When it comes to making a sale in retail, approaching the customer is obviously the first step. However, it can take a while to learn when the best time to approach the customer is. Too soon and you could annoy them, potentially costing you the sale. If you wait too long, you risk them feeling neglected and ignored. For this reason, it’s crucial to know exactly when (and how) to approach your customer especially when it comes to retail selling.
All too often, we hear people say “I just can’t sell, it’s just not for me”. As an experienced salesperson, take it from me: If it’s possible for one it’s possible for you. You CAN be a star salesperson with the right technique and perfect timing. As with any profession, reading and approaching your customer at the perfect time takes practice. But with dedication, practice, and af few tips you can watch your sales soar.
Whether you are brand new in sales and trying to get a leg up in the game, or you are an experienced professional who is needing some advice on this topic, we have you covered. Here’s the best way to read your customer and know when to approach them to make that key sale and boost your numbers.
Retail Sales Tip One: Active Listening
To practice active listening, you have to know what it is first! In our society, most people simply listen to respond. Meaning, we don’t actually hear what the other person is saying from their point of view. We simply take keywords and wait for a break so we can respond based on our perception of their needs or views.
Active listening is crucial in retail sales because if you can’t figure out exactly what it is your customer wants, you won’t be able to sell them anything. Here are a few tips on how to be the best active listener when it comes to selling your customer on that product that they most definitely need.
1. Don’t form a response right away
Forming a response while the other person is talking requires you to take the attention off of them, which could cause you to miss key elements to the customer’s needs. Make sure you take the time to listen and give them your undivided attention. Once you have gathered everything they have said and then processed it, you can move on to formulating your response (once they are done talking!)
2. Your body language matters
Humans are hard-wired to pick up on body language cues, and it’s one of the key elements to being a good retail salesperson. Basically, your customer knows if you aren’t really listening or you just don’t care. Making eye contact, giving a nod at the appropriate time, or a gesture to show that you agree with them, can all be ways that you use your body language to show your customer you are listening.
3. Summarize, then respond
After your customer has finished talking and has explained everything they need from a potential product, it’s important to summarize what they have said. Summarizing gives your customer the chance to interrupt and say “no, that’s not what I meant” (if that’s the case) and it also helps them know that you actually were listening. As humans, we all want to be listened to and heard and this is a great way to show you were listening to them the entire time. It’s also a great way to build trust in a potential customer.
Retail Sales Tip 2: Picking Up on Body Language
While your body language is important, so is theirs. Being able to read social cues and behavioral language is important to know what type of customer you are dealing with and what needs to be done in order to make sure they get what they need. It can be a bit confusing, so here’s how to make sure you are picking up on all the cues your customer may be putting down in a retail selling situation.
1. Where are they looking?
If your customer is fully engaged, they will be looking at you. If they just aren’t interested in what you’re saying, you can expect them to be looking around or becoming distracted. On the other hand, if they are truly interested in a certain product, their interest in that product may take precedent over you and they will often fixate their gaze toward that area. Make sure you pick up on where their eyes are going, as that can help give you cues about what they are truly interested in.
If you notice your customer is looking toward the exit or generally ignoring your attempts at conversation, it’s best to not annoy them and just let them browse. They can come and find you when they’re ready to talk about that sale.
2. What are their arms doing?
As a general rule of thumb, if someone has their arms crossed over them it’s a good sign that this customer simply doesn’t want to talk. They may want to do their own thing, or they may just not know what they want yet and need a minute to figure it out. Regardless, if they have their arms crossed, make sure you stay vigilant to the fact that they may not be ready to talk about a sale and give them time to do browse and think about what they need.
On the other hand, if their stance is generally open to you, then it could be a cue that they are ready to talk and hear what you have to offer. This is when you should jump in with suggestive selling techniques. Suggestive selling is important and requires a good amount of active listening in order to decide what it is they need (remember, the customer may not always know what they need but they will have a general idea).
After you have listened to their wants and needs, offer a few products that are geared toward them not just toward what your manager wants you to push or toward what the bigger ticket item is (and trust us, customers know when you’re just trying to rack up their bill or push a certain product!)
3. Focus on the mouth
Unless your customer has a great poker face, you can usually tell how they feel by looking at their mouth. A turned-down mouth can signal that they aren’t happy with where the discussion is going, while a slight up-turn can be a good sign and a solid “green-light” to continue your sales pitch.
Retail Sales Tip 3: Mirroring
Mirroring is another psychological human behavior that helps us connect with one another. It’s also important to mirror your customer during a conversation to help encourage that connection. However, it’s important to do this with skill so you don’t come across as weird.
When it comes to retail selling, let them set the pace. If they are in a rush, congratulations, you are too! Your customer’s time is valuable and they may want to rush through a sale or they might want to take their time. Either way, you need to make sure they are setting the pace. If you try to rush a customer who would like to browse through their options, you could easily lose a sale.
Verbal Cues in Retail Sales
We’ve discussed body language cues to look out for in a retail sales situation, but verbal cues can help you decide if your customer is ready to buy. Verbal cues are the easiest to deal with as they usually with blatantly tell you what they want or need.
1. Talking about one product specifically
If your customer keeps redirecting the conversation to a specific product, they’re probably ready to buy it and just need help finding it. On the other hand, if they are talking about many different products, they may not have settled on which one they need yet.
2. Asking for help
Is your customer asking you for help? Help them! This is a good sign that they are ready to make a purchase and an easy way for you to tell you’re about to close a simple sale. Contrary to this, if your customer says they are just looking, respect that, and let them know where you’ll be so they can come find you when they’re ready to talk about a product.
Bonus tip: Don’t leave 1 ‘I’m just looking’ as a cue to ignore them from then on. Leave them alone for a bit then come back in to eyeshot a bit later when they look perplexed. You could state something like “that’s actually one of our best sellers because of x” then walk away unless they invite you to tell them more.
3. Overall body language
If their overall body language is saying “yes, I’d like to buy” and they have told you about the specific product they want, then it’s time to push forward with that sale. Again, on the flip side, if their body language is negative toward the sale, and they simply don’t know what they want, they may not be ready and that’s okay! Give them space and time and let them decide when they’re ready.
If you’ve been struggling with retail selling, and you can’t quite figure out how to read your customers, make sure you hang onto this article to refer back to. With a little practice and some effort, you can be making those sales in no time! Make sure to connect with Tom Abbott on LinkedIn for regular sales tips and also read about another retail sales tip: The Assumptive Close.
- Tom Abbott is the author of 'The SOHO Solution' and 'Social Selling' and the creator of the online sales training platform SOCO Academy. Sales leaders engage Tom for his proven solutions to building high performance sales teams that exceed targets and for motivational keynotes that energise their audiences.
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