If your B2C or retail business depends on staff members advising customers or clients, and explaining your products and services to them, then you need to know whether your staff are engaged in effective sales-focussed activity; whether the things that your staff members do are likely to maximise sales conversions and order values, or not.
If you’re in a retail or B2C sales role, you also need to know you’re doing those things too (it probably affects your pay, job security, or both!). This applies whether sales is a big or small part of your role.
Now, we’re not talking about pushy or aggresive hard selling techniques here, and in this day and age customer service always has to come first. That’s a given. But we are talking about simple steps that are proven to make sales people who advise potential customers more effective.
In this article – and the next – we’ll share some powerful and proven ideas to help retail or B2C sales people to maximise their performance. In this first article, most of the ideas are more well known (and arguably common sense). The ideas in the second article will be less familiar.
But they’re all ways of improving results, especially because it is rare to see most of these things being done well.
What’s in these articles and who are they for?
These articles are aimed at businesses of all sizes that operate (partly or entirely) on a “Business to Consumer” basis, including those in:
- Retail – any retail business where sales people actively advise and sell (particularly where higher value goods are sold),
- Automotive / motor trade (Car, van, bike, motorhome or other vehicle dealerships),
- Property sales and lettings (including new build, holiday and retirement accommodation),
- Financial and professional services (although there are often additional considerations here!),
- Home improvement services (kitchens, bathrooms, windows and doors, conservatories, etc.)
- Health, fitness, leisure, wellness & beauty (membership-based and where packages are sold – e.g. gyms, spas, health clubs, etc.)
- Hospitality (there are many settings in hospitality where these ideas will apply)
- Events – venue hire and events management (e.g. wedding venues),
- Travel (e.g. travel agencies),
- Optical profession (optometrists and opticians),
and many others.
We’re talking about any situation where sales staff really make the difference in terms of whether customers buy, and how much they spend.
This content is aimed at business owners and managers, but will be equally valuable for sales people themselves.
10 key ways that retail and B2C sales people can often improve
Depending on the nature and value of what you sell, here are some of the areas where your team can probably improve sales performance.
1. Welcoming customers (or clients), and building rapport
What sort of first impression is created for your customers? Are your staff friendly, professional, empathetic and customer focussed? If not, you’re likely to be losing business at the first hurdle.
Do your customers want to do business with your staff?
2. Establishing the customer’s needs
Yes, it’s obvious but it’s not common to see it done well. Unless your sales people do this effectively, they have no foundation for selling anything, and very little hope of maximising the sale, or building the strongest possible relationship.
Do your sales people ask appropriate and intelligent questions? Or do they just dive in with products, features and benefits (desperate to sell “something” or get the interaction finished)?
If they do ask questions, how well do they listen to the responses?
Are your staff trying to understand the customer’s motivations? Sometimes it will be a straightforward, functional requirement. Sometimes it might be other things like self esteem, prestige or being part of a community that’s actually the main “need” of the customer.
3. Being truly customer focussed
(i.e. interested, considerate, polite and aware)
Are your sales people truly customer-focussed? Are they customer-aware? Are they polite and considerate? Do they give the customer their full attention, and do customers feel that? Do they offer great service and make it clear that nothing is too much trouble?
Do your sales people show customers higher quality items and more expensive product types early in the process, to test the customer’s budget, and so the customer has a premium example to compare other options to?
Anchoring is a well-established psychological principle that states that we have a strong tendency to move towards the first number that we hear, see or “take in”.
It can work for you, or it can work against you. Many retail sales people have this principle work against them (and their employers!), by introducing the least expensive products or options first. The customer will then always gravitate back towards that price point, which is clearly not good for order values!
5. Spotting opportunities
…to cross sell and up-sell, and to simply recommend the most suitable products. This is where sales values can literally be multiplied by skilled staff who are switched on. But too often, chances are missed through staff complacency or inadequate training.
How good are your staff at spotting opportunities?
6. Providing information and expert advice
Do your customers receive valuable information and advice from speaking to your sales people? Have your sales people been given enough product knowledge (and have they retained it?)? Are your sales people demonstrating their knowledge, and adding to the customer’s knowledge?
Are your sales people pitching their information at the right level? Are they repeatedly patronising (and irritating) your customers, or are they providing information that’s far too advanced? Are they being patient when they need to be?
Are they providing value in terms of knowledge and advice? Nowadays this is vital if you want to make sales based on anything other than being the cheapest, and if you want to create loyal customers.
7. Inviting product engagement and getting feedback
Are your staff helping and encouraging potential customers to engage with the product or service, and with what it will mean to them in terms of benefits, results, and perhaps, how it might affect their lives or make them feel?
Are they painting pictures in the mind of the customer? If it is a product, are they inviting customers to get tactile with it?
Also, are they asking for feedback and gaining agreement through the process?
8. Telling stories
Do your sales people make appropriate use of stories and examples (of other customers and the products they bought) to illustrate points they’re making and to back-up their advice?
