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Rick Segel's GREAT Sales Tips

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


By Natalie Hammer Noblitt

How do you train your sales staff? Do you approach training strategically? Is it something you’ve put off or abandoned because past training programs haven’t worked? This important step for growing your business doesn’t need to be complicated. Rick Segel, author, speaker and Massachusetts Retail Hall of Fame inductee, just released a book, The Retail Sales Bible: The GREAT Book of GREAT Selling, designed to make selling simple and natural for your associates.  

Q. Can you give us a brief introduction to your G.R.E.A.T. Retail Selling System that you outline in your new book?


A. Customers love to buy things, but they hate to be sold. That’s why you must use soft, suggestive selling techniques. The G.R.E.A.T. system is an acronym for the five stages of this selling process. 

First is “G,” the Greeting. This is your opening and a way to find common ground with your shoppers. It is important what style of opening you use, because you are building a bridge to “R,” which is for Research. Researching means asking questions about what the shopper wants, needs and likes. You also need to know his or her price range so you can make an educated suggestion of what to buy. 

The next phase is “E” for Experimenting. Experimenting is just making educated suggestions based on your research questions. You can say something like, “From what you have told me, these are the items I would recommend.” You can also say, “Let’s experiment and try this” or “Let’s play around with this idea.” That gives you some flexibility because you can’t always account for the fact that someone may not like something. It gives you an out to try several options and be flexible based on his or her tastes. 

At this point, closing the sale should be as natural as can be. Then comes “A” for Add-on Sales. Lastly, “T” is for Tethering. You’ve already sold them something, made add-on suggestions, and now you must get them tethered to your store. This can mean registering them for a customer loyalty program or just signing them up for your newsletter. The more you know about the customer, the easier it will be to sell something to them the next time.

Q. What mistakes do you see retailers make that you hope to help them correct in this book?

A. Training sales people can be difficult. No one ever says they will grow up to work in a store and be a retail sales rep like they do about being a doctor or lawyer. Someone often gets into retail sales because they start out as a part-time job and stay, or they are family. There isn’t a clear path for training. Right now it is even more difficult to train people correctly because retailers are relying much more on part-time people, and there is a much older employee base than we’ve ever seen. 

The G.R.E.A.T. method gives you a plan of action. But retailers also need to be likable. I spend a lot of time in the book on likability, and it’s one of the most undervalued areas of retail. In negotiations, you are willing to give up things if you like the other person. To be likable, you have to find commonality with your customers and things you can talk about. That is what brings us together. Find ways to talk to them about what they like. Find common interests. A compliment can be a powerhouse when it is done effectively. You can compliment many things, from material possessions to children.

Q. In your blog, you share an excerpt from the book called “The Add-On.” Why are add-on sales important? What are some general rules for add-ons?

A. Add-ons are critically important. You have essentially paid to have the customer come to your store — and that is not an easy task. Shoppers have so many choices, and the fact they are giving you the opportunity to sell to them is something you should cherish. They like you, and they like your store. 

Add-ons come after they have made the choice to purchase something from you. The truth of the matter is people appreciate this suggestion more than retailers and salespeople understand. You are continuing your conversation with them. 

As far as rules, there’s one type of add-on suggestion where you accessorize what they are already buying. Ask yourself what tools does someone need if you are a garden center selling sod. These are the logical go-together items as add-ons. 

The second type of suggestion is one that has nothing to do with the item a shopper is buying. Say, “While you’re here, you have to take a look at this.” The add-on item doesn’t have to be less expensive than the initial purchase; it can be more expensive. You’ve already won their hearts and minds, and you are doing them a disservice not to show shoppers something they might need or want. 

Q. You mention four powerful yet simple words: "Did you see this?" Could you share more about the effectiveness of the phrase and how it can be used?

