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

Have you ever thought about what it would mean to your business if every contractor who bought something from your counter, in person or on the phone, bought just one more item? Or upgraded it just one level higher? You know that once the basic transaction is completed, any incremental sale puts all the gross profit from that sale to the bottom line.

When you go to McDonald's and the 16-year-old asks, “Would you like fries with that?” she is asking for the add-on sale. When she asks, “Would you like to super-size that drink?” she is asking for an upgrade. Think about it. Think about how many orders your counter salespeople write and what it would mean if “fries” and “super-sizing” were offers made to everyone. Getting hungry?

In this series of articles, we are going to look at how to train and coach your counter salespeople to happily, willingly engage every customer, create and build a business relationship wherever they can, and leverage that relationship into increased business for the customer and for you.

Here's where we are headed:

  • What is C.H.O.I.C.E.®?
  • Understanding what the customer wants.
  • Why we can't do what we've always done?
  • Why it's important to the company that the counter salesperson is successful.
  • Why it's important to the counter salespeople that the company is successful.
  • What the contractor-customer expects from the distributor.
  • HI — WHY — BYE: Customer Service Best Practices.
  • How to Differentiate Ourselves from Competition.
    • In person and on the phone
    • Proper greeting and rapport
    • Ask questions
    • Determine needs
  • Counterperson Essential Skills.
    • Phone and in person: when busy/not busy
    • Greeting
    • Probing
    • Benefit selling
    • Sales/Value scale
    • Expanding features into benefits
    • Giving C.H.O.I.C.E.®
    • Upgrading/Add-on
    • Asking for the order
    • Objection handling and asking again
  • The Sales Success Circle… Keeping It All Going!

What Is C.H.O.I.C.E.®?

I'm using the word “choice” to underscore a fundamental responsibility we have as someone who serves another (that's how I see “selling”… as a service). The customer comes to us for help. On the surface, it seems that all they want from us is product, availability and price. When you look deeper, what you see is that they are trying to solve their customers' problems in exchange for payment. The solution may include the use of the product they are purchasing from you, but it also includes a lot more, including the proper installation of the product, the reliability of the product, the performance of the product and the benefits that the product brings to the customer.

For example, we all know that a good-quality (they are not all created equal) electronic programmable thermostat has many customer benefits over a basic snap-switch or mercury thermostat. These benefits include more comfort, more convenience, longer equipment life, peace of mind and saving money. When we sell a basic replacement thermostat without taking a moment to ask our contractor-customer if their customer might be interested in these benefits, then I believe we are not providing a basic service to our customers that they would appreciate. We need to give them a C.H.O.I.C.E.®:

  • Care about the customer.
  • Help them be successful.
  • Offer your support.
  • Inform them if they want information.
  • Coach them on their choices.
  • Encourage them to try something new.

How Can You Help Your Customers?

Ask yourself the question, “How can I be of the greatest help to my customers?” Write your answer in the margin of this article. I'm not going to give you my thoughts on that right now… we'll see how your thoughts on that question evolve as you read this series.

Understanding What the Customer Wants

I've called on hundreds of distributors and worked for two of them. Of all the jobs one could have in wholesaling, I think the counter sales position is the most challenging. The contractor-customer expects them to wait on them instantly, expects them to know every part in inventory, expects them to have every part they want in stock, expects them to know how every part is installed and expects them to know how to service everything, and they have to handle all of that about 50 times a day, every day. My employers were smart enough to make sure I never worked the counter. They wanted to keep their customers.

With all of that going on, it's no wonder that the “routine” of the job numbs most counter salespeople into simply doing a great job of order-taking. In busy times, even the best can barely keep up with just that. But what about the rest of the time when they actually have a discretionary moment? How can they put that time to good use?

The answer to that is all around us. What happens when you go into a Starbucks or Seattle's Best or Caribou Coffee store? (I am from Seattle, so my example has to be around coffee.) If you were conscious about it, you'd notice all of these things:

  • The store was convenient to get to.
  • There is ample parking.
  • It looks inviting from the outside.
  • When you walk in, it is a pleasant place.
  • Someone makes eye contact with you right away.
  • They smile.
  • They greet you.
  • If they know you, they call you by name.
  • They engage you in light conversation.
  • They seem to appreciate you being there.
  • They serve you well.
  • You cheerfully pay $4 for $.25 worth of caffeine and sugar.
  • You leave happy.
  • You tell your friends about it.
  • You go again… and again… and again.

This isn't only Starbucks; it's the way the best companies treat their customers. Why? Because they want them to come back! They want clients. From here on out, I'm going to refer to your contractor-customers as clients, because that's what you want to create and keep.

So, if your clients experience this type of treatment in their personal world, what does this type of conditioning do to their expectations in the business world? The same thing!

What does this have to do with “what the customer wants”? Everything. We must treat clients this way if we want to keep their business. This fundamental behavior on our part will establish a solid relational foundation that we can grow on. Folks, it isn't about the product… they can get that anywhere. It's about the relationship they have with your company, and the counter salesperson is the gatekeeper to many, if not most, of your clients.

Why We Can't Do What We've Always Done?

My friend, mentor and coach John Sedgwick has spoken and written extensively about this. In a nutshell, he has explained how our industry has changed from a growth stage (not enough wholesalers) to a maturity stage (too many wholesalers), and so the inevitable shakeout has occurred and continues to occur. Your clients have many choices on where they can buy the same products with the same good service and lower and lower prices. It's a cold and cruel thing, isn't it? Actually, I don't think so. I think all this competition forces us to rethink our position in the market, to reconnect with our clients and to reassess how we can be of the greatest value to our customers (there's that question again).

Stay the same… and die a slow death. Change in a way that creates value to your clients… and grow.

Next time, we'll look at:

  • Why it's important to the company that the counter salesperson is successful.
  • Why it's important to the counter salesperson that the company is successful.
  • What the contractor-customer expects from the distributor.
  • HI — WHY — BYE: Customer Service Best Practices.

Until then, 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.

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