As Christmas approaches many retailers are hoping that they will have a good end to the year which will ensure they survive through 2013. Its hard, and the amount of empty retail property is a testament to it. Now is the time for the salesman to ride to the rescue!
Before you all move on to the next blog in disgust: pause for thought. What does Sales mean to you? I’m not talking about the spiv conman, the cold caller or the over-rehearsed rep. Real Sales is an art and we should all be grateful for it. In our heads we think we know exactly what we want to buy and how we want to buy it but we are fooling ourselves. Think about all the trips to go Christmas shopping where you have come home with precisely nothing, think about the disappointing meals in restaurants where you made the wrong choices or the times you forgot something when you did your shopping. I despair of the retailers and restaurants who are paying minimum wage and skimping on training in the mistaken belief this is economically successful.
Good selling is invisible and is actually excellent customer service. Unfortunately too few people are properly trained and adequately skilled in selling – it’s a dying art.
Recently I went into some car showrooms. I’m looking for a couple of cars at the moment – one for my daughter who is learning to drive and one for me as a comfortable commuting vehicle. I visited a main dealer for Audi in my lunch hour and quickly told the people there what I was looking for – information on financing a low mileage used car with a view to buying a car in January. I knew what models I was interested and that I would like to buy from them because of their location. I couldn’t have laid it on a plate more clearly. Unfortunately I came away angry and thinking I would prefer not to buy from them because of a salesman who wouldn’t listen and had his own agenda – evasive in giving me the information I wanted, wanting to sell me a new car and wanting to take me on a test drive of cars I wasn’t in a position to buy despite my limited time!
Contrast that with my visit to a back street used car lot where we were looking for a sub-£3000 car for my daughter. The salesman there listened to what we were looking for, offered some really good advice for a first time buyer, helped us narrow down models and was honest enough to say he had nothing that met our needs right now – step forward MJ Car Sales in Swadlincote. I am far more inclined to buy both cars from MJ Car Sales as a result.
This also applies in restaurants and high street shops. Especially at this time of year shopping can be frustrating. Unfortunately sales training in retail seems particularly poor. I know that a good sales person will sell at least double what a poor sales person will just by offering good service and advice. You just need to see the Mary Portas TV programmes to see this in action. There are four things which regularly seem to be missing and which characterise a bad sales experience:
1. Work ethic. It shocks me when staff are stood idle chatting to each other rather than talking to their customers.
2. Product knowledge. This seems basic but often the knowledge is limited to how to operate the till. It seems to me that no-one should be on the shop floor who doesn’t know the basic information about the stock and what’s special today.
3. Qualification. Probably the biggest failing. An inability to understand me as a customer is unforgiveable. I don’t want people to sell me things I can’t buy. If I’m window shopping I understand that someone with money in their wallet will take priority. There are some really basic pieces of information which every sales person will establish before trying to sell – Budget (maximum AND minimum), Need, Authority (do I need my wife’s approval) and Timescale.
4. Bedside manner. Too often the sales person is scripted. They have a way of selling and regardless of your response they are going to “do it to you”. It’s a close run thing as to whether a complete failure to try to sell is worse. It takes no time at all to engage in a conversation and help a customer see the things they need to see and be aware of the offers which will be relevant to them.
Before you sneer at the art of selling… you are an amateur salesperson yourself. Selling is a part of every day life in your relationships, social life and work. Lawyers are “selling” to juries, Accountants to prospective new clients and Doctors are qualifying their patients every day. We are all trying to offer and get advice, influence and choose the right moment. Independent retailers often succeed because they consistently, inherently, deliver these basic selling skills.
It is astonishing that some retailers don’t “get it”. In the pursuit of cost cutting they miss the opportunity that good selling provides. It matters now more than ever before.