Let Your Customer Win the Battle if You Want to Win the War

By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

I don’t believe in the old saw “The customer is always right,” but I do believe that it is our job to make them right.

In the retail world it’s all too easy to win the battle and lose the war — otherwise known as a profitable sale. The battlefield where this plays out for many retailers and their sales teams is competitive comparisons. Here’s an example: Imagine you carry Brand X and Brand Y but not Brand Z. A shopper enters your door and asks your salesperson, “Do you carry Brand Z?” The way he or she responds can cause a quick exit, a battle and shaming, or a logical presentation ending in a sale.

Back in the old days of selling, before iFruit phones and the Interwebs, consumers depended on retail sales associates for information to make decisions. Shoppers often went to three or more stores, saw three or more brands at each store, and made a decision that worked for them. 

Flash forward to now. In many cases your next shopper is more educated on product specs and acquisition than your sales team. Before you troll me on that statement, understand that your customer has studied three to ten manufacturer websites followed by another three to ten retailer websites, some of them not even in your town. By the time they drive into your parking lot, many shoppers have a fairly solid notion of what they want.

Back to your shopper asking about Brand Z, the one you don’t carry. Here are two typical responses and one atypical one that your sales team may be using. Combined they have at least a 67 percent failure rate.

Response A: “Sorry, we don’t carry that brand.” This leads to a quick 180-degree spin and your shopper, like Elvis, has left the building. You’ve lost the battle and the sale.

Response B: “We don’t carry Brand Z,” followed by “Too many problems with it”; “Too many returns”; “Too expensive”; “Our shoppers hated it”; and/or “Takes too long to get.” Then follow that with, “But we do carry Brand X and Brand Y; they are almost as good” or “much better.”

While all the negatives about Brand Z may be true, it is, for the moment, your shopper’s choice. She has done her research and Brand Z is at or near the top of her list. Listing all the negatives about Z is the same as calling her spouse, baby and dog ugly at the same time. That shopper may spend a few more minutes in your store, but she’ll say her forever goodbye when she states, “I’ll be back.” Kudos to your salesperson — he has triumphed on the battlefield and failed at the cash register.

Response C: “Brand Z is a good product and some people really like it. When we went to the last Mattress Market, we saw a lot of brands. We decided to carry Brand X and Brand Y because we are convinced that you’ll get more mattress for a less money. If you have five minutes, I’ll show you what that means to you.”

No sale is a sure thing, but when you enter a battle by letting your shopper know that her research and her original choice is valid, you have won the round of opening her mind to other possibilities. It will be rare that a shopper won’t invest a few moments to save money and get a great product that may even be more than she bargained for.

Response C is just a starting point, but armed with relevant product and retailer knowledge of your merchandise as well as the store down the street, your sales team can make a logical comparison resulting in your product winning and the register ringing.

And when that happens, you, your sales team and your shopper (now promoted to customer) all win the war.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding. You can reach him at ghecht@sertasimmons.com.