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Squirrel Spotting: What Happens Between Hello and Goodbye
Peter Smith says stores have to hire salespeople who can successfully execute in the space between pleasantries.
I was talking to my friend Mona recently and she wondered aloud why so many salespeople were good at greeting customers and good at wishing them a good day when they left, but not so good at the stuff in between.
The topic came up because I had been sharing with her recent experiences of mine in which I had been in and out of a few stores over the course of a day and noticed how enthusiastically I was greeted at the door, largely ignored while in the store, and then enthusiastically wished a good day as I left.
Jeez. What’s missing with that picture?
In her book “Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” Angela Duckworth wrote: “Do you know anyone who’s been doing something for a long, long time--maybe their entire professional lives--and yet, the best you can say of their skill is that they’re pretty much OK and not bad enough to fire?”
I wrote in “Hiring Squirrels” that 58 percent of the more than 700 salespeople we profiled over a five-year period should not be in any job that requires them to sell for a living. The operative word there, of course, is “sell.”
It is not that difficult to hire people who meet the basic requirements of a salesperson. They look the part, they may have experience, they convey an honesty and a work ethic that is admirable and attractive; all important stuff.
However, while meeting the aforementioned criteria gets you to enthusiastic hellos and pleasant goodbyes, it does nothing to suggest the ability to deliver the important stuff in between those two things: selling product.
It confounds me to say it, but “selling” is almost a dirty word in our business. It suggests a foisting on unsuspecting customers of things they simply don’t want. It assumes that the steps prior did not include open-ended questions, an emotional connection with the customer or active listening. All of that, of course, is complete bunk.
The backgrounds of these two women could not have been more different: one had been a competitive ice skater (How many times do you think she fell on her backside and had to pick herself up?) and the other had started school to be a radiologist before deciding it was not for her.
Once they had been interviewed (using the questions from “Hiring Squirrels”) and measured, it was clear they had the necessary wiring to be successful in sales. They were competitive, they were resilient and they had empathy.
What was most pleasing, although not surprising, was that the respective owners were able to identify almost immediately that there was something different in them. They could see that they wanted to engage customers, and they had no fear about not having every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted when it came to knowing about the merchandise before asking for the sale.
What those two stores hired for was the stuff in the middle. The willingness to engage customers. The ability to ask open-ended questions and empathically listen and observe. The make-up to be able to face rejection and not allow it to dissuade them from engaging the next customer and the customer after that.
Appropriate greetings and enthusiastic goodbyes matter in retail. They matter a lot. But if you can’t execute the stuff in between, you’re not going to make a very good salesperson. Executing the stuff in the middle requires a base understanding that the salesperson’s job is to inspire the customer to make a purchase. That’s how the business survives, pays the bills and stays in that community to continue to serve customers in the years to come.
As someone wisely said, nothing happens until someone sells something. It has never been truer, and we ought to embrace that dictum wholeheartedly. So keep up the pleasant hellos and the sincere goodbyes, but don’t forget to sell something in between those two pleasantries. That’s what makes the world go around.
Peter Smith is president of Vibhor, a public speaker and author of “Sell Something” and “Hiring Squirrels.” He spent 30 years building sales teams in retail and wholesale and he can be contacted at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
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