I just spent about 40 minutes in your retail store, most of the time spent playing with the new Samsung Galaxy S3 – that new Android phone that everyone is talking about. I’m not desperate to have it right away but I had money in my pocket and was prepared to buy the phone right there on the spot, yet not one of your half-dozen sales people approached me or even asked how I was doing. It hurts to be ignored.
But I spent that time listening to salesperson after salesperson push the Galaxy S3 and some of what I heard made me cringe. So I have some advice for you. Some of it fueled by the nearly 3 years I spent selling cameras in a Best Buy and the rest from my gut. But I warn you now to take it with a grain of salt, because I’m just a 20-year-old college kid and my family still pays the phone bills.
1. Stop talking, start listening
There are two lines of thought in product development: Users know best what they want (called user innovation) or the idea that ”people don’t know what they want until you show them.” (Jobs) But in the world of retail sales, you have to do a little bit of both and you have to start by listening.
When a customer is looking at a smartphone, ask open-ended questions. What kind of phone do you have now? What are you looking to do with your phone? How frequently do you use your phone? The sales reps I listened to asked none of these types of questions.
This one phone might have face and voice recognition, but that might not impress this customer. What if you find out that they’re most interested in video chatting with their brother in the military (real customer I met). Not only is that a great conversation to build a relationship off of, you can show off the features that matter most and create a more confident buyer and user.
But when it comes to features, sometimes you have to…
2. Forget about features, demonstrate usability
There were two demo Samsung phones to play with. While I was at one, another woman was playing with the other. When the salesperson approached her, she said ‘Yes, this phone looks nice, but it seems confusing.’
The first things he showed her was S Voice, to which it was unable to say what . Then the camera, google maps, S Beam, motion gestures and widgets. And don’t forget about the Google Play store where you can download a million other apps. And did you see this cool slip cover it comes with?
Don’t forget that what your selling is still, primarily, a phone. And those brave people that are confused by smartphones but are still interested should at least be able to make a phone call or send a text. Show off how simple it is to call somebody. Then put the phone in their hands and let them do it. Don’t overlook the fact that these phones are intimidating as they are powerful and you should make it as approachable as possible.
Similarly drop the ‘tech talk’. Using terms like RAM and mAh will just go right over the customer’s head.
3. Your image no longer reflects your products
I think there was a day when the most-expensive phones were made solely for middle-age business people in suits. I’m not sure about now, but you could ask Nathan. We’re living a post-BlackBerry phone world and smartphones are for everyone, not just the business class.
This might be the most vain piece of advice I can offer, but stop wearing ties and shirts. I know that if Google ever opened up their own retail store, they’d certainly be looking a lot more hip than that. Even the people working at the Microsoft Store are wearing t-shirts.
It’s not because I don’t think you look nice but shopping for technology in 2012 needs to be a fun experience, and that should be reflected in your image. Also remember that your clothes aren’t going to sell the product, your knowledge will. Customers recognize that now.
4. And stop bashing Apple
- “They released the iPhone 4S because Steve Jobs died so they just threw in a couple more features and pushed it out.”
- “Apple’s servers are really small and when you use Siri it normally redirects to Google anyway.”
- “Every icon looks alike on your homescreen and it’s really hard to find applications.”
All things I heard salespeople say in the 40 minutes I was there. I’m certainly not an Apple fanboy. I was in your store to buy an Android phone. But you’re really trying too hard to steer people away from the iPhone and I’m not the only person that’s noticed it.
But you’re forgetting that not every person wants what you have. Not everyone is meant to have a Samsung Galaxy S3 bundled with a Bluetooth headset and case. So when a customer asks about the iPhone, don’t dismiss it immediately as a bad phone. Ask questions and figure out if this is a customer that will still be better suited for an iPhone. If you need help figuring out who that customer is, walk over to the always-crowded Apple store and cautiously heed advice #1.
And sure, the iPhone 4S isn’t as powerful as the similarly-priced Android phones but why not talk about what Apple has planned with iOS6 or the rumored iPhone 5? Maybe even arrange with Apple a way to sell pre-orders. You’re making it sound like Apple isn’t a mobile competitor anymore and your unanimous distain for their phone doesn’t help the trust between you and I.
But I guess the goal is to close the sale as soon as possible. And the goal of any business is to make money.
I might be naive but I think you can still turn profits while building meaningful customer relationships. And for your sake I hope so, because in this smartphone-era those relationships are the only thing brick-and-mortar stores have left to hold on to.
Write back soon Verizon,
On Aug 1, 9-to-5 Mac linked to this article and people took off with my 4th point here. Thanks to everyone who’s read and commented so far! If there are any Verizon Wireless salespeople out there who would be willing to talk with me off-the-record about possible store biases and incentives to sell certain products, please send me an email at jeffstern.ny [at] gmail [dot] com.