Use these 5 techniques to become a sales slugger

By Gordon Hecht, YSN Contributor

It was more than just a loss for Major League Baseball last month. Willie Mays, one of the all-time greats, passed away at age 93. His accomplishments on and off the field are woven into to the fabric of our nation’s culture.

His professional career started three weeks after he turned 17, playing for the Birmingham Black Giants. It ended 25 years later by leading a lackluster New York Mets team to an improbable seventh game of the 1973 World Series.

During his time in the majors, Mr. Mays trailed only Babe Ruth in career home runs, batted over .300, stole more bases than any other player in the 1950s and won 12 consecutive Gold Glove awards for defensive excellence.

Willie Mays was also recognized as one of the first “five-tool” baseball players. It’s a rarity even today. The five tools are:

  1. Speed. The ability to steal bases and catch up to a hard-hit ball. All things being equal, speed is the tiebreaker.
  2. Arm Strength. Meaning throwing the baseball. Especially important for outfielders. Fast and accurate throwing stops runners from advancing on the base path.
  3. Fielding Ability. Excelling at fundamentals. Catching the ball on the fly or on the ground.
  4. Hitting for Average. Getting on base. Moving other baserunners along. Creating that clutch two-out RBI hit.
  5. Hitting for Power. That means home runs. The out-of-the-ballpark long ball is indefensible.

Retail selling has its own tool chest. Many salespeople possess a few of the tools that ensure success. Fewer salespeople spend time to develop the attributes that can make them excel.

Here are the five tools that I believe are important in becoming a sales superstar:

1. Listening. Top salespeople master the skill of active listening. They hear what their shoppers have to say. They look for clues to the hot buttons that convert shoppers into buyers. Great salespeople know that when shoppers are talking, shoppers are buying. They don’t rush the conversation just to move onto the next “up.”

2. People Knowledge. High-producing salespeople thrive on the variation in personalities, needs and wants of the buying public. They understand that people are not cut from whole cloths. They adapt their presentations based on their audience.

Further, the best retail sales associates understand that there are common roadblocks to closing a sale. Objections to price, delivery time or durability concerns can kill a sale. Those top people craft and rehearse logical responses to basic shopper stonewalls.

3. Willingness to Sell All Product Categories. Mediocre and average salespeople sell the merchandise they like. Best performers show and sell every category in their shop’s display. They take their personal preferences out of the sale and focus on what the shopper needs and wants.

High earners understand that when they shut out one or two categories from their sales presentation, they are actively cutting their earnings by 20% or more. Their holistic approach to selling means that they show the shopper everything they need and let the shopper choose what they buy.

4. Active Prospecting. Willie Mays was an all-star with a .300 batting average. He left the plate without a hit 70% of the time. Your high-closing salespeople are probably selling about 60% of the people they greet. That’s a 40% failure rate.

High closers strive for 100% impact rate. That means a “second swing” at the people they don’t sell. It means texting the non-buying shopper with a “thank you.” It’s also asking permission to stay connected about specials or new merchandise. It means handing five business cards to every shopper. Whether or not they buy. Just to give to friends and family who may be in the market for the products we sell.

5. After-Sale Service. Your No. 1 salespeople know that selling doesn’t stop once they see the shopper’s taillights leaving the parking lot. That’s when their second job begins. First, a written or texted thank you note. Then a review of the sales order to make sure the documentation reflects the customer’s choice and expectation.

Best performers will track order arrival and delivery dates. Some may also give a final inspection to outgoing orders. They realize every hour spent fixing a problem is an hour less to sell new people.

Most of all, five-tool players know that every interaction can only become a sale when they have sold themselves to the customer. Knowledge. Trust. Dependability.

They know it’s six times easier to sell a previous customer than a new shopper. Tack on the fact that happy customers have a circle of influence with friends, neighbors and relatives. Top people cultivate that relationship to drive more personal trade of pre-sold shoppers.

These are not the only tools to successful selling. Incorporating financing, teaching the value of product protection plans, personal dress and image, networking and more could be added.

Willie Mays and other five-tool players got their talents naturally. (You can’t teach speed!) Conversely, “born salesman” is an obsolete term. None of the five tools of selling come naturally, but they can all be trained and learned. The only natural ability needed is the ability to be coached.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at

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