October 30, 2018
Knowing and understanding customer needs is at the center of every successful business. Once you have this knowledge, you can use it to lay out a case for purchase that persuades potential and existing customers that buying it from you is in their best interest. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “While customers may think they know what they want, many times, they don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
It’s OK to Sell
Many of us are not comfortable with “selling,” but the truth is that we are selling something every day. We sell our ideas. We sell our points of view. But because people do business with people, the thing we sell first and most often is ourselves. We do this when we create a perception of ourselves by managing our appearance, tone of voice, the manner of our speech, and even our unspoken body language.
The key is managing how you wish to be perceived by your customers as helpful, friendly and professional vs. aggressive or aloof. This is important because you set the tone for the in-store experience and are synonymous with your store brand. Remember, a “good” personal experience can compensate for an occasional bad product experience, but a great product can never compensate for a bad in-store personal experience.
While people do business with people, they highly prefer to do business with people they like. Since you are part of the in-store experience and most effective when a reflection of your prospective customer, it pays to spend a little time getting to know them individually and finding out what they believe they need and why. Establishing rapport first and professional competency second ensures that the customer will be more receptive to your recommendations.
Remember that “selling” is simply effective communication that persuades an audience to consider another point of view and helps them prioritize their needs to be able to make an informed purchase decision that they can feel good about.
The Psychology of a Sale
Customers have already made a variety of buying decisions before they ever get to your dispensary or retail store. In many cases, they’ve decided what they want to purchase, but the criteria for that purchase may not be something they’ve actually articulated, even to themselves. The difference is “explicit vs. implicit criteria.”
That which is explicit refers to the type of product, and any physical product description (i.e., color, size, amount, etc.). It is the criteria a customer applies consciously to making the purchase decision when they ask for a specific product.
However, the key to successful selling is identifying the implicit criteria behind the customer need. Those options have already been narrowed to a product choice before the customer comes into the store.
Implicit criteria are the true motivators that compel purchase, and need to be surfaced and understood to identify the real need behind the purchase decision, particularly because these criteria may be the result of wrongly held assumptions.
For example, a customer who is not sleeping well may believe a sleep aid is what they need, and come in requesting products available for that purpose. However, when questioned further, they may enumerate lifestyle pressures or habits that clearly call for time to “wind down” well before bedtime to allow sleep to come naturally, creating the need for an entirely different solution.
The Customer’s Point of View
In order to best help the customer understand how product benefits meet their purchase criteria, you must first determine exactly what their criteria are. To identify those needs you have to probe for answers, which calls for two different types of questioning.
Open-ended questions are those, which allow customers to offer explanations about situations, problems, or how they may feel about particular alternatives. (i.e., What do you need? Why do you need that?) Close-ended questions are those that require a “yes” or “no” answer.
Alternating closed- and open-ended questions is a great way to get more information about what a customer needs, or importantly, how they feel about a proposed purchase. For example, you may ask, “Have you ever tried this before?” If yes, then follow up with “What happened,” or “How did it make you feel?” You can also follow with, “What are your biggest concerns with this solution,” and “What would you like to repeat – or avoid?”
If they answer no, then you might follow up with, “what appeals to you about these alternatives,” followed by “what are the results you’d most like to have?”
There is a “sales truth” that says, if you ask the right questions, a customer will tell you exactly how and what to sell them. But you have to be listening. Sometimes, when presenting a product with all the enthusiasm at your disposal, a common error is to talk too much – but the key is to ask the question and let the customer talk.
That means you have to actively listen, which requires hearing and acknowledging what is being said. When a customer speaks, they not only want to know that you have listened closely enough to get what was said accurately, but also to know that you understand how they feel about it. That means that they want a signal from you reassuring them that you’ve heard and understood what they need so they can be comfortable communicating with you.
Qualifying the Customer
Most salespeople at retail approach a customer and ask if they can be helpful allowing a customer to engage or choose to put off engagement. Often by the time a customer gets to the register – or walks out the door without making a purchase – it is too late to qualify their needs, sell them what they really need, or expand the sale to include purchases that would normally accompany what they are buying.
Because everyone’s needs are subjective, it’s better to find a way to engage a customer on their terms as quickly as you can and find out what they came into the store to accomplish (i.e., “How can I help you,” or “What can I help you find?”). However, beyond asking the right questions, it is critical to prioritize their criteria for purchase and determine what results are most/least important in order to make product recommendations that offer the solutions closest to what they wish to accomplish.
For instance, someone may not be wholly or at all familiar with different strains of cannabis and unable to make an informed choice without understanding how a leaf or oil may help them or may make them feel, or the best way to ingest the material and what other ancillary purchases may be necessary to facilitate it. Understanding what the customer wishes to accomplish and what is most important to them will them make the right purchase decision.
It’s not unusual somewhere during this conversation for the customer to become evasive, non-committal, or decline to purchase. When this happens, one of several “objection dynamics” is occurring. When properly identified, the objection and its solution become key to helping the customer to purchase.
You may have to probe for these objections, but the best scenario is when the customer tells you exactly what they think is wrong with the product or recommendation, which allows you to address those specific concerns, either with more information about the product or an alternate recommendation.
Some people are naturally positive and others much less so, but it is critical that your approach remains a positive one while setting realistic expectations about what your products can and cannot deliver. When someone is responding negatively, the best approach is to re-prioritize, which allows you to revisit those product attributes the customer told you were most important. By reiterating your understanding of what the customer has shared you have the opportunity to reevaluate which of the solutions you’ve presented best fit the purchase criteria.
About the Author
Philip M. Cohen is CEO of CMN Holdings, Inc. and their subsidiaries, Cannabis Medical Network, a digital media network airing in cannabis doctors waiting rooms and Cannabis Lifestyle Network, airing in dispensary waiting rooms. Phil has operated a dozen ad supported digital signage networks in doctor offices and at retail since 1985 and is a past Chairman of the Digital Signage Federation.