Get the nuances of customer interactions right, and you’ll see more repeat customers.
Sharpening your sales skills can help you and your staff sell more drinks and meals—and build a steady base of regular customers. It can also help you attract investors to your business model or land a business loan.
Contrary to what you may assume, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be good at sales. It doesn’t matter if you’re oozing with small-talk skills and confidence (in fact, this can sometimes work against you), or if you’re more shy and introspective. Either way, you have an equal chance of success.
With the following principles, just about anyone can learn to be a great retail seller:
It can seem calculating and impersonal, but putting some effort into rapport makes any human interaction more meaningful and memorable. Learning what you have in common—beyond a love of coffee, cocktails or food—can be as simple as noticing a customer’s clothing or paying special attention to their children.
When you comment on the item or interaction with a question, and share something about yourself based on the customer’s answer, you start to build a connection, i.e., rapport. People don’t forget when you notice something about them and connect with it.
Think in terms of value, not volume (and you’ll create volume).
Being able to “sell snow to an Eskimo” is no small feat, because Eskimos don’t need snow. And why would you want to sell anyone something they don’t want?
Your goal should be to sell only what’s useful, enjoyable, or otherwise beneficial to a particular customer. If they’re having trouble deciding what they want, ask them what flavors they’re craving (salty, sweet, tart?) and customize a drink for them, or recommend the perfect pastry. It shows that you’re looking out for them, not simply trying to crank out as many orders as possible to maximize your daily sales. Make someone feel special and you could earn a loyal customer.
Challenge preconceived notions—gently.
A Sprudge post from a few years back neatly packaged the fallacy of assuming everyone is getting on board with third-wave coffee: “A lot of people assume that the … eccentricities and whims of specialty coffee’s upper echelon will be duly embraced and tolerated by the guy off the street. This simply isn’t true, because if it were, such a mindset would naturally have to touch across all forms of consumption, and we’d already be living in some kind of Alice Waters utopia.”
Of course, Sprudge advises that if a customer is “irritated by baristas who tend to get excited about the coffees they’re serving… [they] might feel more at home at a cafe with less of a focus on the coffee itself,” but you need to think of how you’re going to handle every stripe of coffee lover that ventures into your shop.
You might be selling the perfect macchiato and the best single-estate, light-roast pourover in town, and thus choose to nurture a baristas-gone-wild approach, letting your staff’s coffee knowledge and enthusiasm bubble forth as part of the expected experience at your shop. Just be careful not to lecture—coffee enthusiasm can easily come off this way.
You might instead decide to embrace every customer wherever they’re at in their coffee-loving trajectory, offer a bit of coffee knowledge here and there if they seem interested, but more or less give them what they want, how they want it—even if, technically, a macchiato with extra milk is really a cappuccino.
Be honest, and humble.
Most customers are savvy enough to tell when someone is being honest with them—and they like it! If they feel they can trust you, they’re more likely to come back. Never beat-your-chest over the superiority of your drinks or food. Just offer a good product, and tell people why it’s worth their time and money when opportunities arise—don’t force it.
And sometimes, believe it or not, it can be best to say: “You know what? I don’t think we have what you’re looking for. Let me recommend another [café/restaurant].” When you do that, you’re showing customers that you really do have their best interests in mind. They then see you as someone they can trust, and may recommend you or come back later.
As a wise person once said, “the only thing you truly own is your reputation.” Make sure people see you as being honest and trustworthy.
Go the extra mile.
Selling is like anything else—persistence pays off. You don’t want to be pushy, but you should show customers that you genuinely care about their experience and want to make it as pleasurable as possible. Consistently making small personalized contact can go a long way toward increasing your sales. In many ways, making a sale is a courtship, and there’s nothing wrong with “wooing” customers as long as you’re honest and forthright.
While there’s a lot of nuance and no hard-and-fast formula to increasing sales, a personal touch will go a long way. That’s why it works. When you see each person as unique, your sales can soar.