Basics of the Sales Process
This report was designed for people who have no experience in the retail/service industry. For this reason, we will not go into too much detail regarding each step.
With experience, people use the steps in their own unique way – a way that they have found to work well for them.
However, for someone just starting out, it is advisable to keep these steps in mind and to follow them as closely as possible until a personal style or preference takes shape.
Your employer may want to make some slight adjustments to the sales process you are expected to follow but, generally speaking, these are standard.
There are a few simple steps to be followed during the sales process:
- approach/build rapport
- determine needs
- present options
- overcome objections
As mentioned earlier, the greeting is very important to both the customers’ positive shopping experience and the sales associates’ success.
Customers want to feel welcomed. Always greet your customer in a friendly, enthusiastic manner.
You may say “Hello, how are you doing today?”
Or you may become more involved and say something like “Hello, I can see from all of the bags you are carrying that you are having a successful shopping trip today.
What can I help you find (or what is still on your list)?”
Regardless of what you say, the important thing is that you have acknowledged their presence in your store and you have welcomed them in a friendly and enthusiastic manner.
The Approach and Rapport Building:
You have welcomed the customer and s/he is now looking around at what you have to offer.
After giving the customer a few minutes to familiarize themselves with your offering, it’s time to approach them and try to start building a relationship with them.
You may notice them handling merchandise.
That is the perfect opportunity to approach and mention some of the features and/or benefits of that particular item/piece of merchandise.
You may make a comment like “I bought that stereo last weekend and the sound is unbelievable.
If you are planning to update your system we have a lot of options available.”
Depending on how the customer responds to you, you can continue talking to them in a very friendly, helpful way.
Perhaps they will tell you about a party they are planning and their need to update their equipment.
You can show enthusiasm about their event and ask questions about it – i.e.: “How many people are attending? What is the occasion? Etc.
And then you can move into more open ended questions such as “What did you have in mind?” or “What are you planning to replace?” or “What do you have now?” and “How well has it performed for you?”
Open ended questions require something other than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
Asking questions that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can keep you asking questions for hours without finding out anything that will help you make a sale.
You’ll be like a hamster on a wheel, spending plenty of time and energy going nowhere; not covering a lot of ground.
So, even during this step in the sales process, it is important to ask questions that encourage an informative response from the customer.
You need to get information from the customer in order to proceed to the next steps.
After all, how can you present options (in step 4) that are meaningful to them if you don’t have any idea what they are looking for or what they need?
During this discussion you are, in fact, building a relationship with the customer because you are showing interest in them, learning about their reason for being in your store and making friendly, non-threatening conversation.
This is where open ended questions are critical. You need to ascertain what your customer wants/needs/desires.
Keep asking questions and really listen to their responses. Don’t ever assume you know what they want/need/desire.
Customers come from all types of backgrounds and they have all kinds of different lifestyles; they are old and young; big and small; etc.
The secret to determining needs is to ask open ended questions, and then listen to the responses.
Listen really well so you can formulate the next question and the one after that and so on…which will do a number of things:
1) it shows your interest in your customer – you are not just asking random questions, you are asking based on what their response was
2) it is the quickest way to actually learn what they need
3) you are doing more relationship building which will help the customer, you and your store over the long term.
So, the best advice to you is: Ask, Listen and Learn.
Once you feel comfortable that you understand what the customer wants it is time to start presenting options for them to choose from.
You do not have to wait until you know everything, but enough to put you on the right track.
And you will need to know what you are talking about when you start presenting options.
Depending on what you are selling, you need to have a certain level of product knowledge.
Whether it’s chocolate, clothing, electronics or cars, you need to understand the features and benefits of what you are selling.
So, start presenting options to your customer. As you present each option explain the features and benefits.
You will know, relatively quickly, whether to continue with one option or move on to another one.
Pay close attention to the customers’ responses and body language and use your best judgment.
One very important note about ‘presenting options’: It means just that, presenting the options.
It does not mean mentioning options, or pointing to options, or discussing options.
Take it literally. Present the options physically. This is how you get the customer involved.
It is during the physical presentation that the customer can touch and feel the merchandise.
During the ‘presenting options’ stage, you may sense that the customer has some objection to what you are presenting.
You will want to know what the objection is because it may, or may not, be well founded.
Customers usually do not know as much as you do about your product- although there are some exceptions to that – so proceed accordingly.
Sometimes the customers’ objection is based on an incorrect assumption the customer is making.
It is up to you to determine what the objection is and then overcome it.
Of course, if the objection is clear (“I don’t like the color!”) move on. But if the objection is not clear, you need to ask questions to find out how to get to the bottom of it.
For example, the customer may be looking at a suit you have presented and they seem unsure about it.
You need to find out what it is that they do not like about the suit.
You cannot continue presenting options that are not acceptable. That is a waste of everyone’s time.
In a case like this say something like “You’re not sure about this one?
What is it that you don’t really care for?” Perhaps the customer will say “I’m not sure about this fabric.”
At that point you have the perfect opportunity to respond with all of the positive information you have about the fabric of that particular suit.
If the customer responds favorably to what you have told him/her, then you have successfully overcome the objection.
If not, you need to find out more about the type of fabric the customer has in mind and then find a more suitable item.
Whenever the customers’ objections cannot be overcome, you will have to present more options.
