Recently, I visited a local pool supply store to gather some materials to get our pool ready for the upcoming Las Vegas summer. When you visit the pool supply store, you typically bring a water sample to have it analyzed. Doing so gives you a head start on the chemicals required to break your pool in for the season. As it turns out, our water was in pretty poor shape. Not the news I wanted to hear. So much so that the clerk recommended that we drain half the pool and fill it up with new water to dilute some of the high calcium and acid build ups that were currently present from the last few seasons. The clerk clearly noticed my bewilderment and went on to tell me that it's a simple job that can be completed over the course of a weekend.
The clerk handed me my water level report and sent me on my way. Once I got home, standing in front of my pool, I realized how completely and totally out of my element I was. While I appreciated the free water test and advice, I had missed my opportunity to ask the salesperson the best way to siphon the pool water and what kind of chemicals I would need to open it back up once I refilled it with water.
I wondered why the salesperson didn't attempt to advise me on the products they offered (like the submersible pump and chemicals I would need to get the job done) while I was at the store. He clearly knew my needs and knew that I was hooked, ready to buy whatever he recommended.
This wasn't my first time visiting this store and I realized that previous visits had offered similar results. The staff had always been extremely service focused, offering advice and answering any questions I had, but they hardly ever tried to close a sale with me. On more than one occasion, I would come home after receiving great advice from the store, only to place an order online for the same products they could have sold me directly.
Now let's be clear, it's obviously important to act in the customer's best interest and that often means being cautious with how assertive you are in handling customer interactions. Nobody appreciates being pushed towards an immediate purchase decision, especially if they don't feel it's in their best interest. After all, what's that age-old adage? People don't want to be sold, but they love to buy. But there is a balance. I would’ve been thrilled to have received some product recommendations along with the tips and tricks. Instead, the salesperson left it up to chance whether I would be back for more advice and a purchase or whether I would go somewhere else to buy the products I needed.
But my story is not simply a case of one rogue salesperson failing to close the deal. We've seen this story many times. Often, it's a case where the salesperson feels uncomfortable to ask for business, for fear of scaring the customer away, even when a need has clearly been identified.
So how do we handle this? The key is to be assertive without appearing aggressive while always focusing on the customer’s needs. First class customer service is always a priority. Many sales reps seem to believe that assertiveness equates to pushiness, but that couldn't be further from the truth, as long as you keep the customer's best interest in mind throughout the entire sales process. While the pool store clerk could’ve sold me equipment and chemicals totaling in the range of a few hundred dollars during my initial visit, he didn't ask for my business. Thus, I had to come back a few hours later when I realized that I wasn't ready to drain my pool without the items required for the follow up steps. The salesperson may have felt he was providing good service, but he could have saved me a trip had he made the product recommendations when I was at the store the first time. Ultimately, this would have improved my overall service experience.
What can salespeople do to be more assertive yet maintain the same level of customer service? First, don't be afraid to gain commitment. Once a need is established and you have shared how you can help and have answered all their questions, it is appropriate to ask for their business. Closing is an art that requires finesse, but once those boxes are checked, seize the momentum to gain commitment.
Don't be afraid to offer your product or services and move towards closing the deal. Understand the needs of the customer and show them how you can help. Chances are, they came to you hoping you would give them product suggestions, so they don't have to figure it out on their own. Remember, your product is part of the service. Neglecting to offer your customer what they need can be just as harmful as pushing your product too much.