It has been said that opening is more important than closing. In truth, your opening is crucial. Your greeting may be the most important aspect of the entire relationship that unfolds between you and the prospect. Greeting your customer is the beginning of a momentum toward a friendship, trusting and closing. Your first exposure often sets the tone to everything else that is going to happen in the selling process. 

Advertising research has proven that it has cost your company a small fortune each time a customer enters your store. The average customer only shops two or three stores, so you have already received a huge compliment when she walks through your door. Your prospective customer has probably planned this purchase for months. And, she has selected your store as a possible place to make her purchase—or not! Making the sale may all depend on your ability to develop a special kind of person-to-person relationship. 

Obviously, when you initially meet someone you cannot help but to form a first impression. Surveys show that people make their strongest impression of you in the first five seconds. Automatically, we gather impressions that presume what the other person is really like. So, in the beginning, a relationship starts, and it’s either to some extent positive or negative. Regardless, a great deal of everything else we say or do is filtered and colored by our customer’s initial perception of how we welcome them. In greeting, you are making your first impression, and fair or not, it often sticks the hardest.

We all act in life and you are about to go on stage. Act like it!  An actor or an actress cannot bring to the stage negative emotions and play the part of someone who is cheerful, polite and courteous. Put yourself in her position. Ask yourself: do you want to meet you? If not, correct your attitude. Your success vitally depends on it. 

Here is something important to know when greeting your customer. Wherever people are getting to know each other, our ability to convey empathy for the person we are meeting is like a force that exudes sincerity and collaboration. It is the mechanism that allows us to understand and relate to our customer and creates a foundation for intimacy, caring and trust. Empathy begins by developing a genuine interest in the other person.

Most customers want a few moments to get their bearings before being greeted. So, how quickly should you engage your prospect? In most cases, give your customer enough time to get through the door and begin glancing over the sales floor. About 15 to 30 seconds suffices in most circumstances. By approaching before she gets acclimated, you may be viewed as overassertive, and she may feel attacked at the door.

Never shout from across the room. If you are not close enough to talk, then make eye contact, nod in their direction and perhaps hold up your hand indicating you will be with them shortly. While customers like shopping in a busy store, a shoppers’ number-one complaint in research on service is “being ignored by salespeople.”   

Stand up when you meet customers and make eye contact. Don’t rush to the customer and consciously slow down your pace. Initially keep a comfort zone of about five feet. Never approach a customer from behind; it’s spooky and catches them off guard.

Begin your earliest conversations with your feet at a 45-degree angle to hers. Do not fold your arms; instead keep your arms down or behind your back. This posturing will be perceived as relaxed and non-threatening. This way you do not create the impression of confronting her; you are simply making her comfortable, less defensive, and you are beginning to take control of the sales interview. Importantly, be sure to smile—it’s contagious. 

In first speaking to your customer, choose greetings that are genuine and engaging. For that reason, avoid queries such as “How are you today?” or “How’s it going?” These phrases go nowhere and limit conversation. Unless your customer launches into an account of what a good or dreadful day she is experiencing, such questions will normally be met with standard replies of, “I’m okay” or “I’m fine; thank you.” Further, you are forcing a stranger to be polite...phony really...and you are excluding yourself from any genuine involvement. Here are some close cousins: “Do you need any assistance?”; “Are you okay there?”; “Hi, let me know if you need any help.”; “Is there something I can help you find?” 

And, here is the very worst and the most common greeting: “May I help you?”  Whenever I hear this often-used reception, I know another sale is probably lost. Predictably, she will respond as a defense, “No, I’m just looking.” And presto, you are shut out from the buying conversation.

Please understand this: when you greet a customer, you are beginning a friendship! When friends come to your house, do you greet them with “May I help you?” Bear in mind, your customer is your guest so treat her with the same transparent and enthusiastic manner you treat new friends at your home. 

Overall, avoid opening questions that may be answered with a “yes” or “no” response. For example, “Anything in particular you are looking for today?”; “Finding everything ok?”, or even, “Hi, what may I do for you today?” These are all impersonal greetings and therefore lackluster beginnings for taking charge of the sale and building conversations. What often happens when using these and other closed-ended questions is the customer takes a path of avoidance and withholds information because she knows without it, you can’t sell her.

I have an approach that works for me. This particular approach begins just barely within speaking range with a simple “Good morning” (or whatever time period is appropriate). Not immediately, but about 12 to 15 feet from the customer, I stop walking briefly, and then comes the next stage of the greeting: “Welcome to Custom Flooring!” Then, as I approach normal speaking range, I am greeted almost without fail, when the timing is done correctly with “thank you,” from the customer. Other times, I just get a big smile.

Instead of “I’m just looking,” the customer nearly always greets back with a “thank you.” However, for this to work, again, the timing is essential. For example, “Good afternoon, welcome to Custom Flooring” in just one, quick statement, and the desired response never happens. Time it just right and they will greet you back. 

As a part of the greeting, customers often appreciate a few moments of pleasantries to feel comfortable. It’s called warming up. Talk about anything except product. Begin by keeping the focus on her. Look for team logos. What is she wearing? Ask about her children if they are present. Look for anything present that speaks of her. For returning customers try, “It’s great to see you again.” Often it is the small chitchat at the beginning of the conversation that opens the door to rapport. Customers buy relationships and trust as much as they buy product.

With small talk, avoid cliché topics such as “How about this weather?” Be more specific. “Are you enjoying your afternoon?”; “Are you managing to stay dry with all this rain?”; “Are you enjoying all of the sun we’ve been having?” Also, be personal, but be sincere as well, “I like your shoes, scarf, coat, hairstyle, etc.” Be authentic and willing to share something about yourself in the end. 

As we move to the purpose of the visit, begin with qualifying questions that invite two-way conversations. For example, “What brings you in today?”; “What kind of flooring are you hoping to find today?” Continue to use engaging questions that do not invite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.

When greeting customers, bear in mind they may not initially trust you. Why? Because they know you want something from them. A commitment, their time, their money, even a change on their part, and people fear change. Prospects may also have had unpleasant experiences with past salespeople. Simply put, they are afraid you are going to lie to them, concerned about what others have told them, or they just fear the unknown. 

Frequently, customers think I am going to try to sell them something, and after I disarm them, I usually do!

Good selling to you!