Not long ago my wife and I were planning a get-together with some friends and wanted to serve a cheese board after dinner. So, we ventured to a local market to look for some cheeses.

We asked for one particular cheese at the first vendor we visited and were told that they did not carry it. No effort was made to recommend anything else and we left without making a purchase.

As we walked through the market, I noticed the cheese we wanted at another vendor. After tasting it and several others, we selected two cheeses. Total sale: $17

A few moments later we ventured across yet another cheese vendor. As we looked at their selection, an employee asked if she could help us. We told her that we were looking for some cheeses to serve at an upcoming dinner. She immediately asked us what we had already selected then made several suggestions and gave us the opportunity to sample them. However, instead of providing the sample on a toothpick like the second vendor, she placed each cheese on a cracker. And, as she handed the first sample to us, she pointed out where the crackers were stocked. As the conversation continued she asked us several more questions and recommended several other cheeses which we purchased.

When we had finished selecting our cheeses, my wife stated that she was interested in buying some of their fresh olives. The sales person got us started by suggesting her favorites, encouraged us to sample the variety of olives she had on display, then left us alone while she took care of other customers. A few minutes later she returned, portioned out my wife’s choice and suggested that we come into the stall to look at fresh dips and spreads. She followed this by stating that she had put our purchases in a basket and would help us with them we were ready to leave. How could we refuse?

Of course, once in the “store” we spotted some additional items that would complement our meal. When we advised her a few minutes later that we were finished she took the basket with our purchases to the cashier and wished us a great day. Total sale: $70.

There is no doubt in my mind that this particular vendor generates a lot more revenue than her nearby competitors. Not to mention the repeat business she’ll get from in the future.

There are several great sales and business lessons to be learned from this experience.

First, she took interest in our particular situation. Her approach to the sales process and desire to help us select the best cheeses for our dinner helped her stand out from her competitors. Zig Ziglar once said, “You can get anything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.” Her attention made us feel special and prompted us to spend more money.

Second, she asked us a few questions. Unlike the first two cheese vendors, she found out what we liked, what we had already bought, when we were planning to serve the cheese (after dinner versus before dinner), and what types of cheeses we liked. Although virtually everyone in sales is told to ask questions, my experience has taught me that most people, especially retail staff, have a tendency to skip this step. However, a few key questions can help you uncover vital pieces of information that will help you make more appropriate suggestions or recommendations to your prospect, customer or client. Remember, you don’t have to conduct an interrogation—you just want to learn a bit more about your customer’s wants, needs and particular situation. And depending on what you sell, this can expand to their likes and dislikes.

Third, she increased the size of the sale by pointing out additional items such as the crackers. Plus, when she did the samplings, she used these products which gave us the opportunity to try them with zero risk. Now, I’m not suggesting that you give every customer a free sample of your product—that’s not realistic in many situations. However, think of how you can reduce the risk of doing business with you especially if you are dealing with a first time customer or client.
Fourth, she dealt with, and took care of, multiple people at the same time. Although she invested some time dealing directly with us, she did excuse herself to help other customers several times. And my wife and I certainly didn’t take offense to this because we knew she’d return to help us.

Regardless of what you sell and to whom, you can probably make some changes to your approach to stand out from your competition and make it easier for people to buy from. Don’t wait. Do it now!

© 2006 Kelley Robertson, All rights reserved.

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Author's Bio: 

Kelley Robertson works with specialty retailers to help them capture more from each sale. He is the author of two books including the best-seller, “Stop, Ask & Listen—Proven Sales Techniques to Turn Browsers into Buyers.