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Sales techniques for tough times

'Key word is humor'

By Debbie Stegman, Patio & Hearth Shoppe

I hope everyone is having a good season so far. Most of us know how well this season has been by now that premarket time is here.

Attendance of premarket is extremely important for our company because it sets the tone for the upcoming year and helps us make the major buying decisions that we wouldn't have time for if we tried to do it all in September.

I know, for us, this season has been extremely trying as we have faced rainy and cold weather in May and June. We hold sales meetings weekly in our stores to discuss what works and what doesn't. We have found it takes continuous education with our salespeople and the constant stressing of good selling techniques to really dig out the orders.

This year, we have found the larger orders are easier to come by than the smaller sales because that consumer has been more affected by job layoffs and high gas prices. For these reasons, our staff has worked extremely hard and we had to ask the right questions. I thought I would share some of the techniques that have worked for us.

With prospective buyers down in the dumps about the weather and all the bad news, it is important to keep the conversation upbeat and fun. The key word is humor, humor, humor. Now more than ever, use this to lighten their moods and open up conversation.

I overheard my manager use this question the other day when a customer was having a price issue. Is it the quality of the merchandise that you feel is not worth the price or is it the price that does not fit your budget? The customer thought about it, realized we were not overpriced for the quality of the merchandise; it was his budget that concerned him so we switched to a great group at a lower price point.

Another way we have gotten more from our customers is by going to their homes and doing the designs. This is a great way for our designers to create a complete backyard and it always increases the sale. If we can get in their home, we know it will be a larger order. This is a great way to get that add-on business.

Just keep the questions easy and open, without heavy sales pressure. Be the expert — that is why they came to a specialty store like yours.

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