• January 10, 2020
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Required Reading: Dialogue Is the Key to Retail Sales Success

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Veteran sales trainer Rob Fishman notes in his new book, Retail Sales Success in an Online World: How to Compete and Win in the Amazon Era, that companies need to come to grips with the realities of how consumers shop today. If they don’t, they risk joining the many businesses that flourished in earlier years but failed to adapt, losing market share and ultimately being forced to close. CRM Editor Leonard Klie interviewed Fishman to find out more.

CRM: The book starts by pointing out that many retailers have failed recently. To what do you attribute this?

Fishman: Those that have failed, failed to adapt. The rapidly changing retail landscape has forced brick-and-mortar retailers to seriously rethink their value propositions, to embrace the communications technologies that now lie at the heart of most consumers’ lives, to enrich the online experience, and to balance all of these efforts with a commitment to interact more effectively, in person and elsewhere, with every prospective customer. These adaptations are non-negotiable in the current environment.

One of the reasons cited is a failure by retailers to adapt to a new customer mind-set. What is this mind-set, and how has it changed?

Retail customers today are armed with much deeper levels of knowledge, and that knowledge has changed the way they think about purchases. They assume that they can pull out their phones or switch on their laptops and very quickly get the information they need to make an informed decision. The question they start with when they approach a retailer is not about cost or availability, because they probably already know the answers to those questions. Their mind-set is more along the lines of, “Given all of the available options, why should I buy from you?” Retailers that succeed have a good answer for that question.

Throughout the book, you emphasize the need to exceed customer expectations, not just meet them. How do companies determine what customers want when many do not even know themselves?

Simple. You start a dialogue. You continue that dialogue over time. And you use that dialogue to support the customer experience. Regardless of how it starts, the goal is always to find a way to continue the dialogue, using whatever platform and mode of communication the customer prefers. Exceeding expectations might actually start with how you respond when a problem arises.

You suggest designing a sales process that makes it easy for people to buy from you. Can you elaborate on that?

Again, it all goes back to the quality of the dialogue. The goal of any viable retail sales process must be to build rapport and create an environment where the customer feels comfortable engaging in an authentic, unforced conversation with you. That’s the opposite of what happens in most retail settings. Usually, retail customers don’t feel like they’re taking part in a natural conversation. They feel sold to. When we try to sell to people, when we skip the part about connecting as human beings, customers put up their defenses. They tune us out. An effective retail selling process makes people feel like they’re just talking to you, not one that makes them feel like they’ve been targeted for some kind of one-size-fits-all sales pitch. The process that does the opposite of that is basically: “Go make a friend.” But that takes training and practice.

You also suggest tracking critical success metrics. What are these metrics, and why are they important?

Critical success metrics for keeping a good customer would include the total number of visits to our physical stores, total number of visits to our website, total number of touches that we initiate via digital means or the mail, and year-over-year figures reflecting the revenue generated by that customer. If we don’t have the tools and resources to collect, update, and analyze that data for the top 10 percent of our customer base—the people we really want to make sure keep coming back, the people who are loyal ambassadors of our brand—then we’re basically pointing them toward the competition.

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