Retail Sales Tips: How to Read Customers and Sell to Them Like a Pro

Customer paying in boutique

Are you a retailer (or retail sales associate) who’s struggling with how to approach shoppers? Worried that you lack the magic touch, or that you’ll come off as an annoying salesperson? Would you rather be awkwardly staring at your store’s point of sale software screen than actually talking to the customer in front of you?

You should keep reading because, after years of being one of the strongest sellers at my store, I can assure you: anyone can sell.

That’s not to say it’s not going to take a lot of practice. But over the years, I’ve found that a customer will tell you verbally and/or physically how to sell to them. If you’re listening properly and looking for the right cues, you can always tell if a customer is interested in what you have to say, what approach to take with them, and what exactly they’re looking for.

Check out the tips below, put them into action, and you should find yourself successfully closing sales:

 

Practice Active Listening

Active listening isn’t just about standing in front a customer silently. There are a few important things you should be doing to engage in this practice:

  • The most important part of active listening is to not form a response while the customer is speaking. This is really hard to do, and is going to take a lot of practice. It’s very natural to latch on to one part of a comment and form a response to it, and then shut out the rest of the comment. To become a good listener, a sales person must resist doing this.
  • Active listening should engage your whole body. Things like nodding and having an open stance show the customer that you are listening to what they have to say.
  • Once it’s time for you to speak, give the customer a quick summary of what they said. This has a few purposes. First, it allows you to come up with a response post-comment without things being awkwardly silent. Second, showing the customer that you heard everything they had to say will often open them up to providing you with more information than they initially supplied.

Practicing active listening means that you are fully engaged with learning what the customer wants. This engagement makes a huge difference. Not only will you understand what the customer wants in a deeper way, but you also gain their trust easier.

 

Next: Pay Attention to Body Language

Along with active listening, you should be practicing ‘active looking.’ (Yes, I just made that term up.) People will betray a lot of what they’re thinking in the things that they do with their body.

A lot of body language experts will tell you some odd things to look for, like watching if someone scratches their nose, but I don’t think that level of depth is necessary. In fact, I think that if you’re watching for a customer to scratch their nose, you’re probably not practicing active listening.

However, there is still plenty of body language you should be paying attention to while you’re actively listening. Let me give you a short list of tells you can easily pick up on during a conversation with a customer.

 

1. Eye Contact

Where a person’s eyes are looking is one of the easiest ways to tell what they’re focusing on. If the customer is looking at you, or the products you’re working with, that’s a good sign. It means they’re engaged with you and are interested in what you have to say and sell.

If they’re looking around, at someone else, out the door… anywhere that’s not where you are – that’s not a great sign. Usually if this is the case you should say something like, “Let me know if you need anything else,” and let them do their own thing. No eye contact doesn’t mean you won’t be able to close the sale – but it could spell trouble if you don’t pay attention.

 

 2. Hands/Arms

Another important thing to pay attention to is what people do with their hands and arms.

Typically, if someone’s arms are crossed, they are uncomfortable and probably not interested in what you have to say. You should tread gently: let this customer know you are there to help. If you’re talking with a customer who is clearly shy and uncomfortable with talking to you, I recommend acting in a more reserved manner and avoiding things like answering questions the customer has yet to ask. In addition, because this posture reflects a closed off mind, I mostly suggest avoiding suggestive selling. Suggestive selling does not work well on someone who is not interested.

Open arms and palms facing towards you, however, are an excellent sign. If your customer has taken this sort of posture in your conversation, you’re doing well. In fact, I would definitely suggest going for it with suggestive selling. (Of course, make sure you’re showing them items that are actually related to what they want, not just some pre-placed item that your manager wants to get rid of.)

 

3. Facial Expression—Particularly the Curve of Their Mouth

Lastly, you should be paying attention to the expressions you customer is making. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to pay close attention to your customer’s facial expressions. Even if a customer is pulling a straight face at you, most people’s mouths are fairly expressive in small ways.

Often, the corners of the mouth will be curving slightly up or slightly down. Down is not good for you – it indicates frustration or annoyance. Curving up, though, is an excellent sign. Additionally, you should pay attention to how tightly the lips are held. If they’re pressed tightly together, it can mean the same thing as crossed arms.

That’s the three major areas of body language you should be paying attention to while actively listening to your customer. Keep in mind that while the customer’s body can give you an indication about how they feel towards you and your product, it’s the listening that is going to yield you the important information about what they want.

Now that we’ve established good customer reading techniques, let’s talk about what to do with the information you pick up:

 

Respond With Similar Body Language

One of the easiest ways to set someone at ease is to “mirror” their body language. You don’t want to go overboard on this – that can seem creepy or just mean. But little things are really important.

Start with urgency. Is the customer in a hurry? Or do they want to take things slow and steady? Speak and act at the same pace as the customer. If she’s in a hurry, speaking quickly and speed walking across the store, then you should speak quickly and speed walk across the store as well. If she’s speaking slowly and moves slowly, your speed talking and walking will only come across as aggressive to her.

In addition, you can do subtle things like adopt a similar posture, or use similar hand gestures. With the hand gestures, be careful. You don’t want to come across as mocking your customer. Don’t make exact replicas of hand gestures, keep it general.

 

More tips?

Those are my tips and tricks to help anyone become a good sales person. It’s important to remember that truly good sales people work on creating trusting relationships with their clients before they sell them anything. If you are capable of creating a trusting relationship, you are capable of selling. These tips are intended to help you create that relationship.

What tricks to reading customers do you employ? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Author Bio: Cara Wood is a marketing administrative assistant at Capterra, a company that puts business software buyers in touch with business software vendors! When she’s not hard at work at Capterra, she can be found horse-back riding, reading and just generally having a good time at life.

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Looking for additional sales tips? Download our retail sales guide to learn about the 10 proven sales techniques that can help improve your bottom line.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

  • Neha Mallik

    Great post Francesca, as usual! Very intuitive and well-written. While these tips are extremely helpful for better sales, I think it’s also important for retailers to keep up with the changing trends in retail and the growing expectations of the customers. Enabling mobile payments, sending ‘personalised, tailor-made’ offers to customers or using wearable tech to interact with them are things that are sure to work well in today’s times. What tech trends should retailers be aware of, an integrate with their existing marketing strategies? Here’s a nice post on the same: http://bit.ly/1cQdo4b

    • Thanks, Neha! Credit for this article goes to the lovely Cara Wood at Capterra. 🙂

      And I agree, keeping up with trends and leveraging tools to improve the customer is experience is a must for retailers. Beacons, for example, when used correctly, can make shopping more personal and convenient for customers, while allowing merchants to gather data about their shoppers.

      And thanks for the link! I think the post offers a good overview of the hottest trends in retail today.

  • wahid

    How important is being active to you inretail store like nike?

  • Brooke

    I really like the ‘mirroring’ concept. I have been doing that without realizing I was. I am not very good at active listening. I have always felt that I should fill in the awkward silences but I wasn’t giving an opportunity for proper response. I tend to interject with an opinion or point after the first need or thought is expressed. This article was very helpful.
    Also, body language and tone is a huge deal in the small town I work in. It seems an associate gets written off easily by customers due to an unintended offense.

  • Roshan Joseph

    It is always necessary for a sales person to be customer centric. Because when a sales person exactly know what a customer wants they can fine tune their sales message to satisfy customer’s needs.

  • Getting their attention can be tough, especially if your presentation is not well thought of. The average attention span of a person is 90 seconds. If you were not able to pass this, then they will lose interest in you and end the conversation. Practice different types of presentations to gain confidence to face the customer and get the attention you deserve from hard work.