One of the obviously significant differences between outside versus retail selling is the normally short amount of time the retail salesperson has to make the sale. Another is the anonymity of the customer at the start of a sale. These two factors make it imperative for the salesperson to create an atmosphere of trust within the first several seconds of the sale. Creating an atmosphere of trust is made all the more difficult because of what I call the three customer mindsets (customer mindsets are covered in "the 35-principals of Selling" a self-tutorial computer slide show published by Furniture World). These customer mindsets have been substantiated through at least two independent research teams. The general purpose of this article is to point out that the most effective way to get beyond customer mindsets and into an atmosphere of trust easily, effectively, and consistently, is to develop what some call professional presence. The specific purpose of this article is to discuss the most significant part of that professional presence, namely, welcoming the customer with a warm, sincere smile.
The first of the three customer mindsets is that most customers who meet salespeople for the first time do not believe they have what John F. Lawhon calls specialized knowledge. In more practical terms, they do not believe these salespeople are capable of providing them with the information needed to make the best buying decision. The second is that these customers prefer to rely on their own product knowledge rather than that of salespeople. The third is that despite this, customers do not believe strongly in their own ability to make the best buying decision. In fact, they have very little, if any, faith in their own product knowledge.
The corollary to the three customer mindsets is logical. The customers do not trust the intent of salespeople, that is, they believe that salespeople are out to sell them and not to help them make the best buying decision.
Is it any wonder that customers hear the word "sell" when they the salesperson say "Can I help you?" They trust 'that' help as much as airline passengers might trust a hi-jacker's "Can I help you?" The words just do not ring true.
Not only do customers not trust the salesperson's "Can I help you?" They are also both angered and frustrated by the words. Angered because they find the words false and deceitful; frustrated because the words remind customers of their own limited ability to make the best buying decision. Fearful of the blind leading the blind, they regularly choose to go it alone, preferring to grope by themselves than to be misled by someone they regard as a charlatan. It should come as no surprise that the words "Can I help you," are consistently met with "I'd like to shop by myself, if you don't mind." The words, "if you don't mind" are a sad commentary on the fact that for years salespeople have shown that they do mind. I must admit that during most of my selling years I too did mind, though I never shot back with the caustic and common reply, "We don't charge for looking."
There are of course better ways to greet customers than with "Can I help you?" One of these is not "May I help you?" The two are just as ineffective because at that point customers are turned off by the word help. Later, once the customers have committed to a purchase, the use of help becomes appropriate as in the words, "What else can I help you find?" Why so? Because then the three mindsets are normally set aside and replaced with some degree of trust and confidence. That is the reason why Lawhon is absolutely right in advising salespeople not to stop selling once they have made a sale. It's sort of like the law of physics: a body in motion tends to stay in motion.
The best greeting I have used successfully for years is "Welcome to our store." Often I add "It's nice to have you." But unless we welcome customers with a genuine smile, we might just as well continue to greet our customers with "Can I help you?" Only a genuine smile can work. Grinning like the Cheshire cat won't do; even worse, a disapproving frown or a surly scowl won't do, though I like to tell salespeople a sincere frown is better than an insincere smile.
The smile has been the subject of many authors. But perhaps no one has captured the value of a smile better than the following anonymously written paragraph:
"A smile costs nothing but gives much. It enriches those who receive it without making poorer those who give it. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. No one is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and no one is so poor that he cannot be made rich by it. A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in business, and is the countersign of friendship. It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and is nature's best antidote for the troubled. Yet, it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away. Some people are too tired to give a smile. Give them one of yours, as no one needs a smile so much as he who has none to give."
May this paragraph inspire you to greet every customer with a smile. Remember, you can't wear a
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.