The important thing to remember is that by trying to overcome the customers’ objections you are offering a service to your customer by providing information that they do not have about the product you are presenting.
If this is done properly, the customer will understand that you are trying to help rather than trying to ‘push’ the product on them.
Caution: Never continue trying to overcome a powerful objection that the customer obviously has no intention of changing.
If you continue to try you will become annoying and you will lose your opportunity to sell something to that customer. No one enjoys being annoyed.
Closing the Sale:
This is simply the ‘summary’ of the time you have spent with the customer. Usually, at this time, you and your customer are ready to ‘sum up’ what has taken place.
For instance, using the example above, if you overcame the customers’ objection regarding the fabric of the suit you presented, then the following would be considered closing statements:
“It looks like the blue one is the one you are going to go with.”
“I can see you’re happy with the features and benefits of the blue one.”
“Are you going to go with the blue or the grey?”
“Which one did you decide on?”
Note: The above statements could be considered part of a ‘trial closing’ which simply means that, if the responses are not favorable, you go back to presenting options and overcoming objections.
And then close the sale again. Sometimes this process can repeat itself a few times.
Success tip: If you want to gain a comfort level with the sales process ask a friend or relative to role play with you.
They are the ‘customer’; you are the customer service associate.
The product you have to sell should be something you are very familiar with and something that you feel enthusiastic about.
The point of this role playing situation is not to turn you into a perfect salesperson – that will take time and practice on the sales floor – but it will be helpful to you to practice presenting the ‘product’ to your ‘customer’.
You can make up the features and benefits and get comfortable trying to convince your ‘customer’ of the value of the ‘product’.
Being comfortable with the process also helps you to overcome any fear of rejection you may have.
A word about rejection is called for here: One of the biggest obstacles to new associates becoming successful in sales is their fear of being rejected by the customer.
You must always remember that the customer in your store will benefit from an interaction with you.
Whether they are ‘just looking’ or are definitely searching for something you have for sale, you are the person they can look to for assistance, knowledge and information.
Provided you learn how to do it properly and politely there is no reason for the customer to reject you.
Another thing – remember that if the customer does reject you, do not take personally.
You are in a business and it is your job to approach, assist and sell to customers.
Features and Benefits:
Features are the functionality and characteristics of the product or service you are selling.
Benefits are the translation of the functionality and characteristics into actual “what does it do for me” type benefits to the customer.
Inexperienced salespeople sometimes make the mistake of constantly and endlessly listing feature after feature without telling the customer what benefits can be expected from those features.
Remember, not everyone understands your product or service as much as you do.
Some of these features may even have industry specific lingo in them, again with which the customer is probably unfamiliar.
Failing to convert that lingo into understandable and clear benefits will overwhelm and ultimately annoy customers.
As we mentioned earlier, annoyed customers do not buy and will probably go somewhere else, where they hope to get clearer communications.
It is very important to know all the features and benefits of your product and services, and once you’ve figured out what the customer is looking for, limit your feature/benefit listing to satisfy all their stated needs.
The Value of Product Knowledge
Again, while there are certainly exceptions, the majority of your customers know less about the product you are offering for sale than you do.
Read everything you can about the product you are selling. Ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand. You need to be the expert in the customers’ eyes.
If you are perceived as the expert, the customer will feel more comfortable doing business with you. Customers want to trust the person who sells them something.
Customers are used to being duped, scammed, lied to, ignored, hounded, and generally treated like they are not important.
If you treat them with the respect they deserve and share your expert knowledge, you have a very good chance of gaining a customer for a long time to come.
Handling Multiple Customers at the Same Time:
There will be times when customers in the store outnumber the sales associates on the floor.
During these times you will be expected to serve more than one customer at a time.
You will not have the luxury of spending a lot of time with any of your customers so you will need to speed up the sales process.
This can be challenging but there are some things you can do to make it work:
- Be aware of where the other associates are in the store and whether they are occupied with a customer or not
- Try not to act rushed or frazzled; take this in stride as if it happens all the time
- Learn how to excuse yourself from one customer to look after another
- Always go back to a customer you have excused yourself from so they don’t feel abandoned
- Sometimes you can ‘transfer’ or ‘hand-off’ a customer to another associate who is no longer occupied – you can say something like “I’m going to ask Samuel to show you our selection of suits.”
And then introduce the customer to Samuel and tell him what you already know about the customers’ needs.
For example, when you approach Samuel with your customer, say something like “Samuel, this gentleman is looking for a suit for a wedding he is attending this weekend.
He wants something in dark blue. Would you show him what we have to offer?”
Then excuse yourself and attend to another customer; perhaps one who has been waiting for you to return
- Be upbeat, exceptionally courteous and as attentive as possible. Customers will understand that your time is limited when they see that your store is very busy.
- If you do your best to spend time with them and help them out as much as you can, they will appreciate your efforts.
The point here is that there are times when you cannot afford to spend large amounts of time with only one customer.
If you do, other customers will be unhappy, overall sales will suffer because many will leave and other associates will have to do more than their share to service customers.
It is very likely that your Store Manager has experienced many days when customers outnumber associates and s/he will have certain ideas about handling multiple customers.
There may already be systems and guidelines in place for times like this. Ask and learn what you can.
When your store is very busy, co-operation, a team spirit and a great attitude will help everyone – store associates and customers alike.