SALES TRAINING: No such thing as a time-waster

You spend a fortune trying to attract customers in-store, so don’t ignore them when they come in. Even if they’re not buying there and then, a good experience will mean they return when they are ready, or recommend you to a friend, says Paul Laville, managing director of T21

Here’s a true story. When I was an account manager for an audio brand, I was visiting a hi-fi store, sitting down with the manager and his part-time lad at the cash desk, talking through our new range. There was no one else in the store. It was a quiet day and it was raining. Then suddenly, somebody walked in off the street. I stopped talking, thinking that they would want to speak to this potential customer. They didn’t. Instead, they told me to carry on.

The guy browsing didn’t venture far into the store. He looked like he didn’t really know what he was looking at. And he was wet through. Eventually, the store manager, without moving from his seat, barked out: “Can we help you there, sir?” Whereupon this guy who’d had the temerity to just walk in out of the rain and start looking at hi-fi stuff, paused, shook his head, mumbled something and left.Paul_Laville_T21

“Bloody time-wasters,” the manager swore.

Keep that in mind. One of the most successful elements of our sales training academies is when we task trainees to look at the ‘customer journey’. We ask them to analyse every step somebody makes before, during and after a purchase. And every single time, our trainees conclude that getting customers in through the door is difficult and expensive.

Just how do Mr & Mrs Customer decide what they need? How many hours do they spend looking through magazines and websites, poring over reviews, manufacturers’ blurb and recommendations?

And once they’ve decided what they want, how much more time do they spend figuring out where to buy it? You need to be on Mr & Mrs Customer’s shortlist of places to buy. So you advertise – online with powerful SEO, in the papers and magazines, maybe on TV or radio. You spread your gospel through social media, fighting for hits and views, shares and likes. And you’re not just marketing your products, but also your business. You’re not so much telling potential customers what they can buy from you, you’re showing them why they should buy from you.

“Trying to convince customers to make the journey to your store in a fiercely competitive marketplace is a massive undertaking.” Paul Laville

So you’re shouting about your great customer service, your expertise and the value of your advice. Maybe you have dem rooms or the facility to ‘try before you buy’. At every one of these customer touch-points, your marketing people are mining every USP you have, using every tool within their reach to pull that customer ever closer to your door. And that takes time, effort, expertise and money. Which is great – but then, every other retailer is doing the same.

Trying to convince customers to make the journey to your store in a fiercely competitive marketplace is a massive undertaking. Back to that hi-fi store then, where, after all that hard work and expense, the store manager had already made up his mind that the soaking wet guy in his shop was a time-waster. Epic fail.

One of the key lessons from our customer journey task is this – there is no such thing as a time-waster. So what if somebody just wanders into your shop to hide from the rain or check the football results on your TVs? Or wants to spend 15 minutes browsing camera lenses while the rest of the family shops for shoes next door? So what if they look like they don’t have a clue? You can help them, right?

Even if they really don’t want to buy right there and then, you can be sure that whatever you say to them, however you treat them, it will create an experience that will influence their decision to buy from you (or not!) when they are ready.

That ‘time-waster’ will remember how they walked in from the rain and got talking to this great salesperson who treated them well, answered a whole bunch of questions and invited them to pop back at any time. And even if they don’t ever want to buy from you, maybe a couple of weeks later they’ll be talking to a friend of theirs who does, so they’ll recommend you – or not. It’s down to you.

We generally tell our trainees that assumptions in sales are bad. But if there’s one assumption you can allow yourself, it’s this – everyone who walks into your store must at least have a passing interest in what you’re selling. After all, it’s unlikely that a strict vegetarian would walk into a butcher’s shop, even just to get out of the rain. I personally would much prefer to sit out the rain in an electrical store than a shoe shop, maybe just talking to someone for a bit of advice that’ll influence a future purchase.

If it costs time and money, expertise, dedication and persistence to entice customers into your store, how great is it when people just walk in of their own accord, or the rain forces them in, for free? What a gift.