People respond to stories and examples. Your team and your organisation should collect, curate and share the best customer stories. They are far more compelling than boring old facts!
Are your staff members asking for the sale? When they make that final crucial attempt at the close, it shouldn’t come out of the blue.
Although the phrase “Always Be Closing” is outdated (and can be irritating if followed!), gaining a sale is better looked at as a process of gaining agreement or feedback through the whole sales process, and this is especially true for higher value purchases and investments.
There needs to be a series of micro-agreements, or pre-closes (the process has been called the “agreement staircase”).
Are your sales people also offering incentives and sweetening the deal as appropriate? Are they making it clear how hard they’re trying to help the customer, and how much they want the customer’s business (without going too far or applying too much pressure)?
10. Objection handling
Do your sales people know how to deal with objections? Do they make efforts to fully understand objections when they are raised? Sadly, many people tasked with selling don’t bother to do this.
Objections are best avoided in advance rather than “overcome”once they’ve been voiced. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, or weak, or inconsistent. Nobody wants to buy from someone who “argues” with them, puts them on the spot or makes them uncomfortable.
Objections can often be avoided by establishing customer needs properly and by checking in to gain agreement at sensible periods (too often can seem contrived and become annoying!).
There is a place and a need for objection handling, but a keen understanding of the customer the is key ingredient here, and that understanding is built up through the sales process and hopefully early on.
Sometimes obstacles can be removed by working out a more suitable proposal. Sometimes all that is needed is a bit of support or encouragement, persistence or “cheeky charm”.
Sometimes an ability to justify and “frame” the price can also be a powerful tool, but again this is best used earlier on, as part of building perceived value and preferably before any objection is raised.
Sometimes objections are genuine and they can’t simply be overcome. But the more often a sales person is surprised by apparently sudden objections, the more likely that the staff member’s process is flawed (or non-existent).
How much impact do (or could) these things have in your business?…
That’s the end of the list for now, until Part 2. To be clear, these ideas are not all appropriate in every situation (especially those in the next article), but they can all impact heavily on retail and B2C sales results, and not being aware of them will cost your business in terms of sales volumes, values, or both.
How do your sales people perform in these areas? Do they understand the difference that these things can make? How many of these things are “top of mind” as they go about their day? How many are never even a consideration?
Most of the ideas above (perhaps except anchoring) are commonly understood ways that sales people can either perform well, or not.
In Part 2, we’re going to talk about the importance of sales staff being aware of some key psychological concepts. Arguably, that should have been Part 1!
If any of the terms used (especially in Part 2) are unfamiliar to you, we recommend that you investigate them more and consider how you might apply them, before your competitors do! Perhaps your competitors already do use them.
(you can find out if they do using competitor Mystery Shopping, but we digress…).
Anyway, for those who want to learn more, we’ll provide a reading list at the end of the next article.
So, are your staff making use where appropriate of some of the key rules stemming from social psychology and behavioural science? Or are they falling foul of them? You can find out in Part 2, but first, here’s something that is equally important…
Using Mystery Shopping (including the options of Video Mystery Shopping), we can help you to gain a crystal-clear understanding of how real interactions play out with real customers (when you or your managers are not watching, listening, or supervising).
But we’re not “just” another Mystery Shopping company. We specialise in helping in situations where we can make the most difference, by looking closely at sales interactions and finding ways to improve processes, methods, approaches and habits.
Every client and every situation is unique and receives a unique approach. We do our best to gain an in-depth understanding of your business, your market and your priorities. Then we work with you to look at how (sometimes seemingly small) changes might improve your results. We can tailor a staff training programme to maximise sales and customer satisfaction, and a Mystery Shopping programme to monitor implementation.
Whose words are you reading?
My name is Paul Taylor. I have decades of experience in sales, and as an entrepreneur I’ve trained and managed my own sales teams (selling B2B services). As the Managing Director of Customerwise, I work with retail, B2C and B2B organisations to help them monitor how things are done and find ways to improve results.
Having been “in the trenches” in sales, I’ve been on corporate sales training courses and I’m familiar with the established wisdom regarding selling.
More importantly, I’m an avid consumer of the latest thinking in sales and marketing, psychology and specifically behavioural science / behavioural economics: the science of influence as it relates to purchasing decisions and sales.
A big change has started taking place in recent years thanks to insights from these fields. There are now clearly proven rules about how to be effective in sales.
Selling is becoming more of a science, with clear evidence that shows how to increase (and decrease) effectiveness.
Of course, there is still an “art” aspect to sales, and we’re still human beings. We need to connect with each other, and people will always do business with people they like.
But where in the past people have debated methods approaches and techniques (based on their opinions and “gut feels”) it is now increasingly clear (and provable) what is a “good idea” and what is a “bad idea” in terms of sales effectiveness. Science now has some of the answers.
Forward-thinking businesses are making use of this new clearer understanding about how to increase sales effectiveness. When will you do the same?
If your organisation is considering using Mystery Shopping, or working on any of these ideas, and you want help, then please get in touch online or by phone on 01392 984224.
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