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Are you getting your share of early season grill sales

Grill Column

The Wall Street Journal Report, heard daily on CBS radio, announced in mid-May that retailers are reporting early season barbecue grill sales are considerably ahead of May 2008. These retailers indicated peak sales usually occur in June and July. They attributed strong earlier sales to consumers foregoing major purchases such as automobiles or expensive vacations, but feeling the pent up need for some relief from their more austere spending restrictions. The purchase of a grill to improve more frequent at-home entertaining seems like a manageable expense.

Another positive factor in the WSJ Report was builders seeing an uptick in remodeling, especially outdoor improvements. Since home prices appear to not yet have bottomed out or turned around, families who had hoped to move have decided if they are going to stay put for awhile they may as well make their current backyard more serviceable for their enjoyment.

Are you getting your share of these early barbecue grill and other related backyard sales?

Review your sales practices

Consumers are still cautious about spending and their stress level often weighs in on their interaction with salespeople. They may arrive in your store in a combative mood, so it is important that members of your sales team are patient and attuned to the customer's needs. Prospect resistance is an integral part of life in sales and your sales staff needs to be well trained in how to skillfully, respectfully and confidently handle objections, skepticism and indifference without seeming argumentative. Patience may be the key to a sale.

It is important to establish relationships with prospective customers and to build their confidence in your store and the salesperson with whom they are dealing. Their experience while in your store is paramount to building their confidence and trust. In a nationwide test to determine why people buy, the No. 1 reason was they patronize businesses in which they have confidence. Quality of the products, the service, selection and price followed in that order.

Asking a few key questions about the customer's lifestyle and perceived needs and truly listening to the answers can help you quickly narrow which grills to concentrate on to minimize confusion and help facilitate a decision. Start with those grills that meet their initial criteria and test the climate before trying to step them up to a more premium model.

You are selling the outdoor cooking and entertaining lifestyle so emphasize benefits such as greater cooking flexibility, less monitoring required and more foolproof results instead of just reciting features. Today, time is very valuable to most shoppers so illustrate that you respect theirs throughout the sales process.

Close sales at the start, not the end

Are your salespeople ensuring customer satisfaction and farming for referrals after they close a sale? The transaction doesn't end when you close, so be sure everyone recognizes the importance of following through after the sale to ensure customer satisfaction and repeat visits. A note thanking them for the purchase or a phone call to inquire if they are enjoying their new grill will be impressive to the customer and will leave them with the conviction that your company is "customer-centric." And it may even offer an opportunity to tell them about an upcoming special, a new accessory, a cooking class they may wish to attend or something else that will entice them into the store again.

One sales team that I know has made top-notch service pay off big time. When they deliver a new grill to the customer's home, they suggest that the family invite some of their neighbors and friends for dinner that night. The salesmen then bring the food and cook dinner, delighting the hostess and showcasing the grill's capabilities to new prospects. They rarely walk away without having sold at least two more of the same grill while solidifying their relationship with the original customer.

Value shopping

The ever-shifting economic landscape is forcing everyone to fine-tune their spending. You are dealing with knowledgeable consumers who have probably done their homework before visiting your store so you must treat them with respect if you are going to win their confidence. iPerceptions conducted a survey in December 2008 of 50,000 retail-consumer respondents to find out why they go to company Web sites. They learned 34% go there to research and learn and another 18% to find company information and browse products.

Today's consumers often trust what is said on blogs with the opinion of someone "like me" more than a manufacturer's million dollar TV commercial, messages conveyed in full-page magazine ads or what is said by a salesperson they perceive to be driven by self interest. Retailers have the opportunity to influence consumer spending by instilling confidence that they are being completely transparent and have the customer's best interests at heart.

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