Can I help you? Why retail customers always say no

These are the four worst words anyone can utter to a customer in retail. We all know they answer it gets 99% of the time – because we all give it.

“No thanks – just looking”

These 4 words are revenue stoppers, barrier creators, and empathy evaporators. It just says to the potential customer – I’m too bored and uninterested to even use a sentence that isn’t expected, practiced or considerate of the fact that you are the person who pays my wage. But rather than simply pointing out that it doesn’t work, let’s discuss a couple of simple and effective alternatives. And I’ll do this by giving you an example and a retail sales person who gets it.

I was recently shopping for some new jeans in a Myer store in Melbourne. When the sales guy approached me he asked me a simple question:

“Are you after pants or tops today?”

A very smart move. Either answer starts a conversation we he can ‘be help’ instead of simply asking if I need it. If I answer ‘pants’ – we can start narrowing down the selection. Same if I answer ‘tops’. Or he might even get lucky and I say ‘both’. If I say ‘neither’ I just look like a fool, and we can both wonder why the hell I walked into the store in the first place. Needless to say, I told him and he helped me find a nice pair of jeans.

blue jeans

The trick is simple:

First – never ask an open ended question. They don’t solve problems or lead to results.

Second – ask two pronged choice questions for which both answers are good for the sales person.

Third – don’t feel guilty or pushy doing it. People wouldn’t (especially men) enter a store just for the sake of it, they want help.

So next time you go into a store with sales assistants, pay attention to the language they use and you’ll start to notice those who get it and those who don’t. This example might also serve as a good question or test when recruiting business development staff for your startup.

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Which door to knock on

Deal making is very different to most other activities, sports and business pursuits. In life, it generally pays to incrementally work our way up. To earn the right to play a ‘bigger game’. But when it comes to making a deal – selling something big, raising capital for our startup or doing something that requires a commitment from someone else the opposite is often true. In fact, I think it is easier to go big than small. Easier to make that big deal. Easier to raise a large amount of capital. While this sounds counter intuitive, when we consider the ‘why’ the reasons become clear:

  • It takes the same amount of time to meet the prospects
  • It takes the same amount of time to prepare the offer
  • People in charge of small amounts of money, tend to watch it more closely
  • People in charge of large amounts of money are mostly the decision makers as well
  • People in charge of small amounts of money often need approval to spend
  • Small investments get caught up in detail and administration
  • Big investments are made by those who need ‘big outcomes’ and are less risk averse
  • Big investments are usually made with OPM – other peoples money

Granted, getting the big meeting takes more work, but the simple truth is that raising 10 or 100 times the money, rarely takes 10 or 100 times the effort. In fact, it takes no more effort, and usually less. So when you’re next out deciding who to go for, remember the above and go straight to the top. While all rejections are created equal, all deals are not.

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Passion is not enough

We are often told we need to be passionate about our work, our startup or the product we are selling. And while it is true, it is also a little bit ephemeral. Today I heard a better way to describe what we need to do to sell our ideas from Brian Tracy – whose an old school business coach, though his approach is still highly relevant today. Brain says we need to be able to do this:

Transfer our enthusiasm.

I love it, and I’m going to use it as a way to judge myself after I present an idea or project to people in the future.

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What best sellers have in common

If you’re an author it’s often an objective to get on the New York Times best sellers list. If you’re in any form of pop culture there’s usually a best selling list that is worth getting on. While getting on it is an indicator of how well you have done, it also perpetuates  further success through attention and validation. The interesting thing about these ‘lists’ including the NY Times Best Seller list is the name itself. It isn’t the NY Times best ‘writing’ list. There’s a big clue in that. It isn’t the best work that wins. In fact, some of the most amazing work may remain hidden from the market forever because the person behind it couldn’t sell their ideas, or find some one to help them do that.

The lesson is simple and clear – If we want to be the best at anything, we need to pretty good at selling too.

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Hitting 3 out of 10

In baseball a hitters average matters a lot. If you are hitting 100, it means that you score a run 1 out of 10 times you step up to the plate. If you are hitting 300, it means you are getting 3 runs per 10 steps up to the plate. In modern times, a season batting average higher than 300 means two things. The first is that you will be in high demand in major league baseball. The second is that you will be earning millions of dollars for that skill. Anything higher than .400 is regarded as an almost unachievable goal. The last player to do so, with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting championship, was Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, who hit .406 in 1941, though the best modern players either threaten to or actually do achieve it occasionally, if only for brief periods of time.

It turns out that sales and baseball are very similar.

An average person will probably close a deal 1 out of 10 times. Someone who can get the job done 2 our of 10 times will make a very good living as a sales professional and earn an income well above the norm. If however, a person can get over 300 in selling, then they too will end up earning millions of dollars – just like the guys in the major leagues. All they need to do is find an industry that understands and appreciates the value of people who sell their wares. A big clue here is that it wont be a product that sells from a shelf. Another clue is that sales can be learned, it’s invariably a human skill that we all have, but very few people actually embrace their potential to do it.

When it comes to startups, we’ve all got to sell. We’ve got to sell our ideas, our passion, our product and our vision. We’ll even need to sell to our supply chain before we even get a chance to sell to customers. Success and selling are inextricably linked. No matter how advanced technology becomes someone has to sell it at some point, or revenue wont happen.

The thing to to remember though, is that we really only need a hit rate of 2 out of 10 to beat Joe Normal. Doing any better than that and we are on our way to stardom.

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