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The Meet & Greet: Advanced RSA Training

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 145 NO.3 May/June


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This is the third article in a series which discusses the Steps of the Sale. In previous articles, we offered a check-list that every Retail Sales Associate (R.S.A.) must have under control before he steps on to the sales floor to take an “up.”

Before we start, it is important to remember that EVERY “up” has great potential value, both to the store and to the R.S.A. The store has invested thousands of dollars in advertising and store preparation to get these potential customers to come through the door. It then becomes the mission of the R.S.A. to interpret the customer’s needs and wants, and with this interpreted information, solve the customer’s problem. Will the R.S.A succeed or fail in this mission or did the store management waste money and time to pull the customer in? It all starts with the “encounter.”

The Encounter
Some sales trainers like to call this the “Meet and Greet” and that’s fine if you want to call it that. In this article, however, I’d like to analyze the so-called Meet and Greet as an encounter between a potential customer (an “up”) and a sales person.

Once again, I am going to refer to the dictionary for the origin and definition of the word “encounter.” The word encounter seems to derive from the Latin term in contra, which translated means “in against.” Viewed from this definition, we suddenly realize that many RSA-Up meetings actually happen in the old Latin sense of the word. In other words, the meet and greet sometimes turns into a confrontation rather than a friendly “welcome to our store.” Why is this? How do we keep the encounter from becoming a confrontation?

The Customer’s Side Of The Story
Retail sales people, because they talk to so many strangers all day long, often forget the customer’s point of view. Before greeting the up, ask yourself, “Why is the customer in our store?” Surely the “up” you see walking through the door has something else he or she would rather be doing. Why did they take time out of their busy schedule to visit your store? The reasonable answer to this question is, the customer has a problem of some sort and they need a solution. Chances are, they only have a vague idea of how to solve the problem. In some cases, they aren’t even sure if they have a problem. They are in your store because they think that furniture, of some sort, may be the answer to their question.

Not only do they have some sort of problem, the customers are very likely feeling somewhat anxious. They have a problem they don’t know how to solve, they’d rather be doing something else, and they are worried about spending money that probably isn’t in their already pinched budget. They are unfamiliar with the store and they know they are about to be pounced upon by some salesperson who is a total stranger to them; a stranger that they are already suspicious of and probably do not trust.

The R.S.A’s Side Of The Story
The sales associates in the store, meanwhile, are quite often bored with the whole thing. They have been doing this forever. They’ve talked to thousands of ups. They’d rather be somewhere else, too. But, they have to work to make a living, so, here they are, on a beautiful Saturday morning, with twenty other salespeople, waiting for, and often dreading, that first “up”, who is always “just looking” or “waiting for something to call their name.”

In big stores, the up rotation is frequently quickly confused, and sometimes, a customer walks in and nobody knows which salesperson is “up” in the rotation. So, there is a scramble at the desk to see who greets the new up; the up who may not want to be greeted to begin with.

The Collision
So, now we have the ingredients for an encounter that could easily turn into a collision. Collisions, by definition, are unintended accidents in which one, if not both parties involved are to blame. In this in-store, meet-and-greet collision, who is at fault? Who else can we rightfully blame but the Retail Sales Associate? Sure, the up may be in a bad mood, or a bad person, but they still sleep on something and have furniture in their house, so they are a potential customer, no matter how they project themselves to the greeting R.S.A. You can’t blame the up. The up is who he is. He is not out trying to improve himself. He is not reading this article. It is the R.S.A. who must adjust his style to the incoming customer, whether good or evil.

Don’t forget, many visitors to your store are on edge the minute they pull up into the parking lot. Who knows what troubles are weighing on their minds? They are going to respond favorably only to a kind, caring salesperson who is prepared to help them solve their problem.

On top of all this, many salespeople have the bad habit of pre-judging the entering customer based on his appearance. Depending on the customer’s age, dress, and what they are driving, the greeting R.S.A. may have, unfortunately, already formed an opinion, fairly or unfairly, of the worth of the new arrival.

How To Fix This Problem
Since it is unfair to blame the new customer, no matter what his issues may be, the R.S.A. has to be ready to handle anything the customer throws at him. Therefore, it makes sense for the R.S.A. to be prepared, both in all the areas of knowledge and salesmanship, but also in projecting a winning attitude.

