For many sales professionals the words, “I’m just looking,” provoke frustration, anger and a sense of helplessness. This simple phrase feels like the worst kind of objection because what your prospect is really saying is, “Leave me alone!” And, it happens right out of the gate. “I’m just looking” excludes important attempts to warm up to your customer and properly begin the selling process. It feels like a selling showstopper.

The problem is, as she leaves unengaged, we usually hear, “Thanks for your time; I want to keep looking; I may be back.” And, she hasn’t seen but a mere fraction of your selection. What’s worse is you know nothing of what she came in to buy or the reason she left. But here’s the kicker: in most cases, given an adequate showroom, you had what she wanted. Factor in, the odds of her coming back are unlikely. 

She probably saw little and became confused. Color, style, quality and value were never discussed. You lost control of the sale, and the customer lost her best chance of receiving what she needed the most. If you are competent and professional, you are her best resource and she left without your expertise. She simply wanted a beautiful home, functional to her needs, and she most likely didn’t find all that was available. At some point, we must find a way to engage this customer for her benefit and ours. 

There is a theory out there that when a customer states, “I’m just looking,” we should routinely assume this customer needs no further help until announcing she is no longer browsing and has now decided to buy or ask questions. This may make some sense in certain types of retail, but in floor covering, we can meet the needs for most customers. We shouldn’t assume that our selection simply wasn’t ample enough to cultivate a sale.

Granted, there is reasonable concern that to not oblige the “just looking” customer we may appear pushy and overbearing. Many customers have experienced salespeople who too eagerly wished to shake hands and pounce them with questions when all they wanted was to get the lay of the land. These customers feel they have to say, “I’m just looking,” just to get rid of those annoying salespeople. But there are ways to tactfully manage these browsing customers without making them feel tackled at the door.

To begin with, let us recognize that people rarely take the time to travel off a busy thoroughfare to “just look” at things they do not want to buy. She may not know exactly what she wants or how much to spend, or maybe she hasn’t decided where to buy, but she is looking to buy some place. We just need to find a way to turn “just lookers” into “just buyers”.

First, let’s try to detour the just looking issue before it happens. To do this, we must approach the customer in an engaging way. Thus, it is important that we not begin our greeting with questions that ask for a “yes” or “no” response. “May I help you?” is the worst offender and the most common of this category. With this so-called welcoming, we know through experience the customer typically responds as a defense, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” If something doesn’t work most of the time, it makes sense to try something different. 

With this simple correction, rarely does a customer say to me, “I’m just looking.” In my much earlier selling years, it happened on a regular basis. Back then, I used “May I help you” – a lot. Unbelievable now! Nowadays, whenever I hear this often-used greeting, I know another sale is probably lost. 

Other yes or no openings, such as “Finding everything ok?”; “Do you need any assistance?”; “Are you okay there?” also fall short of setting up a sincere path to connect with the customer and are thus lackluster in taking charge of the sale and building relationships. 

In general, do not repel new prospects by asking them an opening question that all parties know is disingenuous. For example, although not a yes or no lead-in, avoid (as a first introduction) “Hi, what may I do for you today?” or “Anything in particular you are looking for today? “or even “What brings you in today?” because what you are likely to hear is, “Oh nothing, I’m just browsing.” And presto, you are in the cold. 

So, guess what? I have an approach that works for me. This approach begins just barely within speaking range with a simple, “Good morning. Thanks for coming in.” (Alternatively, whatever time is appropriate.) Not at once, but about 10 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.

However, for this to work, the timing is essential: “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.

If this doesn’t feel right for you, invent your own memorable greeting, but make sure it’s engaging.

Suppose your customer acknowledges your greeting but stays committed to just looking. Be careful here: this is probably a private person, or she may have been beaten up by previous salespeople. If it’s a couple, they may whisper a lot. This atypical customer may simply want to enjoy their shopping experience in solitude and consider fashion ideas. But somehow, it is important that we become involved in a conversation before she walks out the door.

A good reply for this persistent type of customer is, “Great! This store is designed for just looking. Almost everything is priced. If you have any questions about what’s on sale, how your floor will wear, warranties, installation, etc., my name is ______. Please feel free to call on me.” Of course, she does not likely have a clue to the answers for any of these important topics, so she may engage immediately. Presto, you are potentially in the conversation, building common ground and on the way to becoming her trusted advisor.

Suppose she acknowledges your statement and still wants to keep looking. Give her the freedom she asked for, but it is important that we set up a harmless way to re-approach this customer while gaining permission to do so. So, wait a moment and add, “Oh, by the way, I have some consumer brochures on how to buy flooring and some information on interior design services. I would like to make sure you receive one of these brochures before you leave.”

Customers almost always respond, “Oh that would be great!” Do you want to know why? She probably doesn’t trust or believe salespeople; she really does need help, and only an authoritative source of information will suffice. You at least offered technical support that she could finally rely on. Now, continue to give her the space that she requested, but stay close, without crowding, so you are accessible for any questions. Now is a good time to organize the showroom. Generally, do not re-approach until your prospect has had plenty of time to look and shown interest in a product. The rule here is to use your human skills. If she begins moving toward the door, you will know it is time–and this may be the best time.

As you re-approach your customer, it is now time to do some probing and find out what is happening or missing. Here are some re-approach questions that may open up dialog: “I just wanted to see how you are doing.”; “See anything you like?” “Have you been looking long?” “Is this the first store you have shopped” ... “What have you seen so far that you liked?” followed by asking pertinent questions about additional products and solutions thus redirecting our customer back into our showroom for a more enlightened view. 

Most customers will grant you these conversational courtesies above, but if you incur hostility, rephrase by saying: “I only ask because I thought maybe I could help.” Not many people will fault a salesperson who wants to be helpful yet is not overly persistent in doing so.

Good selling to you!