The Importance of Small Talk in Retail Sales

Not all sales derive from phone calls and client lists. Retail outlets are dependent on walk-in traffic, and associates need to engage these customers and create a comfort zone. The art of small talk can be an important technique and, used properly, can encourage future sales.

Small talk is the conversational exchange of trivia and non-essential observations, usually conducted in casual social situations such as brunches, cocktail parties, and neighborly visits. But small talk can also be the lead-in to a sales pitch, and help establish common ground between the sales associate and the customer.

Retail associates need to establish a rapport with a customer quickly. Offering to provide assistance and asking pertinent questions are effective openers and can usually help the associate gauge the customer’s interest. But maintaining the customer’s interest, and developing a relationship takes a little more work.

The associate should listen for a nugget of information in the opening conversation. 

This should be something about the customer, and will provide a talking point when it comes time to close the deal. Take a look at the following scenario.

The customer is looking at carpet samples. She shows interest in a dark green plush style and the associate has approached, opening with, “Can I answer any questions for you?”

Customer: How much is this carpet?

Associate: That’s $35.99 a square yard with installation. It’s a very pretty color, don’t you think?

Customer: Yes. Right now I have a brown carpet and I’m bored with it. And it’s old, so I know I have to replace it sometime soon. But green, I just don’t know if that’s what I want.

This quick exchange tells the associate this customer does intend to buy carpet, and that she doesn’t want brown carpet. But she is hesitant to move to a new color. In her current state of mind, she is resistant to a sales pitch because she doesn’t want to end up with something she doesn’t really like. This is where a quick bit of small talk can move the customer to a more comfortable zone.

Associate: Green is a very relaxing color. Did you know the color green is thought to be good for your heart?

Customer: What?

Associate: Yes. The color green makes you relax, causes you to breathe deeper, a little slower. All colors have some kind of psychological and physical impact on us. What other colors do you have in your house?

Customer: Well, you know, I used green for the master bedroom and it’s one of my favorite rooms. I always feel so relaxed in there.

The associate has created a bond. Now the customer is thinking about the different colors in her house, not just the brown carpet. And she’s talking with the associate, giving clues as to what it is that she is really looking for.

The snippet of small talk made the customer feel that she had an ally in her decision making process. The conversational tone, the trivia, and the casual form of questioning serve to soften the sales pitch, and so put the customer at ease. She will most likely move on to other samples, and want the associate to talk with her about them. The associate now can include bits of the sales pitch in with the small talk. Closing the deal is now just a matter of defining and refining the customer’s needs.

The customer benefits because the associate was able to help her make an informed decision. 

The associate not only made the sale, but also generated a reference. The customer will most likely tell her friends and neighbors about the nice salesperson who helped her and recommend the associate to those looking to make a similar purchase.

And when the customer has a cocktail party to show off her new carpet, part of her small talk will be that the color green is good for the heart.

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