Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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Team talk

Better Communication with our Customers

In the movie, "Cool Hand Luke", a prison guard played by Struther Martin is frequently seen talking to a prisoner played by Paul Newman.  From the viewpoint of the prison guard, Newman was constantly doing things, (and not doing things) that drew the ire of Martin.  Perhaps you remember the line that Martin is most famous for; "What we have here is a failure to communicate".

Our topic today is not dealing with giving instructions, but instead it is to demonstrate how your employees can better communicate with your customers.  We will begin by examining how sales people ask questions of customers and then move into techniques used by the master salespeople.

These techniques allow your customers to know your employees are interested in their wants and needs; ways that allow your employees to demonstrate a distinctive advantage over your competition and allow your employees to not only close more sales but to also have more add on sales.

The first type of question is the one that unfortunately is the most frequently used by employees.  It requires no training as it is the easiest way to speak to a customer.

"Can I help you?"
"Is that everything?"
"Finding everything ok?"

These are close ended questions. The traditional answers to these questions are ‘yes’, and ‘no’; whatever is easier for the customer.  Perhaps whatever is necessary to get your sales help to go away. A close ended question does not invite a follow-up question or additional response.

The salesperson is simply using a statement, quick and easy, that more often will close down the sale.  When you think about a salesperson that uses close ended questions, you will probably agree the business has done little in the way of creating an atmosphere that causes customers to want to do business again with them.

"How can I help you?"
"Please tell me which styles you would like to see?"

These are open ended questions. There is not a place in either of these questions for the customer to say yes or no.  A simple rephrasing of the original questions has opened an occasion where the customer is invited to respond. As the customer begins to explain, the employee will not only know what the customer is asking for, but could begin to think of additional products and services that may be of value to the customer.

"Say, you like these .... don't you?"
"Wouldn't you like to own this ...?"
"This item sure is pretty, isn't it?"

With each of these leading questions, you know exactly where the employee wants the customer to go with their answer; They want agreement.  And, many customers will respond accordingly.  Unfortunately, too often the sale will be cancelled or the merchandise returned.  Ask the customer why they have done this, and you will likely hear, "The salesperson was too pushy".

Leading the customer with a question will too often lead the customer to one of two things; out the door or to the phone to call your competitor. In phrasing the question differently, you obtain substantially different results.

"Did you like the ....?"
"You had purchased this brand last time, would you like to look at that brand again?"

These are probing questions. Now you are inviting the customer to give you their thoughts, opinions, preferences, and experiences. If you use the first few moments of informal interaction with the customer to gain a level of confidence, you can then proceed to these questions.

The fifth type of question is reserved for only the masters. Many times it is not even a question, but a statement. They utilize the emotional aspect.

You notice what a customer has that they like and then relate to it. If you are selling clothes, you notice the quality of the clothes the customer is currently wearing and compliment the customer on their choices.

These masters always include three steps when making a sale. The first step in speaking with the customer is to simply engage them in conversation.  The master is now hard at work in the conversation selling themselves to the customer.  From the first step, the master will begin to weave the business they work for into the conversation.  Comments may include, "I think you are going to like the brand that we carry.  Our buyer says this manufacturer makes a quality product."

The master has three steps.  Sell yourself, sell your business, sell the product. If you are fortunate to have one of these individuals, treat them well and expose all of your sales people to the master.  Make sure they are learning as many of the master's techniques as possible.  If you are not training all of your people, ask one of the people walking out of your business without making a purchase, why they are doing so.

I think you will find the answer is, "We have a failure to communicate."

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