Crisis In Confidence

Get Back To Selling!

There’s no debate: Salesmanship is a perishable skill. The ability to engage with a customer and close a profitable sale is something that must be learned and honed over time. Without constant practice, the level of salesmanship dramatically diminishes.

When demand for products hits record-setting highs, the art of salesmanship can go out the window as salespersons become transaction facilitators. This is exactly what many stores have experienced over the past two years. So, what do we do about this? Get back to selling!

The Worst Type Of Transaction

During the past two and a half years, the level of demand saw most stores struggling to keep relevant inventory in stock. When they did, it would evaporate off the shelves and often end up being a single-item transaction. Single-item transactions are the least profitable transaction for a store.

To do some basic math, if we consider payroll expenses constitute 16% of our gross revenues, it means we immediately lose 16 points of margin on the single item we sold. For accessories, this means we lose half of our total profit margin before even considering any other business expenses. (That’s right — half.)

“If our team starts asking questions focused on understanding the goals of our customers — instead of the products — we can easily discover what our customers are trying to achieve.”

However, if we can simply add one more item to a transaction — like selling a second box of the same ammunition instead of just one — we can lessen the negative impact of payroll on profits.

Another way to think about this is to focus on the productivity levels your sales team delivers in the shortest amount of time. If we can do this, we can lower the negative impacts payroll has on our profitability.

Adjust Your Focus

This is where selling skills deliver! During the pandemic, the biggest problem a customer had, that a store could solve, was simply having the product in stock.

At the end of the day, the goal of what any retail store should be focusing on is solving customer problems. Selling products and/or services is the dividend of the process and should never be the focus. You read that right: The focus shouldn’t be on selling products or services.

This is a problem many stores are currently facing. Their sales team has become so used to the transactional environment of selling products to customers one product at a time, they’re continuing this behavior in an environment where stores are much better inventoried.

Over the past six months, I’ve traveled extensively around the country visiting stores along the way and engaging with their sales teams. The most common outcome in my interactions with team members was their sole focus on the one item that “brought me by today.” They’d simply ring me up and send me on my way.

Hardly anyone even asked me what use I had planned for the item I purchased. Was the box of 9mm ammo being used for my Prepper hoard, range day at my farm, a gift for a friend or whatever possible end use I might have had for it?

If our team starts asking questions focused on understanding the goals of our customers — instead of the products — we can easily discover what they are are trying to achieve. Once we know their plans, goals or expectations of their journey, we’re able to open up the conversation to more products we can add to the sale because it might solve their problem better (or go beyond) and even find solutions to problems the customer might not know they have.

Dave Tobel of Capital Sports (Helena, Mont.) knows his customer base well enough that when a
vintage Springfield Armory 1911-A1 or 100-year-old Mauser Model A Sporter in 8x57 comes in,
he can call in an interested customer and close the sale.

Encourage Open-Ended Questions

At the core of all this is sales team members need to start asking more experience and/or goal-oriented questions to customers. We do this by asking open-ended questions such as, “Hi Mr. Smith, great to see you today! What are you up to this weekend?” or “Dr. Jones, what is it about this pistol that interests you the most?” and then listening closely to their response to help prompt us to either ask more questions or suggest more products that help the customer achieve their goals.

A simple way to judge whether a salesperson is heading down the right path is to generalize how much the customer is talking compared to how much the salesperson is talking. The split should settle somewhere around 80/20, where the customer is doing 80% of the talking. If we stick to this rule it forces us to ask good, open-ended questions.

In this approach, our customer gives us lots of valuable information about their product preferences, goals or any other factor that will influence their purchasing journey. Once we have this wealth of knowledge about our customer’s needs it lets the salesperson lean on their expertise of products and services and suggest the best-fit solutions for the customer. Note: I said “products and services” — not just one item.

It’s incredibly rare when a customer truly only needs one product. It’s like someone going to a hardware store and buying a drill; they likely also need bits, extra batteries, fasteners, grommets, anchors or a plethora of other related items (many of which they may not know they need to complete their project).

We All Want The Same Thing

All told, now that customers are back to more normal purchasing patterns, products becoming more available and margins normalizing, it becomes imperative we get our sales teams back on a path of engaging with customers at a different level than we have seen for the past few years. This becomes especially timely with the increase in payroll costs in hiring quality employees. To stay profitable, we must improve sales productivity.

Stores need to make this transition sooner than later to avoid sacrificing its customer base to its competitor who does. It takes you to train your team, encourage them to ask questions and get customers talking as much as possible. If the sales team can do this, you’ll see increased profits, happier customers and your store benefiting from improved customer loyalty. Isn’t that what we all want?

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