Sales Training 101: Part One: Customer service, approaching the customer, and active listening

As owners and managers strive to achieve success businesses, it’s important to continually improve the skills of your staff. Every employee relates to sales training differently. Yet, any amount of attention given to a sales staff in terms of customer service and selling skills will come back as mo’ money in the register.

The operational and marketing side of a store is as individual as the people running it. However, there’s a formula to salesmanship, and if you look for it, you see it everywhere. Your hope for your store’s profitability is only as real as your salespeople’s ability to sell.

Let’s take a closer look at the first three steps in selling: customer-service issues, how to open a sale, and how to find out what a customer wants and needs.

It’s critical that shop owners are aware of the customer service offered in their stores. Poor customer service means less customers, and more importantly, less return customers. If this goes on long enough, many things will fade, including profits, positive store culture, and your own stoke.

Customer service in our industry is like customer service in any retail store. The most basic definition of this would be satisfying every customer who walks into your store-making sure they have a fun and enjoyable time whether they buy something or not. Remember, what we do is fun. Customers are in your store to look at products and to be surrounded by the excitement of our sport. Offer your customers everything possible to make sure they enjoy snowboarding to the fullest extent-even if that just includes looking around.

Customer-Service Issues

Keep employees’ personal problems off the sales floor. Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend can be overwhelming, and a flat tire sure does suck. While you should care about your employees and keep their stoke high, tell your employees not to talk about personal problems on the sales floor-it brings everyone down. Leave those issues at the door.

An employee may want to tell everyone about that great day of riding. That’s fine and it’s part of what makes working in a store like ours cool. However, when four salespeople are huddled around talking to each other, it’s very intimidating to customers (who may already be wary just being in your store).

To some people, we’re still those stereotype punks with nose rings and guns. Make it easy for moms. Make them feel comfortable as quickly as possible. Surprise them with how nice and courteous you are. When a customer walks into the store, tell employees to separate. It makes the customer feel more comfortable.

Treat Customers Well

Different types of people come into your store. Some look funny, some talk funny. Some smell different than you and your friends, and some may look like they don’t have a dime. It doesn’t matter.

As salespeople, we need to treat every customer the same. The guy with the dreads and torn shirt could easily have a couple of gold cards in his pocket and be ready to buy some top-end equipment. Some other customers mix up words and terms that are unique to our sports. It seems kind of silly when this happens, but just let it go. Listen to the ideas they’re trying to convey and not necessarily the words they’re saying. Treat every customer like they could buy the whole store.

Always have employees treat customers with humbleness and empathy-traits your employees should have in their personality when you hire them. And owners should incorporate these traits into the culture of their store.

Opening A Sale

Sometimes customers walk in and tell you what they need, but most of the time you have to approach them. Do this in a unthreatening indirect way.

In the first couple of minutes with a customer, you have the ability to blow the customer’s trust or become casual friends. A simple, “Hey, how’s it going,” is nice. Don’t ever say, “Can I help you?” because the customer will say, “I’m just looking.”

Being involved with some type off project when you first approach a customer really helps. Briefly turn away after that initial “Hi” just to ease yourself into the conversation. Then go back to them and use a non-business-related opening line.

Be creative, be yourself, and don’t ever feel bad or weird about what it is you are doing. Try talking about the weather, when they went snowboarding last, or if they have any trips planned. Approaching the customer in this way on a consistent basis makes the culture of any store nonthreatening. Get good at approaching the customer and becoming casual friends.

No doubt it gets busy in your store, but you must deal with it in a professional way. At the very least, acknowledge customers as they enter. If you’re really slammed, say: “Hi, could you do me a favor and hang out while I finish up with these guys over here? Thanks a lot.”

By doing that you’ve shown you care about them being in the store, and you’re happy to help them. You have also made it hard for them to leave since they said okay to hanging out until you talk to them again.

Next Step: Selling

Selling is a relationship with people. Anything you can do to create trust with the customer is a must. Listen to everything they have to say. Never interrupt them. If they said that they tried some new boots last week during their vacation to Colorado, you don’t need to talk about the boots just yet. Talk about the trip. Talk about the runs they took, the conditions, whatever they’re excited about. Get the customer trusting that you are the expert salesperson they were hoping to find.

Customers are in your store for a reason-usually to get new gear. Make them feel good about just having the desire to get new gear. Whatever they say, support their responses, and agree that it’s cool they feel that way. Remember the old saying: the customer is always right.

Even if all they want to do is look around the store, tell them it’s cool, and to have a good time. After a few minutes, go up and talk to them-often you can back into a sale this way.

Eventually you’ll want to find out what the customer needs. That’s the time for you to ask a lot of questions. Don’t guess what they want. That directional 157 may be the board you like, but it may not be the board for them.

You probably know the right questions to ask when selling a jacket, board, boots, or gloves. These questions are typically who, what, where, when, why, how, tell me, do you? Some examples are: “Who is the board for?” “What kind of runs do you like?” or “Do you ride during snow storms?” The more questions you ask, the more they’ll view you as a competent salesperson.

While you are asking these questions, stay away from: “How much do you want to spend?” The customer will almost always lowball you, and it takes away from your ability to show the best-quality item to the customer. Show them the best-quality item, and make sure your customers can enjoy snowboarding to the fullest extent.

Next issue we’ll talk about how to show the customer what they want and need. We’ll also explain how to create ownership, or how to get the customer to feel like they already own the product even before they’ve made the decision to buy it. Later issues will discuss closing the deal, what to do when customers say no, adding on, and confirming their desire to own the product. We’ll also go into inviting them back to the store and making them customers for life.


This article was developed from the Sparc Selling System, which was founded to promote training and support for snow, action sport, and outdoor specialty retailers. The Sparc Selling System 3.0 is a video training program developed by SIA Retailer of the Year Steve Klassen. Six 25-minute video tapes combine the fundamental principles of selling with the energy and inside knowledge of the sports. For more information, call: 1-800-841-2767.