25 July 2024, 09:48
By Nick Waller Aug 19, 2013

Opening a sale is as physical as it is verbal

Have you ever walked near a customer without even saying a word and still hear that they’re “just looking”? You might wonder what you did to provoke this response – according to Nick Waller, the truth is that you probably didn’t do anything, per se. But it is another example of how resistant customers are to salespeople …

How about this situation – you’re working on a display and there are two or three other salespeople in the store. Who does the customer come to? You, of course. Why? Because you’re busy and don’t appear to be pushy or aggressive. Customers feel that they can interrupt you, get their question answered and make a clean get-away.

Violating customers’ perceived personal space
People need and want personal shopping freedom. The way you approach a customer can be viewed by that customer as an intrusion on their personal space. As you approach a customer, one of three things may happen: the customer goes off in another direction to avoid contact; the customer immediately goes on the defensive and gives you a reactive line such as “I’m just looking” before you even get a chance to say a word; or the customer tells you what they want.

“Have you noticed that customers come up to you every time you’re busy and avoid you like the plague when you look like you’re waiting to pounce on them?”

The 180° pass-by
Many customers become uncomfortable when you approach them directly, even if you’ve approached them without invading their personal space. A technique known as the 180° pass-by is a very effective indirect approach that puts the customer at ease, and in many cases actually makes them look forward to your full attention.

As you make your approach, you should have something in your hand. This gives the customer the impression that you have something on your mind other than making a sale. Looking busy has always been a key strategy in opening the sale.

The reason this technique is so effective is because it merely involves walking quickly past the customer, offering a casual “hello” and then making a turn and actually approaching the customer afterwards.

To use the 180° pass-by effectively, four steps should be followed. Firstly, have something in your hand. Again, this makes you look busy. It could be anything from a pencil to merchandise to a sheet of paper.

Secondly, as you get close to the customer, make eye contact, smile and offer a short greeting. As you catch their eye, say something such as “hello,” “how are you?” etc. Don’t stop as you are greeting the customer, just keep walking.

Thirdly, don’t walk in the customers’ direct paths. Customers feel as though they own the space in front of them. You can cross it, but don’t walk directly toward customers. Otherwise, they will try to avoid you by getting a display or something physical between you and them. Also, walk past customers as though you are on an important mission – as though you were walking past anyway and just decided to say hello on your way.

Fourthly, come back to a safe distance and deliver your opening line. I can’t over emphasise that you need to be careful to leave enough room so they feel comfortable.

At times, it may be impractical to use this technique exactly as described – but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a modified version. For example, if you’re working behind a counter, simply look up and say “hello.” Then, briefly, go back to what you were doing. This has almost the same effect as physically walking by the customer. Chances are that you’re probably unconsciously using this technique now. Have you noticed that customers come up to you every time you’re busy and avoid you like the plague when you look like you’re waiting to pounce on them?

Using the 180° pass-by
You spot a customer coming into the store. You put something in your hand and start the approach, walking parallel to the customer. You have a huge smile on your face and as you get near you say “hello,” or “how are you?” You wait for a reply as you continue to walk and pass them by. You make the turn and say something like “I can tell by the number of bags you’re carrying that there must be some great sales on. What am I missing by being locked up in the store today?” The customer will generally respond with comfortable conversation.

The big decision now is whether to get right into business or keep chatting? Of course, you keep on chatting. The extra 30 seconds you spend in making conversation will help to develop rapport and dispel any resistance and fear they may have.

Making easy conversation
Any time you have the opportunity to chat in a non-business conversation with your customers, take it. They want it. It makes them feel special. And it’s fun. People like it when other people take an interest in them personally. Nobody wants to be treated as if they’re a number or just another customer.

People are more comfortable when they’re talking to other people who seem genuinely interested in what they have to say. It’s far more important for you to get customers talking than it is for you to carry the conversation. The more customers speak with you, the more they begin to feel comfortable with you as a person, not a salesperson.

To overcome customers’ resistance to being approached directly, focus on proceeding in a friendlier, less threatening way by using the 180° pass-by. Customers are drawn to people who look busy – so act busy. Then, once you open the conversation, let them keep talking, and you’ll be well on your way to closing the sale.

Nick Waller owns Driving Performance, a specialist in improving sales and service performance.

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