First Impressions

Making a great first impression can go a long way toward establishing a long-term relationship, and saying hello to a potential customer as he or she enters your store is the first step. When you greet a customer, don’t run right up to her and start selling. Say hello and acknowledge her presence, but give her some space.

It’s best to look busy. Most people will seek assistance from a salesperson who looks busy rather than one who’s standing around, because it decreases the fear factor. If a customer asks you for help, or you sense that she needs help, drop what you’re doing and provide the help.

When it’s time to approach a customer, avoid clichéd phrases such as “Can I help you?” or “What can I show you today?” or “Are you just browsing?” They serve no purpose except to remind the customer that you’re a salesperson, and they usually elicit standard responses: “No, thanks, I’m just looking” or “I’m just browsing” or occasionally, “Yes, I’m looking for ______.” The majority of the answers leave you out in the cold. A better greeting is simply, “Hello, how are you?” But remember, if you say it, you must mean it. A smile goes a long way.

Personal space. Most people are protective of their personal space, and a salesperson must respect a customer’s “territory.” There is no hard and fast rule concerning personal space. Some customers will make a hard right turn the minute they see you coming, and others will touch you every time they speak to you. It’s up to you to make customers comfortable and let them establish the boundaries for personal space.

A handshake is the best example: Let the customer extend his hand first. The important thing to remember is that you’re trying to establish a relationship with the customer, and making him feel comfortable with the personal space around the two of you will go a long way to establishing that relationship.

After establishing initial contact with a customer, you must decide whether to jump right into your sales presentation. Some customers suffer from “time poverty” and will respond if you immediately commence a sales presentation. Others may be easy to talk to and invite a non-business conversation. With any type of customer you need to have a meaningful non-business conversation at some time during your presentation. A pure, product-driven sales presentation may elicit a purchase—or not. But a meaningful conversation begins to develop a relationship that gives the customer a reason to come back and buy from you again.

Building the relationship. How do you turn a one-time sale into a relationship that will last sale after sale? As already mentioned, the ability to start and engage in a non-business conversation is vital to establishing long-lasting relationships with customers. And one key to a successful conversation is the ability to listen. Many customers will tell you everything you need to know to develop a relationship, but you must listen to every word the customer says.

In building a relationship with a customer, a non-business conversation accomplishes a number of intermediate goals, including eliminating fear, creating a person-to-person relationship, and developing trust. Remember these three rules: Ask a question; make sure it’s not business related; and make it interesting enough to prompt people to talk with you.

Discuss a subject that will be of interest to the customer. Topics may include sports, current events, holiday, children, and pets. Be willing to open up yourself if you expect your customer to open up to you. Although you never want to sound like any part of your presentation is rehearsed, have a list of 20 to 40 questions. Sometimes the customer will give you a question to ask. For example, if he’s wearing a sports team sweatshirt, you may ask, “Did you see that game last week?” That will likely spark a conversation that you and your customer can sink your teeth into. Some topics should be avoided, including politics, religion, and compliments.

How it works. Let’s say a young man in his teens comes into your store to buy a pair of earrings for his mom for Mother’s Day. You begin a non-business conversation by asking, “Where do you go to high school?” It turns out that he attends the same high school you graduated from. You learn that you both played high school football and you had a few of the same teachers. You begin to discuss football, teachers, and other common experiences. You learn of his college plans and that he has earned a scholarship to the local university. The conversation has helped establish a person-to-person relationship built on trust.

Now you’re ready to begin the selling process. A simple question like, “So, what brings you in today?” requires an answer other than “yes” or “no” and will generally tell you what the customer is looking for. In the end, he buys a pair of earrings from you and leaves the store happy. What, besides a sale, have you accomplished?

You have created a relationship with a young customer that has a good chance of resulting in a great deal of repeat business. In the near future, this young man is likely to become engaged, married, and in need of gifts for various occasions. Chances are high that he’ll remember you and the relationship that you took the time to develop and the service you provided to him. As his jewelry needs arise, you’ll probably get the first and maybe the only shot to meet those needs. You now have a customer for life, all because you took 10 minutes to establish a relationship of trust with a teenager.

There’s a saying that a good salesperson can sell ice to an Eskimo. I don’t believe that’s what makes a good salesperson. A good salesperson gets to know his customers and what their needs are and then meets those needs. Take time to know your customers, establish relationships, and build trust, and you can make a sale today, tomorrow, and 10 years from now.

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