“Self service means no service,” as I wrote in last week’s blog. We all know what kind of service we hope to offer our customers through our friendly, sales personnel well-versed in the benefits of every product we sell.

Certainly Ron Popeil, who you may know as the king of television marketing, is friendly and well-versed in the benefits of the products he is selling — many of which he often invented as well. But as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his new book, What the Dog Saw, Popeil possesses one key additional strength that makes him a dynamic salesman.

Gladwell describes a contest between Ron Popeil an another salesman in which Popeil outsells the other fellow despite the fact that he’d never seen the slicer he was to sell.  When asked the secret to his success, Popeil responded:  “I know how to do one thing better than you…I know how to ask for the money. And that’s the secret to the whole damn business.”

We sometime forget that our sales staff does indeed sometimes need to “ask for the money” in order to complete the transaction. Not all customers come to the checkout counter on their own loaded down with merchandise they want to buy.  With truly personal service, a good sales person can be key in helping customers decide to make a purchase, especially if it is a large one or if the customer is indecisive.

The official term for this is “closing the sale.” But closing the sale need not ever be a ruthless attempt to force a customer to buy something against his or her will. It is instead an opportunity to bring a sales transaction to a satisfactory conclusion.  Here are some of the phrases you might want to have your staff practice to help them close more sales successfully:

    “Can I get that for you in a box?”

   “Why don’t you take it home and see how it looks. We’d be happy to take it back within    [our return policy period] if it doesn’t work out.

    “If you’d like to keep shopping, I can put these items behind the counter for you.”

    “I think your niece/wife/friend will love your choice, but I’d be happy to include a gift receipt in case they’d like to exchange it.”

If you want to learn from the master, be sure to read ‘The Pitchman’ in What the Dog Saw. I’ve enjoyed all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, including The Tipping Point, Outliers and Blink. They have thought-provoking ideas about how we make decisions.  And the Ron Popeil article in Gladwell’s latest book certainly shows that customers sometimes make the decision to buy just because someone who is very convincing asks them for the money.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder