What a PhD sales maven can teach us about selling shoes online

I’m sure you have heard the expression, “that person could sell ice to an Eskimo,” but how did that person get so good at selling their ideas to other people?

My name is Dawn Boyd and I have spent more than 10 years as a retail manager in several large stores and now I have worked for 2 years with Proonto in online sales. During this time, I have gained insights about and developed techniques for selling products to customers effectively in person and especially  online. For the purpose of this blog, I will be discussing online shoe sales since that is my current work, however these techniques can be applied to any company you are working for. Thanks to online markets, companies can now sell to customers all over the world. Here are suggestions of strategies that I personally use which will help you close more sales to customers around the world.

1. Create a Rapport With the Customer

This is something we hear all the time but what does that really mean? It means that you should be less concerned with closing the sale in a hurry and more concerned with learning who this person is and what brought them to your site? In shoe sales, I need to understand who the person is shopping for and what the shoes will be used for such as if they are for sports? Going out? Work? These details matter in making a sale. It may seem odd to ask your salespeople to slow down, however the more you get to know your customers and the more they feel connected to your brand,  the more likely they are to come back again for the next purchase. You are no longer just a store they bought shoes from. You have actually become a trusted friend that cares to ask questions and help them find what they truly need. Not only will your customers appreciate this, they will tell their friends about you leading to even more sales. ALWAYS take the few extra minutes and get to know your customer up front to make them comfortable and bring them back later.

2. Always be Honest

I no longer can count how many times I have been asked for my personal recommendation on shoes. Most customers have done a lot of research online on an item before they come to your site. If you try making the shoes sound like they are the greatest, the most beautiful, the most comfortable, that they possess world renowned waterproofing or other features, and never ever wear out the customer is going to know you are overselling the item. Many employees are afraid to point out shortcomings, but if I know a shoe is made small or runs narrow I am going to tell the customer up front. Again, you are gaining a rapport of trust with the customer but more importantly you are saving your company and the customer a return later. If you own the shoes and truly do feel they are the greatest in the world, try to stick with why the shoes work so great for you and what you feel the best features are. This will make the sale feel more authentic and real.

3. Don’t Lead With a Discount

Many times, we want to offer the company discount code at the beginning of the conversation to get the customer to “bite” and talk to us. The reason this is a bad idea is that you should never make the customer feel like all they are to you is the next sale. You are offering awesome shoes to them that will hopefully make their life better in some way. I always throw the discount in around the middle of our conversation so that it doesn’t look like I am trying to force a sale. It usually sounds like “By the way if you decide to buy those shoes we happen to be having a sale on them today. The discount code is …..” Make sure this is not the last thing you say to the customer either, you want to leave the customer with the feeling that you helped them find what they were looking for, not that you forced a sale on them.

4. Sell the Quality

At some point, you are going to hear a customer complain that the price is too high. Don’t be afraid to sell the quality of the shoes. What I mean by this is, if a customer is complaining that the $150 waterproof shoes are too much to pay for a pair of shoes – then you should explain why those shoes are worth it. I am going to point out to the customer that the shoes are completely waterproof and guaranteed to never get ruined by water which will save them money in the long run. I am also going to point out the tread on the bottom that helps them navigate on wet ground. I am going to talk about the warranty if there is one, and I am also going to point out the great reviews. This requires employees to have thorough knowledge of the products on your site so make sure employees are up to date with everything you are selling and all product updates.

5. Get Personal

It’s amazing these days what you can learn about a person online without ever having to ask. Thanks to technology, I know what my customer is looking at before they ever say a word to me. If they are looking at black, strappy, low heeled dress shoes and then move on to black high heels, I can see all of these views to the site immediately. Why does this matter? It changes how I speak to the customer. If I say “Hi, I’m Dawn, how can I help you today?” to every customer every time they come on they will assume I am a bot and just ignore me. However, if I say “Hi, my name is Dawn, can I help you find some black dress shoes today” or “Hi, are you looking for black dress shoes for work or an event? I would love to help you decide.” I am now obviously not a computer-generated greeting and your customers are more likely to speak to me and get help.

6. Increase the Sale

Many employees are afraid of the up-sell, cross sale, and add-on but there are also some employees who do not know the difference between the three. Let’s start with the up-sell: if my customer is looking for a pair of boots because it has been snowing or raining in their area all month and they have picked out a cheap pair of boots, I have an opportunity to sell up. I am going to offer them the waterproof boots or snow boots that are more expensive but will meet the needs of this customer better. As long as I explain to the customer why I feel this is better suited to their needs, it is not perceived as pushy and the customer will appreciate you listening and trying to help. Think about it, wouldn’t you want to avoid cold and wet feet if you could? Cross selling is a little different but is still about listening to your customer. While I am selling the boots, my customer might mention they are going to the beach next week to escape the bad weather. I am now going to ask if they have sandals for their trip and mention we have new stock and suggest a few of our best sellers. I am still selling the boots, but now I am crossing over and selling another product totally unrelated to the boots because I listened to all of my customer’s needs. An add-on can be as simple as adding on the exact same item in another color. I have had many customers tell me they absolutely love a shoe so much they wish they could have them in every color to which I respond, “why not!” If a customer is passionate about an item, it never hurts to point out they come in more than one color or style and encourage them to add another one. Also, let’s say the boots that they really love are not waterproof, I will now suggest adding on a waterproofing spray to help protect the leather on the new shoes. The key is to listen to the customers’ needs at all times and always try to increase the sale only in areas you know will be helpful to this individual client so that it never feels forced and is always personal.

7. Get Ready to Make Mistakes

No one is perfect and some point you are going to push a customer too far and watch them leave without making a sale. Take a deep breath and get ready because this happens to all of us and the only thing we can really do is LEARN. Learn where you went wrong, learn what greetings work best with clients, learn when it works best for you to offer the discount code, learn when adding items to the sale makes sense to your customers, most importantly use the data to LEARN. When we stop learning we have stopped listening to the customers and we become ineffective. Take constructive criticism from your bosses and peers and learn how to get better. The learning will not only be more fun if you relax and realize mistakes will happen but your customers will pick up on the fun you are having and will enjoy the shopping experience more as well!

8. Close As a Friend

When the conversation is coming to a close and they have made the purchase, please remember, you are not done yet! The end is not the sale, hopefully it is just the beginning. The real goal of every sale is to bring the customer back again and again to your site so they will hopefully buy more and more of your products. After the sale has been made, I ask the customer to please come back later and let me know if they liked the shoes. Please be aware some may come back unhappy. These unhappy customers are actually a great opportunity to fix whatever is wrong and show off some excellent customer service for your company. An unhappy customer does not have to stay that way forever. Fix the problem quickly, correctly, and politely and they will hopefully be buying from you again soon. For those customers that are happy hopefully when they come back letting you know how awesome the shoes are they will look around and find more they like!

I hope these tips work for your company and employees. If I can give you a final takeaway of the most important thing for any online sale, it is this: Listen! Listening to your customers is the most important thing you and your staff can do. Many times, since we cannot see the customer and we are talking on a computer we have the habit of offering too much information too quickly and not giving the customer a chance to let us know what they want. Always make sure the customer is engaged in the conversation and you are getting to know them as much as possible not just for this visit but hopefully for the many visits to come.

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