The newly arrived potential customer does not want to be greeted by a bored, complacent sales associate that is greeting his ten thousandth up and is thinking “If I get one more ‘lookie-lou’ today, I am going to scream.”. In Broadway-type shows, I am told, the performers live with the attitude that, even though they’ve done the same show, night after night, year after year, most of the audience has never seen the show. For the fresh face in the audience, it is their first time to see it and to them, it is brand new and exciting. So, the performers, remembering this, never let up, never relax, never get complacent or bored. Every show must be done with the same enthusiasm as the first one. The R.S.A. must have the same attitude as the performers. In a way, the R.S.A. is putting on a show for the customer. The R.S.A. is a performer. The new customer has never seen the show, even though the R.S.A. has performed it many thousand of times before.

I would suggest then, that the professional R.S.A. is wise, as part of his training and preparation, to learn how to “adopt a winning attitude” every time before greeting a customer. I’ve seen the great ones do this. No matter what bad news or down mood prevailed while waiting in the lounge for the next up, the professional “puts on a happy face” for the customer and forgets all his previous troubles. He is totally, sincerely committed to solving the customer’s problem, and the customer recognizes this and responds favorably.

So, how does the R.S.A. put on the happy face with every customer? Make it a habit. I would suggest forming good habits through practice and self-discipline. A lot of what effective sales associates do correctly, whether you like to hear it or not, is done through the force of habit. By this, I mean good habits formed through practice and training. The effective sales person learns his craft so thoroughly that many of his positive actions are done as a matter of habit. Good habits make for good salespeople.

Now, What Do We Do With It?
This sounds like a lot of work just to explain a successful “meet and greet.” Of course, we know the greeting is just the beginning, but putting your best foot forward and making a good first impression are the door-openers to solving the customer’s problem and making the sale.

So, here is the scenario. The customer has walked through the front door of the store. The R.S.A. knows he has to help this customer and it is to be hoped, make a sale. What happens now?

The Approach
Before you greet, you must approach. My dictionary defines “approach” as “to come closer, or draw nearer.” It may not seem like it to the unobservant, but much is happening in the few brief nanoseconds of the Approach. The R.S.A. is pre-judging the “up” and the “up” is pre-judging the R.S.A. As John F. Lawhon observed in his book “Selling Retail,” these first few critical seconds can often make or break a sale. Everybody knows the old saying, “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.”
Don’t forget, every customer is different, but at this point, the R.S.A. does not know how different. How will this up respond to a big, dazzling smile? How will he or she respond to an offered handshake? Should the R.S.A. approach the customer directly or in an off-hand, indirect way? Should the R.S.A. stand and wait and make himself available to be approached by the up? What happens if you do this and the customer ignores you and walks on by?

The Greeting
Let’s talk about handshakes for a minute. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like the offer of a handshake from a stranger selling retail. I also do not like a Retail Stranger asking for my name. If I decide to buy something, that’s when I’ll tell you my name and shake your hand, not before. I think it is a risky move on the part of the salesperson to ask someone’s name and offer to shake hands. Here’s why I think this. I think a lot of retail customers feel the same way I do. Most customers do not go into the store to make a friend (that is the job of the R.S.A.); they are in the store of necessity, not desire. They have a problem they need to fix, and they want to get it fixed and be gone. (Of course, this probably doesn’t apply to those browsers who are there to “get ideas.”) Just for argument’s sake, let’s say that out of one hundred customers, thirty-three do not want to shake hands with a retail stranger; sixty of them don’t care one way or another; but seven customers (who may be either politicians or car salesmen) really love to shake hands with strangers. Does the sales associate want to risk offending one-third of his new customers, by offering an unwanted handshake right at the get-go? Will the other two thirds be offended if you don’t offer to shake their hand? An unsolicited handshake from an R.S.A. is, in my opinion, more likely to annoy the customer.

The same principle applies when the R.S.A. introduces himself. To illustrate my thought, let me digress for a moment. When you visit a restaurant and take your seat, the waitperson comes up to cheerfully greet you, and almost always tells you his or her name. How often does that waitperson ask you for your name? Does he ever offer to shake your hand? No? So, regarding the greeting of the customer, I think it is a good idea to follow the practice of good waitpersons at restaurants. The R.S.A. should offer his name and his service with a cheerful, helpful greeting and then get on with discovering what the customer came in for. If they want you to know their name, they will tell you.

What Do You Say To The Customer?
Before we get into “opening lines,” let’s review briefly our first goals we want to accomplish with the “meet and greet.”
  • First, we want the customer to feel comfortable and at ease in the store and with us, the retail sales associates. 
  • Second, we must grab the customer’s attention in a positive way, so that he or she WANTS to talk to us.
  • Third, the R.S.A. must take control of the sale. (For more on this subject, see my article in the March/April 2014 issue of Furniture World posted at http://furninfo.com/Authors/DavidBenbow/37.
What then, do we say to the customer that will accomplish the three goals listed above?

