Turning a Simple Shopping Trip into a Great Learning Experience

My wife and I are the proud parents of two great kids—a teenage son and daughter. Our daughter is getting
ready to start college next week, and our son is like almost every other 15 year old, living life large with lots of
attention on comfort and few worries about appearance.

Last week I promised my son, Nicholas, that I would take him to the mall to buy new shoes. He loves to wear
athletic shoes (or is it still okay to call them sneakers?)and prefers to wear them until they fall apart at the

This shopping trip was going to be different because Nicholas decided he would expand his closet and buy a
pair of Top-Siders (seems that these are making a bit of a come back on high school campuses). I figured we
could find these at almost any department store but was surprised to find only one store in the mall that carried a
variety of sizes and styles that he was interested in.

I find myself standing in Nordstrom’s shoe department surrounded by hundreds of pairs of shoes and a few well-
dressed, professional looking salesmen. One of the younger men working in the department approached us and
asked, “What brings you into the store today?” What happened next was one of the better (and least expected)
lessons in “selling” that I’ve experienced in quite some time.

I have to confess that I’ve never thought of retail as being much of a selling environment. Point customers in the
right direction, answer a few questions about sizes and availability, ring up the order and you’re done. So what
valuable lessons did I learn in Nordstrom that day? Here are the four principles that everyone will recognize but
very few consistently apply.

#1. Open questions close more business

The question that you are asked most often when you walk into a retail store is, “Can I help you?” This is a bad
question, plain and simple. It’s closed and requires no thinking on your part. Most shoppers will simply blurt out
“no” hoping to avoid premature pressure to buy something.

Let’s go back and look at what the Nordstrom shoes salesman asked:”What brings you into the store today?”
Not exactly rocket science but this question encouraged me to share that Nicholas was interested in divesting
his collection of athletic shoes and wanted to look at some Top-Siders. A conversation was born… what style,
size and color? When did he plan to wear them? Looking for something dressy or just something to kick around

Ask questions that are thought provoking, not mind numbing.

#2. Make it easy for customers to decide

Nicholas had pretty much lasered in on one particular style of shoe, but when the shoe salesman returned from
the stock room he had several boxes in tow.

Nick immediately tried on his favorite style and began walking the floor to check out the fit. I could tell by his expression that he felt the shoe looked better on the shelf than it did on his foot. The salesman also picked up on
this and suggested that Nicholas try on one or two of the other styles that he had taken the liberty to bring out of
stock. After all, they were right there and it wouldn’t take but a minute to check them out.

The second pair generated a more favorable response but the third pair was a home run. Give your customer
painless choices. What looks good in the window doesn’t always look good on your foot. Think ahead and
develop contingencies. You’ll be glad you did.

#3. Look for unidentified needs

Nick had picked out the right shoe, and we had the right size. We were ready to leave when the salesman asked
permission to show us what he had in the remaining boxes he brought out of the stock room. He politely
mentioned that he couldn’t help but notice how much “good use” Nick had gotten out of the shoes he was
currently wearing. He then asked if my son would be interested in seeing some brand new athletic shoes in the
latest back to school styles—need I say more?

Want to be more successful at up-selling? Read (and re-read) #3 above.

#4. Would you like some fries with that?

Nick and I have our purchases picked out, and we’re ready to leave when the young man pulls something out of
his back pocket. As we walk to the register he shows me (the economic buyer) a shoe tree and shares facts
about how these beautiful cedar appliances will extend the life of Nick’s new shoes (assuming I can get him to
use them!). I hadn’t expressed any interest in shoe trees but this sales professional picked up on my frustration
with how fast Nick could destroy a pair of shoes. He had the courage and the smarts to offer something we both
knew had value. What was the worst thing that could happen?

I left the store that day with a lighter wallet but I got a real "deal" on some great sales training. These four simple
(but powerful) lessons have been around for a long time, but very few reps consistently apply them.

Are you looking for ideas on how to take your craft to the next level? If not, you should be. You'll be surprised by
what you can learn and amazed at where these lessons can take place.

Speaking of Sales is about finding, winning and keeping customers for life. If that’s part of your job, then you
won’t want to miss the next issue.

Until then,


Author's Bio: 

Tim Wackel, founder and president of The Wackel Group, delivers sales workshops for technology
companies that are insightful, engaging and focused on providing real world success strategies that
audiences can (and will!) implement right away. Tim’s clients include industry leaders Cisco, Hewlett Packard,
Raytheon, Red Hat, BMC Software, Philips Medical Systems, Occam Networks, and TXU Energy. Tim holds a
Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Nebraska and lives in Dallas where he and his wife enjoy
the constant thrills of raising two teenagers.