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October 2015 | Vol. XIV - No. 10


Do You Recognize These 6 Early Warning Signs Of Losing A Retail Sale?

A lot has been written on closing a sale, but what if you could see the warning signs you were going to crash and burn? Would that be valuable to your sales team?


When I was a kid, I loved to bodyboard. Waiting for a wave and riding it was truly a thrill. You had to be careful because suddenly you could end up no longer riding the wave, but you could be crushed by the wave; your face shoved into the rocks and sand of the ocean floor.

There were always warning signs I should have heeded, just like there are always warning signs when you are about to lose a sale.

Amateur salespeople pay no heed to tip-offs that things are not going well. They just carry on to the logical conclusion and say something like, here's my card; ask for me when you come back.

Or worse they add, I'm on commission.

So, I'm going to assume you know your products backwards and forwards ...

And no, this post is not a study of 100 ways how to overcome objections.

This post is about how to use your own ears and eyes early in the sale which will lead to you closing more of them.

Here are the 6 customer early-warning signs that you will lose the sale:

They are silent. That's because you are doing all the talking which is never good. First off, shut up. When you realize they have been silent too long, ask a question to get them to tell you something. The old adage we have two ears and only one mouth should be your mantra. The more you listen, the greater your understanding of their needs will be. The greater your understanding of their needs, the better you will be able to match them to the perfect product in your store.

Their arms and/or legs are crossed. Their body language is screaming I don't trust you. Maybe you're pitching a specific product they didn't ask for. Maybe you're not modifying your pitch according to their personality like you should be. Maybe you have bad breath. It doesn't matter. Their body is letting you know they're not letting in all you are saying. Find a way to give them something to hold or touch to break their posture, and then step back and restate what you heard them say they are looking for. This shows them you understand them. Finally, make sure you aren't crossing your arms or legs which may mean you feel threatened by your customer. If you have to, put your hands on your hips or in your pockets to remain open to the other person.

They look at products other than the one you are presenting. People who keep looking are still in the discovery phase of their purchase. Maybe you got what they were looking for all wrong in the first place, or tried to close too soon. Back off and offer something like a store tour or a tour of the department to show all you have. Simply say, "You know, we have a complete range of (x products.) May I show them to you?" You make their indecision a part of the process instead of trying to fight it. You get them to focus on what you want them to focus on.

They keep haggling on price. For some people price is just a game, and you are just an obstacle in their way. They want to beat you down until you give and they get. I once had a guy ask me for $100 off a product which I wouldn't give. "Well the other guys will." he said. I asked, "Did they have your size?" "No," he replied. So I said, "Well if we didn't have your size, ours would be free." Humor can get you out of a jam, but sometimes customers just won't close unless you give them the deal of a lifetime. I recommend walking away from those types.

They talk about a competitor as if they were the bomb. A previous relationship, whether online or with another brick and mortar, can loom large and overpower a smaller store simply because you have less selection. You have to deal with this elephant in the room at the point you recognize what is going on if you hope to turn the tide and make the sale. Use your small-ness as an asset, that you have curated down the best, you only carry what your customers need, etc.

They're dispassionate about the product. Most items won't elicit a jump-in-the-air Eureka moment, but when a customer has found the right product, it should feel like a relief to both you and them; you've solved the riddle. Customers are always weighing whether their big old stack of money is worth trading in for the item they are considering. When they have no feelings either way, it's time to open options either by asking some new questions such as On a scale 1-5, 5 being best, what would you give this product as a solution for what you're looking for? You could even bring in another item or whatever it takes to get them excited. Emotions are what drive buying, and if there aren't any, the customer won't buy.

How to know you have the sale?

The customer talks about seeing the product in their home.

They ask questions about how to take care of it.

They refer to it as theirs.

They bring up things the product would do for them.

They'll ask if you can ship, or put in their car, or gift wrap.

And obviously, when they say, I'll take it.


95% of lost sales happen early in the sale. You lose them when you don't seem approachable, you don't build rapport, or they don't trust you. That's why you need to constantly be open to retail sales training.

Rarely does a sale go south only at the end, after the customer has devoted their own time - time they could have been doing anything else - to trying to buy something from you.

And remember, more often than not, it's the salesperson's fault.

That's why waiting to focus on closing techniques and overcoming their end-of-the-sale objections can be futile. No matter how many of the hundreds of ways you may try to make the customer buy, most often you've already lost it.

Selling is riding the wave of customer expectations, matching your energy level to the customer's, and taking them on a ride to where they want to go.

Great salespeople are not pummeled into the sand because they were too oblivious to see themselves being overtaken.

Learn more about retail sales training from Bob Phibbs

Bob PhibbsWriter's Bio: Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor®, a best-selling author and speaker who has helped thousands of independent businesses compete. His new book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business has received praise from both Inc. magazine and USA Today and can be found at your local bookstore or ordered at He and his work have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur magazine. Questions? Contact Bob at This article was reprinted with permission of the author, Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor®. Read more articles by this author


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