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Why Ask Why?

Asking questions of your customers to make a sale

 "Why Ask Why" was the slogan for an advertising campaign for a beer manufacturer.  But, it was also one of the ongoing themes of Skyway University, our in-house training program.  We made a point to include several articles about this in our monthly newsletter, "Skyway Saver News", which we sent to over 2,600 customers each month.  Suppose that a customer walks into the store and asks to purchase a product.  What is the first question to be asked of the customer: Size, color, price, type, or any of a number of questions that relate specifically to the product? 

How about, "What do you want this product to do for you?"  By asking this question, and depending on the answer, there is perhaps another sale.   If, for example, the customer is purchasing paint because of a problem that he or she wants to cover, selling the necessary prep work will make sure that the paint that you are selling will stay on the ceiling, walls, or floor.  If you ignore the problem that exists, you can fully expect that when the problem recurs the customer will be back.  And their questions will probably center on what you are going to do about the "bad paint" that you sold them. 

The idea of asking why is part of how you can distinguish yourself from other stores.  In preparation for this story, we made a point to go into many different types of stores, in many towns across the country.  Not surprisingly, we can clearly state that poor customer service, or no customer service, is alive and well in America.  When a customer goes to a store, does that person go to buy, or to be sold? 

That depends on the type of store.  If you are going into a convenience store, you are most likely going to buy.  No one is going to greet you, nor are they likely to start up a conversation.  Specifically, they won't be suggesting products for you to purchase.  Only the point of sale merchandise display that the manufacturer has developed, or an item stacked on the check out counter, has a chance of getting you to purchase it when it was not on your initial shopping list.

Most stores combine the need for you to buy, and the opportunity for them to sell.  Let's look at our industry.  If you walk into one of the big box stores, or a mass merchandiser, you probably have gone to their store with the intent of looking for one or more items.  After all, their stores are traditionally not in shopping centers, so going into their store makes this type of trip a "destination shopping trip".  Yet when you are in their store, are there people making an effort to speak to you?  Not just to handle the cash register or carry the product to your car, but actually conversing with the customer?

Whether your store is a "destination shopping trip" or a part of a "convenience shopping trip", if they are coming in to buy or look, what happens?   If your store is there only for those that buy, then there is little need for salespeople on the sales floor.  Why not have a cashier and one or two people to answer a question?

If we are not going to be this type of store, we need to see what is the difference between your store and the warehouse, discount, or box store.  Do you have a better price image?  Do you have a larger store with more selection and depth?  If not, then there should be something that will distinguish you from those stores whether you are a destination or convenience shopping trip, and then you, and all of your team members, have to sell. 

Not hard sell, but solve the customer’s needs.  If the customer is going to spend $20, your effort should be in getting that $20 spent in your store.  Your training has to concentrate on product knowledge and service as well as making sure that all team members know to put a copy of your current sales flyer in the customer’s hand, or ask him if he has seen the new product that has just arrived.

We often had our newer team members saying the customer tells him he is just looking when he comes into the store, but then the team member sees one of the more experienced team members waiting on the customer and making a sale.  Did the customer know who the rookie was, and politely answers "no" so that he could get to a more experienced team member?  Perhaps so.  But we told our team members that few customers would walk in the door and want someone to take him right to a product.  We made an effort to have the initial greeting to only be a welcome.  Being the second or third person to say hello to a customer did several things for our store.

First, it distinguished us from the stores that only had a greeter at the front door.  Secondly, we allowed the customer a brief period of time to come in and become acclimated.   After the second hello, we asked what kind of project the customer was working on, or what type of product he wanted to see.  The ice is broken and now you can begin to do what you were hired to do - sell merchandise.  Sometimes it will only bring an additional sale of a dollar or two.  But if you count how many customers come into your store each month, and were to multiply that by $1.00, what kind of sales increase would you have for the month? 

As we reminded our team members of this, and our incentive bonus pay plan, we think we got the point across.  Why ask why?  Because, for most of us, that is why we hired that team member.  And if not, is your customer asking himself why he is bothering to come to your store to get the same level of service that the warehouse, discount and box stores have?

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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