TDmonthly Magazine!
August 2012 | Vol. XI - No. 8


Retail Sales Training: 9 Ways To Improve Your Selling

You’ve probably heard it said of someone, “They could sell (snow, ice, a refrigerator) to an Eskimo,” or something similar to that.

But how did they get that way? Is the ability to excel at retail selling an instinctive talent that one has to be born with, that can’t be learned?

Not at all.

Almost anyone can learn to be a great retail seller if they follow these principles.

9 Ways To Get Better At Selling In Retail

1. Make a friend

Rapport building sounds so technical impersonal, yet it is the heart of making any human interaction a success. Finding something in common with the customer, something unrelated to the merchandise in front of the customer, begins to build rapport. I call it opening a Window of Contact. It requires a salesperson to notice something physical like jewelry, clothing, even the type of Smartphone the person in front of them has. The salesperson asks a question about the item, and shares something related about themselves based on the customer’s response.

You can’t do it en-mass; you can’t do it by formula, by rote or by script. That’s why it works. It acknowledges that each person is unique, different and interesting – both the customer and the salesperson. But it does take retail sales training to make it happen.

2. Sell people on value

The “selling snow to an Eskimo” comment may be intended as a compliment of someone’s selling ability, but in truth it highlights what a salesperson shouldn’t do. It makes a salesperson sound dishonest. It implies that the best salespeople are just slick and slimy fast-talkers who can make people buy even what they don’t need.

This is why so many people are afraid to even say they are salespeople – they think that title is icky.

Selling products or services that aren’t genuinely useful, enjoyable, or in some other way beneficial to a particular customer may help a retail salesperson’s short-term sales, but in the long run, you can’t be a great salesperson if you don’t consistently provide value to your customers.

You’ll be a sham, and customers will smell it on you. Worse, you’ll end up selling based on discounts to override the customers’ suspicions you can’t be trusted.

Selling things to customers that they’ll later regret buying will result in customers who won’t return, and who’ll likely spread negative impressions of you and your brand all over Facebook and the like.

The best salespeople not only understand this principle, they put it to work when they are selling. They show that an item’s unique features give that customer a unique benefit. For example, “This measuring tape has an erasable writing surface on the side, so you can write your measurement on it and not forget.”

3. Challenge their perceptions

If a guy tells you he is looking to buy a cheap 50’ garden hose because “every damn one of them breaks after a few months, so I don’t want to put a lot of money in it,” it is up to the sales person to challenge their perception. To sell the premium $40 hose, the salesperson has to say something like, “Did you know the water in a hose that is out in the summer heat can boil? That makes the lining susceptible to tearing and shredding, like you’re experiencing now. This hose has a triple reinforced, insulated lining which prevents that from happening, and it stays flexible even when it freezes.”

What the customer really wanted was a hose that won’t break. The hose company saw their need and came out with a premium hose to help them. When a salesman doesn’t challenge a customer’s perceptions, the premium items sit – until they are marked down.

4. Be honest

Most customers are savvy enough to tell when someone is being honest with them—and they like it! If they feel they can trust you, they’re more likely to buy.

Never overstate the value of a product or service, and don’t gloss over potential shortcomings. Not only does dishonesty hurt your store and your own reputation – it makes people leave without buying!

That means if you don’t know the answer to their question, you don’t just shrug your shoulders; you tell them you will find the answer right then from someone else who does have the answer.

5. Add-on, Upsell or Cross-sell

Great salespeople always try to increase the sales total once the customer has selected their main item or product. Think sheets for a bed, purse for a dress, belt for jeans, compost for a tree. Adding-on isn’t anything for a salesperson to feel guilty about. As a salesperson, that’s their job—as long as they’re honest and sell items that provide extra value.

Often, you can upsell or cross-sell by identifying a customer’s fears. If you can understand what customers are worried about, you can demonstrate additional products or services that can genuinely help solve their problems.

For example, if you were selling all-leather shoes and a customer kept talking about how much they got caught in the rain, it would be a good upsell to show them the rainproof spray at the counter. You are doing the customer a service, not trying to load them up on worthless product. (Ice to Eskimos.)

Other times, you’re appealing to customers’ desires, which sometimes are not clarified in their own minds. If you can identify what a person is really after, you can gear your selling toward meeting that desire… and can often make a larger sale, as well as make the customer happy by finding additional products that will make their purchase easier, faster, more stylish or complete.

6. Learn from your successes and mistakes

You don’t stop learning to be a salesperson when your training is over—it’s an ongoing process. Why? Because great salespeople are students of behaviors. They want to understand why a customer did or didn’t buy from them, what they might have done differently or how they might have presented the higher-priced merchandise more appealingly.

Great retail salespeople treat each customer as an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t, and they always look for ways to improve.

7. Go the Extra Mile

Selling is like anything else—persistence pays off. You don’t want to be pushy, but you also want to be diligent in your follow-up, both pre-sale and after-sale if necessary. Show customers that you genuinely care about their experience and want to help them. So many other retailers couldn’t care less about their customers. Consistently making small, personalized contact can go a long way toward increasing your sales. In many ways, making a sale is a courtship, and there’s nothing wrong with “wooing” customers as long as you’re honest and forthright.

8. Pay attention to customer psychology

Great salespeople focus on “reading” customers’ personalities and making adjustments in sales technique based on the personality type. For example, introverts require a different selling approach than extroverts do. Take note of how various kinds of people react differently to sales approaches, and alter your techniques accordingly.

9. Don’t Act Desperate

No matter how much you want to make a sale or need to make a sale, don’t approach a customer with dollar signs in your eyes. Remember that you’re selling them something that will make their lives better (or you should be), and your attitude ought to reflect that to the customer. They should feel like you’re helping them—not that they’re helping you!

These aren’t the only ways to improve your selling, but the best salespeople are always looking for ways to stay the best. Practice these tips daily and you’ll enjoy riches that your friends who are afraid of selling could never dream of.

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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