Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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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 our in-house training program. We made a point to include several articles about this in our monthly newsletter that we sent to our customers each month. Suppose a customer walks into a business 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 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.

Asking "why" is part of how you can distinguish yourself from other businesses. When a customer goes to a business, does that person go to buy, or to be sold?

That depends on the type of business. Going into many convenience stores, you are most likely going to buy. Probably, no one is going to greet you or start up a conversation. 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 checkout 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. If you walk into one of the mass merchandisers, 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 part of a "convenience shopping trip," if they are coming in to buy or look, what happens? If your business is there only for those who buy, 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 mass merchandiser. Do you have a better price image? Do you have a larger store with more selection and depth? If not, there should be something that will distinguish you from those stores whether you are a destination or convenience shopping trip.

Then you and all of your team members will have the opportunity 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 education has to concentrate on product knowledge and service as well as asking the customer if he has seen the new product that has just arrived.

Often, newer team members say the customer states he is "just looking" when he comes into the store - then the team member sees a more experienced team member making the sale. Did the customer know who the rookie was and politely answer "no" so that he could get to a more experienced team member? Perhaps so. Realistically, few customers walk in the door and want someone to take them right to a product. 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 had a greeter only at the front door. Second, we allowed the customer a brief period of time to come in and become acclimated. Another person would engage the customer in a non-sales-oriented conversation. The "ice" was broken and now the team member can begin to do what he was hired to do - sell merchandise.

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 mass merchandisers have?

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

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St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
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