You Gotta Know How to Treat Them…

Should sales associates treat different customers differently?


In retail, there are many different customer groups and customer segments you could use in which to categorize customers but for the sake of this article, I will just focus on two groups, polar opposites: those with more time than money and those with more money than time.


A friend of mine (we’ll call Bill) manages a spa, landscape and fireplace store in the Fox Valley in Wisconsin. It is the company’s main store – we’ll call the SLF I store.  There are two other SLF stores, within 100 mile of the flagship (SLF I) store.


Their newest store is in Redgranite, WI, and there are a number of young, inexperienced sales associates working that store. To help mentor these young sales associates, Bill spends time with certain associates (in person and over the phone) teaching them about products, sales approaches and how to deal with all customers who pass through the Redgranite SLF store.


During one mentoring event, the topic arose on how to treat different customers from different areas. You see, there are many local shoppers who, before they make a purchase, will visit the store a number of times, do Internet research and ensure they are getting the best possible deal. According to Bill, these consumers have more time than money. Often, this type of customer may “lean on the associates” to get a really good deal or “as a test” to be convinced they’re doing business at the right store. In this scenario, “patience is a virtue,” and it’s common for associates to repeat themselves during multiple interactions continuing their “customer service poise” throughout the process. This approach is common among locals, especially if the purchase exceeds $500-1000.


Bill also has much experience with a customer who’s not necessarily local, someone who may have more money than time. Because the Redgranite SLF store is located in beautiful area of Wisconsin sprinkled with thick woods, lakes and resorts, it’s common to see many urbanites shop at this store – the majority being Chicagoans. When they enter the store, they want to get down to business fast. Mind you, they may visit the area, or their second home, about 10 times per year so time is precious. Most of these customers don’t want to spend a few consecutive Saturdays looking for a spa or landscaping material. Even though the sales associate answers tens of questions for the local customer, doesn’t mean that same approach will apply to someone who wants to know if it’s the right product at a fair price before they pull the trigger on a $5,000 purchase.


How do you know which is which? If you’re inexperienced working on the retail floor, will you know right away? It’s not always wise to judge a customer by what they wear or the car they drive. Some multi-millionaires drive a 10 or 15-year-old car or an old pickup truck and locals with fewer assets may uncharacteristically drive a $50,000 car. It may be wise to not prejudge and ask just a few questions and listen intently. Get to know each customer individually which should eventually help how to target one’s sales approach. Asking a question, “Are they easy going or a little more antsy and restless?” might help.


Other things for a sales associate to consider at this Redgranite SLF store may include: is price more important than service? Do they keep asking about the price or when that item might go on sale? On the other hand, are they more interested in getting a fair deal and knowing that this retailer can install and support it over time? Once the sales associate gauges the focus of the customer, this should help them customize the right approach.