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Q - I’ve heard you say that to really succeed as a dealer, I need to be both a good shopkeeper and a good salesman. What’s that really mean?
A - Shopkeeping is basically about minding the store: keeping it clean, keeping it stocked, keeping it organized. Do those basic things right and it will keep you in business. (See my column in August 2011 Professional Distributor for more on merchandising your truck.)
On the other hand, if you want to be more profitable, you need to do more than just be a shopkeeper taking orders. You need to be a salesman raking in orders. Let me explain...
One Christmas, when I was about five, I learned a most valuable life lesson.
I’d asked Santa for a G.I. Joe with “Life-Like Hair” for Christmas. I waited anxiously, watching every TV commercial and carefully noting all the details from the steely glint in his eye to the scar on his cheek.
Finally came the big day. In my family, we had a bit of a tradition when I was a kid: we could open one gift on Christmas Eve. The rest were saved for Christmas morning. So after a busy day of festivities, this over-tired kindergartener sized-up the gifts and chose a package about the right size and shape for an action figure.
I tore open the wrapping and, with wide eyes, carefully inspected the box. Then, in anger, I hurdled the toy at the tree and ran from the room crying.
My mom chased after me.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, confused.
“He doesn’t have Kung Fu Grip!” I sobbed.
I don’t know if that’s how it really came down. But that’s the way I remember it.
It seems I didn’t get G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip because I wasn’t specific enough in my request.
I learned two things that Christmas: 1.) If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it, and 2.) Santa isn’t to be trusted.
The first point is true in business, today. You won’t get more sales if you don’t ask for more sales. Having shelves stocked with great tools is great. Customers will buy some stuff from you. But customers will buy much more if you ask them for orders -- especially for orders on those big ticket items that generate big bucks.
Whenever possible, try to ask for the order on the spot the first time a customer inquires about an item. I can’t tell you how many dealers have told me the same sad story about letting a customer think over a purchase until next week only to have the customer buy a toolbox or some expensive piece of equipment from another dealer before the week was up. I’m sure it’s happened to you before.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the order. If the customer says “no,” take a few minutes to ask a few questions and point out a few more product benefits. Then ask for the order again. I learned years ago that you’ll earn a lot more sales by not taking the first “no” as an answer.
Takeaway: A good salesman asks for the order. A great salesman is willing to ask for the order again.
Q - I’ve tried being more “sales-y” in my approach as a dealer... It’s not helping. It doesn’t come naturally. I feel pushy and my customers are not responding positively.
A - I think when most people think of a typical salesperson, they assume good salespeople are pushy. They’re not. The 20 percent of top-earning salespeople in any market are not pushy, they’re persuasive. It’s the 80 percent of the less successful salespeople that breed that fast-talking, high-pressure stereotype. When is the last time you bought from a pushy salesperson?
Studies show the best salespeople tend to talk less and listen more.
So, don’t give up on using salesmanship to increase your sales. Give up on the unproductive tactics you’re using. Here’s a technique that might be more natural and more successful for you: Ask good questions and listen to the answers. That’s it.
It’s amazing how rare those two skills are.
My wife is great at asking questions. Sometimes too great. Take, for example a recent shopping trip...
Beth: “What do you think of those two pairs of shoes you tried on?”
Me: “These brown ones are more comfortable.”
Beth: “What about the other ones?”
Me: “I like the way they look better.”
Beth: “Think they’re more stylish?”
Me: “I guess you could say that.”
Beth: “So, what if you buy the brown ones for everyday and the other ones for special occasions?”
You’d think she worked for the department store. (I ended up buying both.)
But her technique can teach us something about persuasion. She didn’t tell me which shoe was more comfortable or which was more stylish. I made that decision. She just asked me questions. Then using that information, she closed the sale by asking a question that suggested I buy both instead of just one. And I bit.
If she had told me those things instead of asking me, I might have balked. I might have even left the store not buying either if she wasn’t listening to my responses. But by using simple questions she drew me in.
Think about how you can use the same technique when you’re selling a ratchet set, an air tool or a toolbox. Ask the customer what he thinks and use that to close the deal.
And don’t forget to ask for the order.
Takeaway: Ask good questions, listen carefully and you’ll close more sales.