Selling more than product to make yourself a specialty retailer

A specialty salesperson must see every customer not in terms of a sale, but in terms of demonstrating to the customer they are at the best and the only store that can truly meet the their needs. Learn more in this Retail College sales training article on SNEWS.

Mass merchants, e-tailers, large sporting goods chains, discounters or small specialty retailers all have one thing very much in common: Each must sell products in order to survive and, indeed, to thrive. Sometimes, in fact, it’s the same type of product. Merchandising, branding, marketing budgets and store size aside, they also share something else -- the need for salespeople.

From a customer’s standpoint, it’s at the sales staff level that there exists a very clear point of differentiation among retailers.

At many stores (e-tail or brick-and-mortar), the customer experiences little more than transactional interaction.

What’s meant by that is a customer comes into the store and the salesperson is there to get needed product from the stockroom, help a customer read a hangtag, answer a customer question, take said product to the cash register for ringing up, ring up the product, bag the product and, perhaps, carry the product to a customer’s car.

In a transactional environment, product price can become a primary point of comparison if there is so little else a customer can use to evaluate a retailer amid a sea of sameness.

To stand out, sales staff members must think well beyond simply being a facilitator in a transactional environment. A specialty salesperson, and by association, a salesperson who is committed to ensuring the customer experience is special, sees every customer not in terms of a sale, but in terms of demonstrating to the customer they are in the best and the only store that can truly meet the customer’s needs.

How do you do this? Product knowledge, certainly. But it goes much deeper than that. Books can be written about the topic, but here are a few of my favorite discussion points from when I was actively involved in training salespeople in a retail store. 


Realize every customer interaction is a relationship. It can be a one-minute relationship, or one that lasts several hours (outfitting someone for a home gym or for a one-month safari adventure, for example). All successful relationships are built on trust, and trust is rooted in:

1. Authenticity – How salespeople dress and speak do matter.

2. Demonstration of product knowledge AND store knowledge is essential – Reading a hangtag to the customer does not demonstrate product knowledge.

3. Show true interest in customers and give them undivided attention -- This does not mean you cannot be interrupted, but never, for goodness sake, let that happen by a mobile phone ringing or a chatty co-worker.

4. Do not talk at or down to a customer.

5. Listen more than talk, and ask good questions -- Serve the customer in the way the customer expects to be served.

For more on this topic, read our story, “Is your store one of the best stores to shop for practically anything?” by clicking here. And, you might want to read, “Cool it with the insider lingo when talking to customers” by clicking here.

Each sale is not just one product

Specialty salespeople help make a customer feel special by thinking in terms of what a customer might need beyond the sale of one product. If a customer is buying a tent, do they need a ground cloth to protect the tent floor? If they are buying a sleeping bag, do they need a sleeping pad? If they are buying a treadmill, might they have forgotten a good mat to keep sweat off the rug?

Your store talks for itself

Sales staff members are the front line in ensuring a store is inviting to customers, all the time.

1.Every bit of clutter from boxes and packing material in the store aisles, to misplaced product on racks, burned-out lights, dirty dressing rooms, random boxes stacked in a corner, and dust on the fixtures tells customers they’re not anywhere special.

2.Salespeople engaged in conversation, even if it’s about the store and store business, while customers stand nearby feeling ignored, tells customers they will feel better shopping somewhere else.

3. A clean and well-lit store, with inviting merchandising and displays, and products that are easy-to-find help make customers feel the store is special.

4.Sales staff members that are cheerful and helpful and genuinely interested in customers make them feel the store is special.

5. Talking up staff community involvement and ways the store supports the community and community programs, when appropriate, help customers feel the store they are in is something special.

Enlist your customers as advocates by engaging them

Specialty sales staff often has the hardest time with this one, but it is one of the more important items in a quest to differentiate from being in a transactional selling environment. Ask your customers for their email to add to the purchase record at the cash register, or ask them to sign a customer register. Then, within a few days of making that sale, mail them a note, send them a personal email, or pick up the phone and give them a call. Ask them how they are enjoying their purchase, if there is anything more you can do for them, if they have any questions about your shop. Invite them back into the store to talk to you or get answers or demonstrations. Ask them to recommend you to their friends. Make them feel part of a larger family that now includes your store.

For more on the impact such a simple gesture can have, read, “Sandwich and salad…with a side of thank you” by clicking here.

So, are you a member of the specialty sales staff team, or are you just a transactional servant? If you are working for a specialty retailer, its survival may depend on how you answer. 

--Michael Hodgson


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