Selling vs. Service

When I was a new department manager for JCPenney, I went to a week-long off-site training which was the culmination of an 18-month management training program. I still use much of what I learned in that training today. One of the best lessons was on service vs. selling. 

The trainer used an example of a salesperson closing the deal with a customer who had decided to purchase a VHS tape recorder (this was back when JCPenney stores had electronics departments, furniture, and appliances). The salesperson wrote up the sales slip, got up, walked over to the display of blank VHS tapes, picked up 2, walked back to the desk, sat down and finished writing up the sale. He didn’t ask the customer if they wanted any blank tapes. Back then though, that was the whole purpose of owning a VHS tape recorder: to tape TV programs as they aired. If the customer had made it all the way home, hooked up their new electronic and suddenly realized they didn’t have a blank tape to record something, they would have been so disappointed, and probably angry! This was a great lesson that taught the nuances of service vs. selling.

High pressure sales. The last thing any customer wants is to feel like they are being pressured into a sale. The term “used car salesman” or “time share sales pitch” create very vivid images, with which none of us want to be associated. Yet, why didn’t that VHS tape recorder customer feel irritated when the salesperson added those 2 blank tapes to their order? Because it was something the customer needed in order to be satisfied with their purchase.

Satisfy the needs. When a customer steps into a store or showroom, especially in today’s world of retail, they have entered with a specific need in mind. It may be they are shopping for a gift, or they need a new outfit for themselves for an upcoming event. Whatever the need is, it is the sales associate’s responsibility to ask questions to identify it. Sometimes the customer has a clear idea of what they want, other times they have no clue. That’s where great listening skills can help tremendously. Ask questions to clarify and narrow down the choices. Then with that knowledge, the associate can present options so the customer can provide feedback, which helps the associate zero in on the best solution for the customer.

Validating and adding on. Once the customer has identified their interest in an item, the sales associate’s job isn’t over. It’s important to validate this is indeed what the customer wants. It’s also time to ask a few more questions. Does the customer have whatever other components that are needed to make their selection work for them once they get it home? Are their accessories or additional options that could be added on that would take the customer’s satisfaction from good to great?

The world of retail may have changed, and is still evolving, but providing product knowledge and advice based on each customer’s specific needs, is something that the online world hasn’t yet perfected. So take advantage of that edge that brick-and-mortar has and make sure your sales team is trained, willing, and ready to genuinely engage with every customer who steps through your door. Providing exceptional service translates into bigger and better sales.

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