What’s that you say?  People like to buy from people they like. While product quality, style and performance are important, the human touch is what closes the sale. It also brings repeat business and referrals. You might start by striking up a conversation about any thing other than flooring. Focus on the customer and her interests. Remember, you’re speaking with them not selling them.

When I lead industry seminars that deal with human interaction-customer service, management or sales-about half of the session is devoted to human skills. This has prompted some casual observers to offer the half-baked opinion that all of my sessions are similar. 

The fact is: Success in customer service, sales and management is directly proportional to whether customers (or employees) like you or not. This is especially true in sales. Survey after survey proves that she doesn’t buy at the other store because of lower price or better selection; she buys there because she likes the other salesperson better. If you are able to accept this fact, then it follows that selling is the art of being liked, the study of which could take several volumes or college semesters.

Business is tough right now and given the state of the economic crisis we are currently experiencing, it will not get much better for at least a year. Many flooring retailers have already failed. Many other are just hanging on by their fingertips. No retailer can afford to let customers walk-not a single one.

They are not in the store to browse. They are in the market for flooring and they what to buy. Every time a customer walks out, owners should see $100 to $10,000 in cash blowing out the door with them. Retailers shouldn’t put up with these huge losses. Every floor covering dealer needs a quick fix. Because the situation is so desperate, I came up with this never-fail quick fix.

I taught my own salespeople how to get close to first time customers immediately and I had no tolerance for customers being left to wander. If I ever heard the excuse, “They just want to look around,” or, “They just want to be left alone” or the equally lame excuse, “They just want to see what we have,” they would have been fired. Sound harsh? It isn’t, because it is so incredibly easy to engage each and every customer.

Here’s the secret: Part of being liked is focusing on the other person’s interests exclusively. Talk to customers about anything except flooring. Customers are initially defensive because they know you want to sell them. They want to buy. They don’t want to be sold. Earlier, I received a call from a Flooring America dealer who is a regional captain. He related the story about one of his salespeople who accepted my material as gospel and had the courage to try. The transformation was both remarkable and obvious. Soon the salespeople were following her lead. The result is they are having a record year.

Be aware: it absolutely takes courage to change how you sell. Lack of courage is the most common reason salespeople won’t change.

Once you start talking to customers about their interests, you will experience a revelation. They will visibly relax because you’re speaking with them instead of selling them. I remember one couple who came in the store. She was wearing a shirt embroidered with a cat. His shirt displayed a picture of a greyhound under which was written “Fast Friends.” I learned more about Siamese cats and rescued racing dogs than I ever knew. The sale was automatic. When customers mention kids or animals, always ask about them. Look for riding boots, military caps and insignias, sports-related shirts, Harley Davidson fashions, auto logos, golf hats, tennis visors-people wear their hearts on their sleeves and want you to notice.

One disabled older man was obviously beset by serious problems. My opener was: “What on Earth happened to you?” He proceeded to give me his medical history from age 14 on. The poor guy was just waiting to talk to somebody about his infirmities. Some customers attempt to ease the pain of losing a loved one by redecorating. Never miss the chance to commiserate. This is selling. If you use this secret properly you will not fail if you love people enough to be sincerely interested in their lives, successes, heartbreaks and problems. If you don’t like people, get out of the business.

If I see a man shopping alone, I immediately ask him if he is lost, following it up with: This isn’t Bass World or the local boat dealer. Dollars to doughnuts, the only reason he is in the store is to search out the best deal possible. He has already made the commitment to his wife to purchase new flooring and all that is left for him is to salvage as much cash out of the deal as possible.

Although this column just skimmed the surface of human skills, this one simple technique can keep you in the game. I attend every sales session possible when on the road; some about demographics, others about personality types and some stressing traditional skills usually from people who have never sold a thing. Strangely I’ve never heard anything approaching what is written above, which is powerful enough to instantly change your selling career. All you need is the courage to try. I promise you won’t fail.