Relationship-Building Is Only the First Step to Closing Retail Sales

Our success in this industry revolves around the ability of retail associates to build relationships with customers new and old, and in my 20 years of experience turning around troubled companies and retail locations, I’ve witnessed the same basic principles lead to success every time: relationship building, providing and fulfilling a need, and closing the sale.

These are the basics that you need to master if you want to not only be a great sales associate, but build a team of talented associates that results in success for the whole company. I’d like to share my wisdom on how to hone these skills.

I managed brick-and-mortar retail stores for more than 15 years and ran a “top five” store out of 100 in North Carolina. I was always in the top three for sales in the state personally, and was responsible for training all the associates, store managers and district managers in North Carolina — about 25 people each month. It was these years of training that shaped my beliefs about sales and management, and my tried-and-true method for success. Now, as the national sales director for United Consortium (System Jo), my view hasn’t changed. It’s still all about people.


People buy from friends, so as a sales person you must develop the ability to create a friendship immediately. Don’t worry, this can be learned! I’ve watched the shyest associates go from staring at their feet when customers walk in the door to actively participating with a few simple strategies.

Start with the first impression. Greet your customer at the soonest appropriate time, tell them your name and ask for theirs. There is nothing people like more than to hear their own names because it fosters the feeling of a “custom” experience. You can say, “Welcome! My name is Brian. And you are…?” Be excited to see them, give them a big smile and use an inviting tone of voice. I actually use a higher tone of voice when I deal with customers directly because I’ve noticed that it gets better results.

Remember that excitement is contagious. The customer will only be as excited to see you as you are to see them. If you’re gazing at the floor, why should they bother to engage? I used to tell my trainees, “Think about someone you’re excited to see every time you see them. How do they behave when you meet?” I always got the same answer: “They light up when they notice me, they smile and rush to give me a hug. They make me feel good.” I can think of several people like that in our industry, and whenever I go to events I anticipate seeing them because, let’s face it, we all want to feel good!

Creating & Fulfilling a Need

Every customer that walks through your door has a need they did not know they had, and you’re going to give it to them. Let’s say they come in looking for a specific toy. Great! Take them right to it. Then add, “If you like this, I think you would love this one!” Start walking to it and motion for them to follow. Choose the most expensive toy that is similar to the one they were seeking, believe it’s the best, and create a story for that item.

Story is a key element of this process. You can sell nothing without a story. Personal ones are the best, but if you do not have a personal story, steal one from someone else! You have nothing to lose by giving them some interesting details of your own or someone else’s experience with this toy or line of toys, and of course they can always say, “No, I want the other one.” You’re still making a sale. But why not build on their need, and use your expertise to guide them toward a fuller basket? “Great. Let’s get you that toy you came for, and then you’re going to need these, too!” Start walking to the accessories that go with the toy. They will follow.

You are the expert. Remember, you only need to know one more thing than someone else to be an expert at something. “You will need this toy cleaner,” for example. Start with the most expensive. “Oh, you will need this lube,” you can say. Then start walking and they will follow. Do they have a loved one they want to be more intimate with? Have they seen the incredible items that just went on sale? Is there a question they have that may seem less embarrassing now that you are “friends”? You can even tell a story about a question that someone else once asked you that turned out not to be as embarrassing as the customer thought.

Closing the Sale

Believe it or not, I have seen sales lost time and time again due to not asking simple questions to get the customer to the register. After all the work put in with this person, you must make a closing statement that leads to finalizing the sale.

Here are the four main types of closes:

  1. Assume the sale: “Did you want to pay with cash or credit?”
  2. Give options: “Did you want me to ring you up for this toy or the other?”
  3. Suggestion close: “Based on your needs, I think this would be the best for you. Ready to take this home today?”
  4. Urgency: “Let’s ring you up. We just got these back in stock, and they keep selling out!”

I believe in these three principles, and I’m happy to share my wisdom with you because lifting up others is a win-win. Before my life in business operations, I was an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army assisting in public relations. I worked with the United Nations Honor Guard in Korea and traveled the country parachuting into airshows. It was an exhilarating time in my life, and I’ll never forget that feeling of winning over new people every day as a representative of my country.

I’ve carried those relationship-building skills with me into the business world and found that it’s the formula for success. I hope it works for you too!

Relationship-Building Is Only the First Step to Closing Retail Sales by Brian Woolard originally appeared in XBIZ

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