merchandise. Selling is not waiting for customers to decide what they want and ringing it up. Selling is giving customers sufficient information to make an intelligent buying decision -- whether it be yes or no!

Effective selling is achieved by good salespeople. The old adage "location, location, location" doesn't cut it anymore. The best location will not overcome sloppy service. Huge inventories and low prices alone are not enough to assure retail success. Retailers must realize their greatest assets are their employees, not their real estate and inventories. It's the customer who pays the rent, salaries and vendor invoices. Without customers there is no business, and without good salespeople there are no customers.

Customers notice right away whether a store's priorities are operations-based, profit-based or customer-based. Operations-based retailers ignore customers while stocking shelves and taking inventories. Profit-based stores are short staffed and can't provide good service. Customer-based retailers, on the other hand, make duties and tasks secondary to customer service. Their salespeople realize the task will wait, the customer will not.

To develop a customer-based set of priorities, salespeople must be educated about merchandise, taught how to sell it, and rewarded for doing so. Employees hired at the lowest possible rate and given a long list of tasks to achieve develop "clerk mentality." While clerks can ring up a sale, only salespeople make sales.

Retailers can emphasize salesmanship by first realizing customers often do want sales help, even when they say, "No thank you, I'm just looking." Perhaps they've experience pushy salespeople in the past and consequently pre-judge all salespeople as potentially pushy. Salesmanship can overcome this pre-judgment by offering sincerity, honesty and the willingness to truly help. It begins by making a positive first impression.

To this end, greeters have become commonplace at the front door of many stores today. Formal store greetings started when Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart out in the countryside of Arkansas. Sam was so grateful people would drive 30 miles out of town to visit his store that he wanted to thank them in person. He greeted his customers at the door as they arrive and thanked them as they departed. He helped them load their purchases in their cars, learned their names and asked them to return. They did.

Unfortunately, many store greetings today are perfunctory and useless. Sam Walton would roll over in his grave if he could see some of the automatic, impersonal greetings offered at Wal-Marts across the country. Believe me, the customer can tell when people perform tasks because they are told to rather than because they want to.

Salespeople get only one chance to make a first impression and it begins with their greeting. Whether the greeting takes place at the front door, in the store aisle or at the cash register, if it is sincere it will be effective.

The six keys to a sincere, effective greeting are:

Eye contact
Speak up
Shut up

Make eye contact with each customer. The eyes are the windows to the soul. You don't trust people who won't look you in the eye because you feel they are hiding something or they're disinterested in you. When a salesperson won't look you in the eye, he or she is probably thinking about something other than you.

Smile broadly. Don't offer that phony "stretched-lip smile" that people give to strangers. A broad smile communicates openness. It says: "You can talk to me." It invites customers to ask questions and establishes communication.

Speak up with a greeting. Salespeople can simply say, "Hello," or "Aloha," clearing the way for the customer to respond.

Shut up and listen. The salesperson should then let the customer respond to the greeting before saying anymore. Customer responses reveal whether it's okay to continue or not. Some customers want to talk to the salesperson. Some don't. They should all have their way.

Observe, then mirror the customer's response. When customers act like they do not want to talk, the salesperson should back off, disengage, while remaining mentally connected. Customers will "signal" when they are ready to talk. The salesperson can then re-engage and continue talking.

Making a good first impression is just one way to improve salesmanship. In fact, salespeople need step-by-step systems to follow. They need guidelines that assure outstanding customer service. Salespeople should be rewarded with commissions, team bonuses or other incentives based on results. Customers will notice the difference and reward retailers with larger purchases, return visits and customer referrals. Try it. It works. It's easy!

Ron Martin is the president of Success Dynamics Inc., and author of "Success Made Easy," "Retail Selling Made Easy" and "Sales Management Made Easy."

 Success Dynamics, Inc © 2006