The basics of salesmanship can’t be reviewed enough. I have had a 95/5 theory about selling: 95% of salespeople can’t sell; 5% can! The longer I am in this industry, the more I’m convinced of this.

It’s obvious that few salespeople get it. For owners, this is devastating. Even if 50% of your people can sell (and it’s a rare store if this is true), think of the sales you are missing. She wants to buy and you want to sell. How is it possible to miss a sale? Industry closing averages are about one-in-five. Your people have to overtly do something wrong not to make every sale. I have tried to find a gentler, kinder way to put this, but those of you who have followed me throughout the years know this is not my style. The great coaches in history – Vince Lombardi, Bobby Knight, Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant – were ruthless. Dare I say it? Sort of like Donald Trump.

First of all, there is nothing more chilling than to walk into a store and be met with dead silence. I am often given the excuse by salespeople that they want to give people a chance to be comfortable before they approach them. Many times before you approach them, they have left the store. In any event, the “sale” is off to an uncomfortable start. From the beginning, as a young retailer, I tried to give everyone a warm greeting, even delivery people. Although I have trained others for decades, I learn something new every day I am working.

Greet and Connect

One of Dalton’s best, Eric Hooker, was in Virginia helping my wife set up her new Big Bob’s store. As an aside, one of the stupidest acts I see when people set up stores is to cover the windows during the process. Are these people brain dead? What’s the point? You should want people to check you out and even ask questions about your new business. Many will even ask you to call when you open. Anyway, back to the point. Whenever someone opened the door, Eric would yell out in his unique Daltonian accent, “Welcome to Big Bob’s.”

It was beyond warm and friendly, it was effusive. The response was always the same, a smile and a thank you. Observing this, when her store was open, every employee was told to greet people in this manner. Some employees were uncomfortable with this at first, but the response was always the same, a smile and a thank you. People were being thanked for coming to your store. After this, it was easy to yell out “Welcome to Big Bob’s!” What a great way to start a sale.

Start with a great greeting. Now it’s about making the connection. Dump all the inane things with which every salesperson tries to start a sale:

  • “What brings you in here today?” (this should be obvious)
  • “Did you come in response to our ad?” (none of your business)
  • “What a great day!” (yuh, and my washer just broke down)

Read books by all the great salespeople (Joe Girard comes to mind) who make a million dollars a year (not just write a million a year) and a common thread comes through. They never talk about what they’re selling; everything but.

What do they talk about? People wear their hearts on their sleeve. You may have seen a dog in the car as they drove in, or they brought their kids with them. Kids and dogs — if you don’t like kids and dogs, get out of the business. There are a million things you can notice about children and ask about dogs. It will be apparent when you strike a chord. People wear T-shirts and hats with their passion printed on them, causes, sports and organizations. Even the jewelry they wear gives you ammunition as to topics of interest.

Professional selling is complex. A professional salesperson has to know something about everything in order to carry on the conversation. When she is ready to talk about what she came in for, she’ll let you know. The object is to make a personal connection. When you do, you have built trust. This is when professionals know the sale is virtually over. It has nothing to do with flooring. Maybe this is what’s so difficult for salespeople to get, especially owners.

The Art of Being Liked

It’s all about the customer, never about you. Remember, customers are not just strangers, but each one is someone’s daughter, mother or aunt, just as precious as your own relatives, deserving of just as much love and respect as well. Our relatives are just like everyone’s relatives, no better and no worse. They come in all shapes and sizes and character. If you can’t understand this, you will have a more difficult time getting close to them. Like everyone, people love to talk about themselves, their work, hobbies, illnesses, even problems.

One case-in-point, a woman came into my wife’s store accompanied by her husband who was frail and shaking, obviously with some severe neurological problems. I asked the man: “What the Hell happened to you?” He then proceeded to tell me in detail his medical history starting as a teenager. The man obviously was just waiting for the chance to talk about his ailments instead of just being ignored. From whom are they going to buy? I have often said, it takes courage to be a great salesperson. Never miss an opportunity to commiserate, congratulate or praise. Also, every person alive has something that deserves a sincere compliment.

The basics: Effusive greeting, and never talk about flooring until the customer is ready to make the connection. Notice nothing is said about qualifying, presentation, overcoming objections and closing, because the sale is done. People buy from people they like. Selling is the “art of being liked,” nothing more, nothing less, which most sales courses never touch.