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How to close a sale in a target-rich environment

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How to close a sale in a target-rich environment

The retail sales counter is a kill zone. Recently I was in an Apple retail store, and as a marketing guy, I can’t help but pay close attention to retailer/consumer behavior. There was a lot of touching going on; customers were watching demonstrations of the goods. Tabletop counters were full of Apple products, and there were plenty of people checking out the latest items Apple had to offer. Apple sales associates were interacting with customers, and people were walking out of the store with bags loaded with expensive and value-packed items. Believe me; I was caught up in the activities. It’s exciting for me, a former counter guy, to feel the energy and hear the enthusiasm in that retail environment.

In the movie “Top Gun,” Maverick (Tom Cruise) and his Radar Intercept Officer (Anthony Edwards), nicknamed Goose, walked into a bar looking for a good time. Maverick commented to Goose, “It’s a target-rich environment.”

The same is true in most retail environments. The customers in the Apple store were there to check out the products and buy. In a retail tire and service store, customers are not there to stand around and demo tires. Customers don’t hang out in tire

It’s harder to lose a sale than make a sale!

The retail tire sales counter is a target-rich environment. Regardless of the advantages of a target-rich, ready-to-buy, captive customer, I have seen hundreds walk out of stores. Even worse, I’ve seen customers walk out after sales presentations.

Rarely does a customer come into the store with such a difficult set of demands that a retailer cannot satisfy or find a way to close a sale. I say “rarely,” however, I’m fully aware of the funny and bazaar things that happen to help keep life interesting and challenging.

I’d like to address five common pitfalls that counter staff should avoid, and when avoided, will improve their kill rate in the kill zone.

1. Stop talking too much. Take time to listen. Let the sale come to you. Not every customer knows exactly what to ask for or how to describe their concerns, so listen, and then ask questions. Even if you know the answer, wait, be patient.


I remember watching a customer trying to describe a front brake noise, and the store manager interrupted and barked at her, “You need a simple hang and turn.” She had no idea what a “hang and turn” was. She was speechless. She then pulled her own hang and turn; she hung a right at the sales counter, turned and left the building.

2. Quit trying to control the conversation. People don’t like to be controlled or bullied. I’ve witnessed sales people trying to control the conversation and win every point. They seem argumentative. Very quickly a wall goes up between the sales person and the potential customer. Walls are not good; walls restrict and divide and seldom lead to sales or happy customers. A conversation is natural. Again, let the sale come to you; be patient and ask open-ended, fact-finding questions.

3. Stop thinking you know it all. Take the time to learn about your customers’ needs, not just their product or service needs, but how they would like to be sold, how they would like your services presented to them. Products and services are only part of what is important in delivering quality service. Some customers want lots of assurances. Others, like the engineering type, want lots of answers to what may seem like endless, meaningless questions. Learn to recognize needs.

4. Just because the customer is negative, doesn’t give you the right to be likewise. Some customers are negative, some are really negative, and some are just ridiculous. You can’t respond in kind. I have found that negative customers prefer to be the most negative person in the conversation. If you are negative, the negative customer will almost always try to out-negative you, and believe me, they will win! You will have to back down at some point. Be understanding without being condescending.

5. Weak closing comments. Hey, when it’s time to close, close! Assuming you did all the listening that was necessary, you answered all the questions and overcame all the objections, offered all the right products and services for all the right reasons, why would you offer up a weak close where you are likely to lose the sale after all that effort? Give it an all-out close, with conviction!

 It’s harder to lose a sale than make a sale — especially in the retail target-rich environment known as the retail sales counter! Don’t blow it! Kill it! 

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

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