We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that people are so used to shopping unaided in the aisles of mass-market retailers that they don’t want to be bothered by pesky sales people, but nothing could be further from the truth. What customers don’t like is a clerk hanging around putting silent pressure on them to make a decision. While there may be a few independent souls who want to browse unaided through a plan-o-gram full of merchandise, most people appreciate the expert advice and guidance of a knowledgeable retail sales person, especially when they’re shopping for something more complicated than a bottle of shampoo.
A good retail salesperson does their best work when they help a customer figure out what they need in order to accomplish their goal or fix their problem. Which means, of course, that your staff has to know what they’re talking about. They need to know the lines you carry and what the products do—and don’t do. They need to be able to answer the prospect’s questions and even to suggest questions that the prospect should be asking. If they don’t know the answers, they should know where and how to get them—and make it clear to the customer that they’re willing to do the extra work cheerfully.
Helpful service like this means the sales person needs another set of tools, too: good communication skills. Sometimes, it’s not enough to just ask the customer what he wants. The sales person may need to do a little probing about the customer’s needs or desires before he or she can suggest a good solution. They need to know what kinds of questions to ask and—even more importantly—they need to listen to the answers. Some customers will be able to tell you exactly what they’re looking for, what size they want, and even where it’s located in your inventory. A far greater majority of them, though, are like patients in the doctor’s office; they need somebody to listen to their symptoms, to tell them why it hurts, and to prescribe something they can do about it.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.