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You’re Killing the Sale Before it Even Starts

Next month I am unveiling some new presentations at the Independent Garden Center Show in Chicago. One of those presentations is called “10 Mistakes that Sideline the Sale – Don’t Let Them Kill Your Mojo!” The blurb for the presentation starts with …

“You know not to say, ‘Can I help you?’ but do you know the other five Deal Killer Phrases?”

Apparently, if this past week was any indication, a lot of people still don’t know not to say, “Can I help you?” I heard this phrase not once, but three times at three different retail locations I visited in the past week.

When the third person asked me that question, I almost answered, “Yes, the first thing you can do to help me is never ask me or anyone else that question ever again.”

Instead I said, “No thanks. I’m just browsing.”

I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to say something else. I wanted to break the habit, but it is so ingrained in our vernacular that I said the two worst possible things you can ever get a customer to say in your store.

I said I didn’t want any help and I said I didn’t want to buy anything.

I said it out loud. I said it for the whole world to hear including myself. I told you and myself that I wasn’t going to buy anything. Now I have to overcome that mentality to make the purchase I came in to make. Now the salesperson has to overcome that rejection to make a sale.

Yet, when the salesperson hears, “No thanks, just browsing,” they typically walk away and leave the customer alone.

You’re killing sales with those four words before they even have a chance to start. You need to work incredibly hard with your staff and yourself to eliminate that phrase (and the variations like, “HOW may I help you?”) from your vernacular and work on different greetings.

I once did an exercise with my staff to come up with different ways to greet a customer without asking them a question that turns off the sales process. We came up with thirty-one different greetings. The first four were …

  1. Say Hello
  2. Call the customer by name
  3. Ask, “How are you doing?”
  4. Say, “Thank you for coming in.”

You put those four together into one simple greeting and you have a far better opening with the customer than, “Can I help you?” Sure, asking, “How are you?” also gets a knee-jerk response, but wouldn’t you rather have a customer say “fine” than “no?”

Bob Phibbs, aka the Retail Doctor, adds one more element to that greeting. He teaches that you should walk by the customer with that greeting, preferably with a prop in your hand such as a clipboard or a product, something that signals to the customer that you are busy with something else. After thanking the customer for coming in, you add, “I’ll be back in a little bit to check on how you’re doing.”

Two parts of that approach are brilliant. First, you’ve given the customer space. Some customers, especially men and introverts (that’s 75% of the population for those of you keeping count), prefer a little space. They don’t want a salesperson to pounce on them the moment they walk through the door. Second, the fact that you’re “busy” with something else makes you more approachable. I have seen it several times on the sales floor. The customer would rather go talk to the busy person stocking shelves than the free salesperson looking to help them. The customer feels less threatened by the busy person because that person doesn’t have an agenda.

“Hey Phil, how are you doing? Thanks for coming in. I have to go put these boxes away. I’ll come back and check on you in a little bit. Okay?”

You’ll have to work hard to coax the bad habit of asking, “Can I help you?” out of your vocabulary. It is almost as knee-jerk of a reaction to say that as it is to respond, “No thanks.” But if you want to make more sales, the easiest place to start is by removing the phrases that kill the sale before it even has a chance to start.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I’ve talked about another bad phrase recently, one most often said at checkout. “Did you find everything?” This one isn’t a sale-killer, but it sure is a mood-killer. After the IGC Show, I’ll tell you the other five phrases to avoid.

PPS There are five new presentations—all on the sales process—that I will be rolling out at IGC. I’ll be talking more about them after the show and how they can help your sales team.

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