Saturday, November 26, 2011

Craig's Crossing - Salesmanship is Service

Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game.

- Tony Alessandra

This is a repost from a year ago, but is something I believe strongly in as a differentiator and appropriate for this time of year.

I’m going to define salesmanship as interaction with a customer that produces a sale and start this discussion with first impressions. The customer needs to be greeted or in the case of the associate on the phone acknowledged with eye contact and a simple but pleasant “Excuse me while I finish up with this call.” Be courteous and friendly with everyone who enters your space. Whether they ever patronize the shop or not, they are potential customers and more importantly everyone represents word of mouth.

Dress according to the image you are trying to project. All key staff members should be wearing the merchandise you sell and look good doing so. When you shop elsewhere, pay attention to the sales people in the various establishments. Which employee best represents the image of their store? Which appear sloppy or out of place? Now think about the customers coming through your shop. What kind of associate will attract that customer and look good putting them at ease. Most reputable apparel vendors in the golf industry want your staff wearing their goods; asking your local company rep what the best way to accomplish this will be should be part of every sales call.

It is important in any kind of selling to know your product. Most golf shops have a limited enough inventory and finite enough number of skus that this should not be difficult, but it does require a commitment on the part of the Leader to educate accordingly. It should never be assumed that your staff knows your product unless they have been given the opportunity to receive the appropriate information. Good retail sales people who work strictly on commission can strike up a conversation on any item in their domain. All assistant pros and most shop help are working in golf because they love the game. Translating that energy and love into service and sales is the challenge. If you own your own shop or your job requires a successful shop, think of it as perhaps the most important challenge that you have.

It is human nature to want to talk about something you are confident you know a lot about and to be shy and vague when you don’t. The educated assistant pro wants to tell you what he knows that you probably don’t about performance shirts as well as hybrids. He knows that the worse way to engage you in conversation is to ask the dreaded “May I help you?” Jack Mitchell in his book “Hug Your Customer” describes this phrase as “pressure to buy something” that will always result in the response “No, just looking.” At this point the conversation is over. Sales associates who ask about the customer before getting around to discussing the product are assured the conversation will continue and this is easier in golf pro shops than it would be at Nordstrom, for example, because of the mutual interest in the game and/or the Intimacy Factor.

“So how did you play?”

“Are you headed to the range?”

“Here are two sleeves of your custom ball. Do you need any for your guests?”

Another tact that many professionals use is to acknowledge you with their eyes, their smile and demeanor but wait until you touch something or seem to show any interest at all in a product; they then approach you by kindly striking up a conversation about that object, telling you three things about that product that aren’t readily apparent. If you were even remotely interested, they now have your rapt attention. If you weren’t really interested, they haven’t lost anything for the effort and have at least struck up that conversation that can lead to a relationship. Even the most difficult of customers who may walk grumpily away realizes that the associate knows his product, is good at his job and would be a good resource when they become serious about needing merchandise from the shop.

Pro shop selling, because of the Intimacy Factor, has the potential to be even more effective as the astute staff member uses their knowledge of the customer to sell them benefits that effect their lives as opposed to just product features.

“That shaft should be perfect for your swing.”

“That rain suit costs a little more but it will last your son a lifetime.”

“These shirts are perfect for you. They’re not just easy-care, they’re care-free.”

“Your daughter loves this line and her birthday is next week. She wears a 4.”

The point is, whether at the club or dealing with the public at Pebble Beach, the product has value only because it fits your customer’s needs. There is an art to asking the right open-ended questions to determine that need. It is an incredible tool to know someone well enough to know their needs and it doesn’t get any better than being able to anticipate that need.

Whatever the suggested approach is in your shop, your staff should always be encouraged to continually refine and personalize their own style. There are, however, some fundamentals that should be adhered to.

Always smile.

Look the customer in the eye.

Use first names whenever possible

Never overwhelm by talking too much or too fast.

Ask open ended questions.

Be a good listener.

Genuinely thank the customer for the business.

Here is a nine step selling plan that focuses on the stages of a selling transaction from beginning to end from a book entitled “Opening Your Own Retail Store.”

Greet your customer.

Make some general friendly remark.

Find out what the customer’s needs are.

Explain how the product will fill those needs.

Close the sale.

Try to make the extra sale of an accessory or other item.

Thank the customer for shopping in your store.

Walk the customer to the door.

Invite the customer to come back soon.

This book was published in 1977, the paper is yellowing and yet how much has changed at retail? Not much except that the customer has more choices as to where to play golf and buy all the golf related goods that you are selling. Service is a subject that always gets the right buy-in and lip service when brought up. In fact almost every facility brags about their service it is rare however when it is truly executed.

Waiting to meet friends in a pro shop recently, there was an assistant pro on the phone who never acknowledged my presence or even looked my way. I roamed the entire shop as I usually do and stopped a number of times to ponder the merchandise inquisitively. Ten minutes later my friends arrived as we made our way into the bar the assistant was still with his call. Interestingly the bartender knew one of my buddies and began making him a stinger before he sat down while inquiring as to his friend’s names and libations of choice. My guess is that the golf shop and bar are not run by the same person and that if you brought up the subject of customer service with the golf pro he would probably tell you about budget cuts. One thing I don’t have to guess about is that I am not buying anything from his first assistant.

Taetzsch, Lyn, Opening your own Retail Store, Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1977

Relate entries: The Extra Mile - Meeting Two - Pre-Service, The Extra Mile - Meeting One - The Arrival, The Winning Golf Culture