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Guest column: When a customer says, ‘I’m just looking’

September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7

By Louis Wisdom

Seldom should a customer be left alone in the showroom to “just look.” She will see very little product and you will know nothing of her needs. How many times have you heard a customer say, “Thanks for your time, but I want to keep looking,” after only seeing a mere fraction of your selection? What’s worse is you know nothing about what she is looking for or the reason she left.

Color, style, quality and value were never discussed, so the odds of her coming back are unlikely. You lost control of the sale and, consequently, the customer lost her best chance of buying exactly what she wanted. If you are competent and professional, you are her best resource. You must gain control for her benefit and yours.

Selling relationships require a certain degree of management and command during all stages of the process. I suggest using an effective technique called “cushioning,” which helps the salesperson connect and relate to the customer. It is based on empathy and meets the human condition of feeling understood.

Cushioning is simply giving importance to what the customer feels and says; it is a linking statement. For example, if she says, “Thanks but I just want to look,” you link by replying with, “I completely understand. Sometimes when I am shopping I need some space as well.” With this linking statement you are breaking down her defenses, putting her on your side and making her feelings important. Linking cushions her objection or hesitation.

Use this supporting dialogue each time a customer says something that sustains her reasoning or brings up a point or objection that has not yet been discussed. Some ways to link or cushion include, “Good point,” “I’m glad you brought that up,” and “You are correct.”

Once you move forward from the initial greeting, try getting into the qualification process: “Since you are just looking, what type of flooring are you thinking of so I can direct you to a particular area?” You can also try, “Which room are you planning to cover?” If she answers your question then you are in the clear.

Suppose she remains committed to just looking. This customer may simply want to enjoy her shopping experience in solitude. But somehow you have to eventually become involved in the conversation before she walks out the door.

To get her involved in the conversation, say, “This store is designed for browsing—almost everything is priced. If you have any questions about what’s on sale, how the floor will wear, available colors, warranties or fibers, my name is ________, please feel free to call on me.” It is likely she does not have a clue about these important topics, so she will engage in conversation immediately. Presto—you are building common ground and on your way to becoming her trusted advisor.

Now suppose she acknowledges your statement and keeps looking. Wait a moment or so then add, “By the way, I have a consumer brochure on how to buy flooring and some information on interior design. Be sure to take one before you leave.” (These promotional leaflets are available from most manufactures or you can create your own with your company logo.)

She almost always responds, “That would be great.” Why? She doesn’t trust salespeople, she really does need help, and only an authoritative source of information will suffice. At this point you have offered technical support she can finally rely on and you have received permission to re-approach her. Now give her the space she requested, but stay close so you are accessible for any questions.