• Selling at the Counter: Giving Customers C.H.O.I.C.E.

    Aug. 1, 2006
    In the last article, we recognized the importance of every counter sales contact, whether on the phone or in person, to the fundamental health and success

    In the last article, we recognized the importance of every counter sales contact, whether on the phone or in person, to the fundamental health and success of your business. We discussed looking beyond simply taking care of the transaction at hand, realizing how each counter sale really represents a larger opportunity. The counter salesperson can identify, create or pursue these opportunities, but for the most part, offer C.H.O.I.C.E.® to every customer, at every contact.

    • Care about the customer and:
    • Help them succeed.
    • Offer your support.
    • Inform them.
    • Coach them on their choices.
    • Encourage them to try something new.
    How Can You BEST Help Your Customers?

    Last time, I asked you to answer the question, “How can I be of the greatest help to my customers?” What did you say? Give them better service? Always have what they want? Answer their questions? Certainly all of those things are important. When you do them, you are taking care of your customer's business needs today. What about his future business needs? By creating a “satisfactory” experience today, what assurance do you have that that customer will come back to you the next time? The answer is “none.” So, one more time, I ask you to think about the question, “How can I be of the greatest help to my customers?” Answer this with your interest in creating a mutually beneficial, ongoing future business relationship in mind. Ask your counter salespeople and see what they say. Send me your best answers ([email protected]), and I'll happily recognize those who actually “get it” in the next article.

    The Importance of Successful Counter Salespeople

    We'll look at this from two perspectives: Why it's important to the company and why it's important to the counter salesperson.

    On the surface, and to most contractors, most distributors appear to be pretty much the same. They have the same stuff to sell, they have lots of locations, they are open the same hours, they all answer questions, they deliver, and so on. In other words, from the contractor's point of view, distributors are essentially a commodity, and they will remain a commodity unless you find a way to create a difference that holds true value to the contractor. In a mature market, which we are in, the best way to differentiate oneself is to do that with people. So, for the vast number of customers who primarily contact you through the counter by phone or in person, the No. 1 potential value-added differentiator is your counter salesperson. In fact, the counter sales experience can, by itself, determine if a customer becomes so satisfied that they turn into a repeat client. For long-term growth, certainly you want all the clients you can create.

    Why should the counter salesperson care about doing anything more than just handling the transaction of the moment? Why should they want to put the effort into creating something more? Well, for starters, it feels good. I believe that a sense of self-worth strongly drives people. If I do something that causes me to feel good about myself, I am likely to repeat that to re-create that feeling in the future. What feeds self-worth? It isn't money, or at least money's not on the top of the list. Having someone show appreciation or getting sincere feedback is the best way to feed self-worth. It should come from someone we know who understands how to convey the idea that what we do is important. Notice the inclusion of “sincere”… which is something you can't fake. So if your counter salesperson is taught something that can help the contractor-client improve sales, improve their profit margins or lower costs, do you think the contractor will sincerely appreciate that? I do.

    What the Contractor-Client Expects from the Distributor

    A Honeywell-sponsored study done by the University of Chicago asked contractors what they wanted from distributors. This is what they said (in order of importance to the contractor):

    • Product Availability.
    • Customer Service.
    • Technical Support.
    • Marketing Support.
    • One-Stop Source.
    • Breadth of Products.
    • Lowest Prices.
    • Close Locations.
    • Financing/Credit.

    It is clear that once the distributor puts the products on the shelf, the next (three) most important ways to add value to what you do for contractors has to do with people-to-people connection. Make customers very satisfied with their buying experience, and they will return.

    HI — WHY — BYE

    So if your counter salesperson represents the best opportunity for your company for value-added differentiation, then we should help them see and understand this and give them some tools to work with. HI — WHY — BYE is a simple formula for customer engagement that will ensure that you treat every customer contact appropriately. It maximizes your chances that they will return to buy from you again.

    Let's take them one at a time.


    So simple… and so often overlooked. We know best how important this is when we don't receive it. We've all gone into a place of business and failed to get a serviceperson's attention or even eye contact. Frustrating in the least, wouldn't you say? Well, when we actually do get attention, that scores big points with us. At some places, we expect it, such as Wal-Mart or Starbucks, and I am convinced that is part of the reason why some of us become clients of those businesses. Here are the fundamentals when meeting in person:

    • Eye contact as soon as possible.
    • Smile.
    • Greeting, including calling by name if known.
    • Rapport-building comment.

    In person, making eye contact as soon as the customer comes in the door, smiling and saying, “Hi, Jack, good to see you. How did your fishing trip go last weekend?”

    On the phone, picking up within three rings, smiling and saying, “Good morning, Action Distributing, this is Tom. How can I help you today?”


    We all have needs, business needs and personal needs. To create a value-added business relationship, you must meet both kinds of needs.

    In business, our fundamental need is to make a profit. You can help your contractor-clients make more bottom-line profit by showing them how to increase sales, increase profit margins or lower costs. Do that, and you earn respect. Continually do that, and you will earn repeat business as well as a friend.

    Personally, we all want everyone to treat us with respect and as an individual. Simply acknowledge your customers as individuals, be curious about them, offer to help them and you will keep them coming back.

    Asking why they are there today, what kind of work they are doing, how they are planning to grow and questions like those will not only tell your client that you care but will tell you how you can help them reach their goals. Do that, and you will become their supplier for life.


    As they leave, make sure it's on a high note, shaking hands and saying, “Thanks for your business, Rick. Appreciate it. Let me know how that new valve works for you, OK?”

    No matter how busy you get, there is always time for a proper Hi and Bye. If you're slammed and they are lined up four-deep at the counter, you may have to cut the Why a little short. No problem, because they understand you're busy… and they will be back!

    Put it to work. Step out from behind the counter and see what happens. It will be fun and effective.

    Until next time, good selling!

    Tom Piscitelli is president of Applied Learning Associates, Inc., an HVACR consulting and sales training company. Contact Tom at 425/985-4534 or [email protected] for information on his seminars.

    HI — WHY — BYE Why It's Important The “Message” Hi!…
    the Greeting First Impression “We value your being here (or your phone call).” Why…
    Uncovering Needs • It's our differentiator
    Needs=Opportunities “We want you to have all the information you need to make the best possible buying decision for you.” Bye…
    Ending the Interaction Last Impression “We're here to support you.”
    “We want you to come back.”
    “You made the right decision.”
    Example QuestionsInformation-gathering What do you…? Idea-communicating Have you ever tried…? Comparing How do you feel about…?
    --------- Vs. --------- Letting the customer “know that you know” Didn't you tell me last week that you were doing a lot of…? Making your customer feel important How did your boy do in the tournament? Issue-raising What are you doing about…?