Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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Problem Solving with SARA

A proven technique for solving a customer’s needs

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in an employee-review program for a local company. They give each of their employees great latitude in resolving customers' needs and train each employee to use a technique entitled "SARA." Take a look at how the acronym SARA can be adapted to your business.

“S” stands for scan.  Ask customers questions about their perception of the problem or opportunity. In helping a customer, there are a number of questions that could be asked. Many times the customer has an idea of what he or she needs. Too often, the customer is not positive about what they are looking for, but it is in their description of what they want that leads to what they really need. This is true whether what you sell is a product or a service.

What about the customer who walks in wanting to purchase a certain product or service?  How does he know this is the best choice for him? Why did he select that brand?  What type of performance is expected from the item? How long does the customer expect the product to last? Some commercials will advertise why its products are better than the competition, but our question is to ask how you explain to customers the various items you sell.

“A” stands for analyze.  From the questions asked, your employee should be able to gather the facts and draw a conclusion. Your employee may be able to do this in 10 seconds, but this raises the question of how much confidence your customer has in the answer that may appear to be "off the cuff." What would it look like if your employee were to take a few notes, again ask a few questions, and hear the answers followed by a few "I see" or "I understand" responses?

Most customers will think your employee is genuinely interested in their needs or problems. The answer may be the same as if the employee had answered in the first 30 seconds, but the customer is more likely to appreciate the additional conversation and eventually the answer.

“R” stands for respond.  Create a plan of action and respond to the customer who initiated the inquiry. What would it be like if, every time your employee followed up with a call to your customer? Just take a moment to ask how the product or service met their needs, if there is anything more they need, and any specials your business has going on. This is also a great opportunity to make an add-on sale. Consider asking if there are any other needs they have your business can help with.

In regard to the employee’s utilizing this technique, what if he were to respond to the customer with, "In light of what you have told me, these are the three products that will best suit your purpose; allow me a moment to explain the differences." This technique sure beats the idea of walking the customer to the display and saying, "We sell 18 models of this item. You have to find one here that you like."

“A” stands for assessment.  Review your efforts and make changes as necessary.  What would your customers think about your business if they received a phone call a week later asking how they liked the product or service they had purchased to their satisfaction?  Some businesses actually have an assigned staff person to make a visit to the customer just to ask these questions. More important, does any of your competition do this? If not, this call or post card addressed to the customer will do more to differentiate you from all of the competition in your trade area.

Does SARA work, and can it work for you?  Absolutely. Think about what differentiates you from your competition. If one of the differences is price, then may I suggest you have a problem. For someone is always cheaper on everything you sell. If you are using SARA, you are probably the only business in the community that does so. And if you are unique, you have no competition.

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:

Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179