Instead of asking “May I help you?” sit down with your customers and find out something about their individual needs.  Above all else, successful sales people know how to make a personal connection and gain trust.

Only 5 percent of salespeople can sell. The other 95 percent can not. The 95 percent who can’t include those who must wait until a customer “gets comfortable” before approaching. Or, even worse, they mostly ignore the customer until she either approaches the salesperson or walks out. When they do approach a customer it’s with a “May I help you?” or the equally inane, “May I point you in a direction?” More disturbingly, their idea of follow through is to shadow the customer walking from sample to sample before finding out what she wants. If they do speak during this process, it’s with an offer of lower price. Other attempts at conversation may include tidbits of product info, pertinent or not, picked up in the course of their time spent on the floor.

I truly believe that marketing efforts by manufacturers or retailers are meaningless to those who actually have selling skills. The marketing tools that make their way on to the retail sales floor serve only to help those who can’t sell. In fact, the same POP materials, guarantees, warranties and price promotions relied upon by the great majority of retail salespeople are of little use to the true sales pros. In my opinion, these devices are created because marketers do not trust the expertise of the people on the floor-and rightly so. Marketing is crucial for selling things that do not require expert assistance such as food, cleaning products or personal care items.

An uncomfortable trend seen among retail merchandising groups is an ever-increasing reliance on marketing rather than selling skills. One reality that should give specialty stores an edge over Big Boxes is this: at their core they are marketing organizations. Specialty stores are selling organizations (or at least should be).  Specialty retailers will never “out-market” the Big Boxes, but with effective selling skills they can win every time. Retailers, including-the merchandising groups-must build on their strengths and negate their weaknesses.

Only lately have I learned that expert salespeople have to be completely fearless. It is the one of the keys that separates the true pros from the wannabes who are unafraid to approach customers and get on “common ground.” The main flaw of those who can’t sell is that they fail to recognize that human skills are all powerful in sales. The product is ancillary. I can see manufacturers cringing as they read this, but as beautiful as most of our products are and the tremendous value they represent, people buy flooring from people they like-no other reason! The art of being liked is the most valuable of all human skills. It’s how jobs are allocated, promotions given and elections won. It is the most important characteristic for elites in any endeavor that requires human interaction. Consumer surveys continue to show that our customers buy at the other stores not because of lower prices or broader selection, but because they like the other salesperson better-period.

You may take issue with this column, but you would be making another excuse for unsatisfactory results. Keep in mind this is not something I invented. This is the approach embraced by the “greats” past and present. There may be exceptions, but if you rely upon exceptions, you’ll lose!

The first step? Take responsibility for where you are right now. There are many salespeople who write $1-$2 million dollars in sales. Are you one of them? If not, the only way to reach this height and beyond is to change what you’re doing. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the classic definition of insanity. So if your sales figures aren’t approaching these lofty heights, you have to change what you’re doing and start following the route of expert sales pros. Believe the information. Motivate your salespeople to believe. Sales people in the Million Dollar Plus Club aren’t lucky. They know and understand the information in this column. Take a leap of faith.

For example: When confronted with, “I’m just lookin’,” An elite salesperson I was observing jumped in and said, “But if you were just looking for something specific, what might it be?” Confronting the issue turned this customer completely around. She immediately bared her soul about her decorating dreams.

An even better story: An owner grew tired of hearing her salesperson go on and on about discounts, so she stepped in, took over the sale and began winning the customer over. All the while she was taking back the perceived discounts. Then steering the customer to the counter, began writing the order. When again pressed for a discount by the customer, the owner apologized, saying: “Mr. Thomas, I’m sorry, you’re right, you should get that discount, but you’re going to have to excuse me for a minute before I can give it to you.” “Where are you going?” asked the bewildered customer; “I’m going to fire your salesperson in order to afford the discount!” To which the stunned customer replied, “You’re kidding!” “No, I’m not!” came the retort. “Please don’t fire him! Please! I’ll pay the full amount.” This is what salespeople with backbone can do.

The huge caveat is that you have to truly love people. If you don’t, it won’t work. Buying and selling are fun. The atmosphere needs to be lighthearted. Oscar Wilde said, “Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow!” The same actions employed by those who disrespect people through the use of trickery, deceit and sheer smarminess will only turn customers off. Seriousness alienates people. Serious people are sometimes offended by what I say and write, believing I am seriously mean. In reality I am giving them a wake-up call with a good natured slap.

Elite salespeople have the ability to be intimate with strangers. Loving people enables them to truly become the “trusted advisor” within moments. There is no persuasion, debate or argument needed. They are on the same page. Time after time I’ve observed the elites taking over sales in trouble, butting in and asking, “What’s the problem here? I’ve been watching and this is taking far too much time. Now, what do you want this room to look like?” and complete the sale within minutes. Have you ever had a customer who brings a friend and after looking through samples starts hemming and hawing about whether she can afford it or if it’s exactly the right color, when the girlfriend pipes up, “Oh Karen, you know you want it, just buy it!!” That is exactly the relationship you should have with your customers.

The not-so-elite salesperson is afraid to open the conversation or offer advice. They won’t open a charge account or direct the customer. They can’t sell at the proper price nor can they probe to find out real measurements, or even the customer’s likes and dislikes. They are petrified to sell the proper amount of material and close the first time in! Average salespeople can’t bring themselves to ask for the order or quote the highest price or even show the best products in the store. The true pro is eager to do all that-with every customer, every day.

It’s like a symphony watching a professional salesperson in action. They know they can’t select the perfect floor covering for their customers unless they sit them down and glean some information. They know that customers always know enough about room sizes to write an order and most customers bring samples with them to coordinate. They aren’t afraid to write orders on approximate measures. The only reason customers won’t bring their samples into the store or share their room measurements is that they don’t trust the salesperson. One more thing: They use product knowledge only on that rare occasion when it’s asked for.

Most of all, they know that rich or poor, customers want a beautiful home. If they can deliver it, price goes out the window. When customers see that the home of their dreams is possible, they want it so passionately they start breathing hard. Elite salespeople look at their peers and wonder how they manage to lose sales when customers want to buy and we want to sell?

Professional salespeople are always upbeat. They manage a positive attitude even in the most tragic of circumstances. They understand the world revolves around everyone else, not them. They have the courage to live life as it was meant to be lived. No whining, complaining or excuses-they just do it. Most important: they tend to be exceptional people who are able to offer the same love and respect to strangers that other people can only reserve for friends and family. In short, they are a welcome relief to the simpering selfishness that holds so many people back.