A. The phrase is something I learned after researching sales training methods. It all started for me when my father had a heart attack, and I took a 90-day leave of absence to help run the family business, a dress shop. On the 47th day, my father passed away, and I had no choice but to join full-time. 

One of our biggest challenges with the business was that people would say, "Don’t go in there because they are too pushy." And it was true because my parents hired people who were older and were the old-fashioned, pushy sales types. I knew we needed a sales training method, and it had to be simple and easy to train our staff. The ones I found were too complex. 

After all my research I discovered four magic words that I’ve been preaching now for 20 years and are the basis of the book. These four words will change your sales performance. It is a wonderful opening line to use for customers and to team-build among your sales staff. 

Let associates use it to share information with one another. One of your team members can walk up to a customer with an item and say, "Did you see this?" The person will hold it, touch it and be more likely to buy it. It’s a great transition into having a conversation and starting the G.R.E.A.T. selling process.

Q. Why is it important to know natural techniques for closing a sale? What common mistakes do you see made?  

A. Closing the sale has to be natural to keep the experience fun. It’s not rocket science. You also have to think like a waiter. What does a waiter say after you order? "Excellent choice." How does that make you feel? It makes you feel good. You can eliminate buyer’s remorse by reinforcing his choice when he chooses something. To close the sale, you show empathy for this customer and what he needs. No sale is as important as the next sale.

Q. Why do many retailers need to refocus their business? What does that mean?

A. When retailers get into a sales rut, then it is time to refocus. One of the biggest mistakes I see is just showing shoppers the same items over and over again. An associate thinks, "If I show someone items A, B and C, and the person loves A, next time I won’t waste time. I’ll just show them A and B." 

That gets shortened to just showing them A. The staff thinks this is the hottest-selling item, and that’s all they show customers. When a shopper doesn’t love item A, that’s the end of the conversation. It’s hard to move on from there. It’s not a professional way to sell. 

Giving a customer options is important. Using the G.R.E.A.T. selling method means you are making educated judgments about what to suggest. Most associates will be afraid to go back to item A and reintroduce it if the person doesn’t like B or C. But sometimes they just needed to see B and C to realize A is what they wanted. Salespeople have to be more knowledgeable than ever before.

Q. How can retailers keep their staff motivated during a tough economy?

A. As far as motivating, what’s wrong with having fun with your employees? Why not let them participate in the business and champion something. This makes their jobs more enjoyable. 

Also, who says business is bad? I don’t like retailers to get into that mindset. There’s always someone doing business. A person recently wrote a comment on my blog saying that selling to him was like a bass tournament. He may not be catching fish that day, but there’s always someone reeling in the big catch. This is so true. 

I am amazed at how people are spending money even though people are saying times are tight. I am in the Orlando area and recently was at Universal Studios theme park. It was amazing to see how many people were spending $50 extra dollars on top of an $84 admission ticket just to jump to the front of the line with a fast pass. People are willing to spend money when it’s something they want or feel that it will give them a real benefit.

Q. If you were a retailer operating in today's marketplace, what’s the first thing you would instruct your sales associates to do (or not do)?

A. The first thing I would do is explain to them that a customer is a gift. I’d also tell them the customer isn’t always right, but they are the customer and they are allowed to make mistakes. They are doing us a favor and when you think about that, it makes it easier to find a way to accommodate them. 

The other thing I would do is advise sales associates not to talk about a bad economy, even if shoppers ask about how it is effecting the store. This is the greatest time in retailing. There are more independent retailers now that are making money than they ever have before. Independents have additional business online and keep existing customers for life, even if they move. The technology today allows us to track shoppers better than ever and connect with them in new ways. A store of any size can literally expand its business across the world.

Note: Rick Segel is a former retailer, certified speaking professional, retail sales expert and author of "The Retail Sales Bible: The GREAT Book of GREAT Selling," among many others. He is also a 2010 inductee of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts Hall of Fame. You can find information on his books, consulting and speaking services at Segel can be reached at 

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