Opening Lines
A lot of sales trainers make a big deal out of the opening line. And they should make a big deal out of it. The opening lines, of course, are the first words out of your mouth when addressing the customer. In almost every encounter, it is the R.S.A. that speaks first. If the up speaks first, that can help the R.S.A. grab control of the sales situation. It probably means the up came in for something specific and knows what he wants.

So, if the R.S.A bears the burden of speaking first, what should he/she blurt out? What does almost everyone blurt out? “How may I help you?” “Can I help you find anything?” What is the up’s answer ninety-five percent of the time? “I’m just looking.” “I’m just getting ideas.”

Do you wonder why the close ratio is so low, especially in furniture stores? It is this type of listless opening exchange which has a lot to do with it.

What is wrong with “May I help you?” It sounds pleasant enough. The salesperson sounds helpful and not pushy. Here is what is wrong with it. It lets UP off the hook. He answers blithely, “I’m just looking” and goes on his merry way and the salesperson has been dismissed with those three little words that everyone dreads. How does the R.S.A. gain control after the up says “I’m just looking?”

Did the R.S.A. learn anything at all about what the customer wants or needs? No, and now they’ve sauntered off down the aisle and the R.S.A. has let them get away.

So, it sounds like “How may I help you?” does not work very well, doesn’t it? What we need is an opening line that the customer doesn’t expect; something that will grab his attention; something that will help the R.S.A. gain control of the sale.

I don’t claim to have a magic wand that will create a great opening line for every customer every single time, but maybe we can come up with something that will at least wake up the customer and make him pay attention to us.

Peter Marino put forth an idea many years ago in his book The Golden Rules of Selling Bedding (still available from Furniture World) which I think is the best single principle I’ve heard for creating an Opening Line. He called this the “general benefit statement.” Rather than some bland ‘How may I help you?’ or ‘Welcome to our store,’ the R.S.A. should make a declarative statement to the newly arrived up. This statement offers useful information to the customer; perhaps even information that can save him money or help him buy, or alert him to something going on in the store that he might have been previously unaware of. For example, “Folks, we are having a one-day special where everything in the store can be financed for sixty months, no interest, same as cash.” This benefit statement can also be phrased as a Did You Know question. For example, “Folks, did you know that all our king size sets are being sold for the queen set price, for the next three hours only?” Of course, do not take these opening lines literally; these are just examples. The mass retailers, like Wal-Mart have been using this principle for years. Everyone has heard the loudspeaker come on with the invitation, “K-Mart shoppers! Buy Kibbles and Bits, two for the price of one, for the next fifteen minutes!!” Does that grab your attention? Have you ever heard the guy on the loudspeaker mumble, “Welcome to our store, if you have any questions, someone will be hovering down at the end of the aisle waiting to answer them.”? No, of course you haven’t. What you hear is something exciting; something useful; something to grab your attention.

This opening line should change frequently, depending on the Benefit Statement. It should not be canned; it should sound spontaneous. Think about this. What is the store doing special on any given day? What new products have been placed on the floor? What is the store advertising? What kind of special financing is the store offering? What can you, the R.S.A., say that will generate some excitement and interest in the newly arrived customer?

Summary
The first Step of the Sale, the ‘Meet and Greet,’ is where the R.S.A. makes his first impression on the newly arrived customer. It can get the sale off to a good start with an interesting, impactful, informative greeting or it can go off into a forgettable, self-guided tour with a risk-free, but bland, everyday, “May I help you?”; a greeting guaranteed to fail over ninety percent of the time.
It is time to run some risks. Develop some powerful “General Benefit Statements” with which to greet the new customer.

Don’t ASK if you can help the new customer. Actually HELP him with your opening line. It just might work.

David Benbow, a twenty-three year veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company. Dave’s company offers mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) Dave’s many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas uniquely qualifies him as an expert in selling bedding at the retail level.

David is the author of the recently published book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”. This book is the first book to systematically present a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It is a complete training course in one 292 page book. The book can be purchased on-line at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.

He also offers hands-on training classes for retailers on a variety of subjects and issues as well as on-line classes that can be downloaded from the websites mentioned above.

David can be contacted via e-mail at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or in person at 361-648-3775.
Read other articles by David Benbow