Jan 12th 2010 Issue
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Training Pt. 2: Consult vs. Sell

Charles Cain - Jan 12th 2010

Do you see a customer or a sale?

Measuring a customer's potential

A happy customer

A "good sale" is one in which the customer leaves excited about tea AND is likely to remain so after they begin enjoying the product. To accomplish this, the staff must be taught to consult, not sell. A consultation is focused on helping to connect the customer with the products that will meet their needs and/or make them happy. The process of selling typically gets distracted by featured items, current promotions, or whatever the most expensive option might be in order to hit pre-defined sales goals that have nothing to do with customer satisfaction.

The most common criticism I've seen leveled at one of the more popular tea chains is that they "hard sell". But what is meant by that? Primarily, the hard sell occurs when the sales associate tries to convince you to buy something you don't really want or need. For example, one of the goals apparently given to the employees of this chain is to convince the customer to create "healthy blends" by adding certain elements to their tea of choice. I was interested in a Gyokuro (premium Japanese green tea), and the sales associate suggested I blend in some white tea for cancer fighting antioxidants or Rooibos for my complexion. I'm not sure I've ever heard a more preposterous sales pitch. Not only did the sales person demonstrate no interest in what I really wanted (or why I might have inquired about one of the most expensive teas in the collection in the first place), they demonstrated a complete disregard for their own product as well. Imagine a Vineyard in Napa Valley offering you a sample of their finest Cabernet, and then suggesting a shot of blueberry juice for antioxidants and soy milk for Omega-3's. Ahhhhggg!!!

There's nothing wrong with featured products and promotional items. This is a very common and effective way of introducing the customer to new products. That said, a well trained employee should have the insight and flexibility to skip the script if it doesn't fit!! Imagine a regular customer - an elderly gentlemen - that buys nothing but Keemuns for the morning and Decaf Earl Grey for the evenings. He has said before that he has no interest in all the new fancy, flavored blends. If, the next time he walks in, the employee pulls out the script and extols the virtues of your new Rooibos Pomegranate blend, you're telling him in no uncertain terms that he's just another customer and no-one really cares about his preferences.

A good sale also isn't defined by the absence of a hard sales pitch. I don't refer to my retail store staff as sales associates, but I also don't call them cashiers or customer service staff. I call them tea consultants. Part of the mission of a consultant is to provide targeted feedback and guide the customer's purchase. The world of tea is huge. Our collection can be daunting - even for a connoisseur. The amount of conflicting information out there on tea and its health benefits is bewildering. The consultant's job is to provide any necessary information and do whatever they can to make sure the customer is happy with their purchase AND is likely to remain so after they begin enjoying the product.

We're looking for customer loyalty here, not a one time maximum sale! I have personally discouraged a customer from buying a $200 Iwachu cast iron teapot because they were buying a range of fruit tisanes and strongly flavored teas. I was afraid that strong flavors like hibiscus or bergamot would seep into the enamel of the pot and alter the flavor of future pots of tea. I also had the sense that this young person probably wasn't spending their own money, and it would be a shame to have mom or dad prohibit them from returning to my shop. A Tea Consultant that DISCOURAGES a sale over concern that the customer might not enjoy it is a rare thing indeed. You can bet it will be appreciated and remembered by the customer.

Finally, I would suggest that a customer who leaves with nothing more than one or two small samples probably did not have a fantastic shopping experience. They most likely never got excited about the store or the product and/or did not find anything that really suited their tastes and preferences. Granted, we didn't make the mistake of the hard-sell, but I would suggest that we still failed to inspire the soul and delight the senses of the customer.

At the end of the day, my goal is to teach the staff to read the customer and target their approach appropriately. This is a skill that will make them (and by extension the shop) incredibly successful. It's also a skill that they can easily take with them and use wherever life leads them. And besides, if our goal is really to delight the customer, imagine the culture we are able to build!? Done correctly, this is a true win-win. Your staff is proud to be associated with the company and excited to spend their time making people happy. The customers feel welcome and appreciated, and develop a real trust relationship with your staff and the company.

Sometimes doing the right thing for the right reason really is the best way to make money! :)

In Part 3 I'll get into some of the more specific consultation strategies that deliver measurable results in both sales and customer loyalty.

Adagio Teas