Nail the Sale, Chapter One: A Shopping Trip of Reverse Proportions

Nov 05, 2009
Carol Spieckerman

Commentary by Carol Spieckerman,
President, Newmarketbuilders

With one exception,
the duration-to-spend ratios for my excursions to Best Buy have always
been disproportionately weighted toward emptying my wallet. Last weekend,
that got turned around.

After I had one of the
greatest customer experiences I can remember, Best Buy forfeited a doozy
of a sale (upwards of $5,000) — and they had sunk a big chunk of time into
it, too. Here’s how it went down (and BTW, I’m using the recent Best Buy
trip as an example. Y’all know I’m about patterns, not anomalies, and I’m
seeing this situation lots of other places).

Last Saturday, my just-divorced
friend and I spent two hours browsing Best Buy. She was excited about trading
her “perfectly good” (according to her dear ex) Flintstonian, room hog
of a television, receiver and speaker set-up for a streamlined home theater
system. She’d asked me to accompany her because she was “clueless” about
technology yet ready to splurge big time.

Every minute of this
visit reeked of “customer centricity.” The first sales associate deftly
guided us through computer speakers — though they were not even on my
list, I started poking around. Plugging his iPhone into the demo unit and
flashing a conspiratorial grin, he took me up on my dare to crank up the
volume on the $150+ Klipsch set…and when it came time to head to Home
Theater, his seamless hand-off to a senior associate was a real thing of

there, we were treated to an effortless non-pitch that had Senior Blue
Shirt translating the latest in TVs, receivers and speaker sets from high-tech
to low res without so much as a whiff of condescension. The more time we
spent with him, the more confident my friend became in her decision to
make an investment that would surpass any she’d personally made in the
last ten years.

The power
session wrapped up with Senior Blue Shirt offering to write up everything
he had recommended, and that’s when the sale started going off the
rails. The five minutes that
he was gone was just long enough for my friend to lapse into doubt mode.
When he got back and began walking us through the quote, the situation
became more unnerving for a few reasons:

Installation: What
had previously been described as a fairly straightforward process suddenly
got more complicated. First quoted as a general estimate of “about $300,” the
installation fee then morphed into a “range” of “$100 to as high as $800.” Of
course, there are reasons for the range but that provides no comfort.

Delivery: Another
unexpected complication, as visions of Geek Squadders magically appearing
with everything — plugging it all in and turning it all on — regressed into a two-phased commitment that would include dealing with a trucking company
for the television and Geek Squad for the remainder. AND, it was revealed
that the non-TV components would need to be brought home by my friend
while the centerpiece of the system, the television, would be brought
by the trucking company in “a couple of days.” That shut off the instant
gratification switch.

Furniture: Best
Buy’s limited selection of home theater furniture presented a problem
that wasn’t considered up until this point. My friend didn’t care for
the somewhat utilitarian styles that were present on the floor so talk
switched to leaving Best Buy and shopping for furniture first.

Timelines: There was no discussion of specific timelines; only ranges. Senior Blue
Shirt’s low-pressure accommodations gave my now-skeptical and fearful
friend “permission” to
leave the store gracefully, and that’s just what we did.

Back at her
house, my friend turned on her perfectly good TV and twenty-year-old
stereo and said, “You
know, I really don’t watch television that much.”

Questions: What are the most common mistakes in closing a sale at
retail? Which stood out as the biggest faux pas in the incident described
in the article? How can retailers make sure such incidents happen
less frequently?

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18 Comments on "Nail the Sale, Chapter One: A Shopping Trip of Reverse Proportions"

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Nikki Baird
Nikki Baird
11 years 6 months ago
Ouch! I think the biggest mistake was leaving to write everything up. There are a couple of reasons why he might be gone so long, mainly, he couldn’t find writing materials, or he got snagged by someone else needing help. While I have personally roamed a store looking for a pen, and I have countless times stood by while a store employee scrambled for a pen, I’m going to place bet on the latter reason–someone probably stopped him and asked him a question, and that turned into three or four people doing the same. That’s a staffing issue. I had the same thing happen to me in The Container Store of all places–a place I revere for customer service in a way that Best Buy doesn’t even come close. But last weekend, The Container Store was so busy that employees were flying up and down the aisles and I couldn’t get anyone to stop. I ended up having to stand in line in the aisle to ask my question. Hmmm. I don’t think this bodes… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
11 years 6 months ago

What I think was missed in Carol’s detailed experience was they made the customer feel that “this is easy,” then pulled the rug out from under her at the last minute. Especially for someone unsure, once it gets too hard to decide, their comfort level is compromised or the “idiot switch” is thrown, of course they will leave. How should BB have dealt with this? All of the “junk” at the counter with disclaimers and trucking, etc, should have been sprinkled throughout the conversation preparing the customer for delayed gratification. They can own the name Best Buy but as you’ve shown, missed the boat on understanding their customer.

Ryan Mathews
11 years 6 months ago

The key to successful sales is transparency. Best Buy associates don’t work on commission, so there is no reason to try to bury or obscure the total, true terms of sale. Oh…it’s always a good idea to strike while the iron is hot.

Marge Laney
11 years 6 months ago
The most important sentence in this piece is, “The more time we spent with him, the more confident my friend became in her decision to make an investment.” Traffic is slow and what’s left of marketing efforts due to budget cuts are hard pressed to lure the list carrying, discount seeking shopper into stores. The challenge for retail in this environment is to make the most of the people who do come through the door. Store personnel have no control over the number of people that come in, but they have total control of the experience each customer has once they’re inside. It is in this experience that associates can give each customer the confidence to buy. The worst thing a retailer can do in the current environment is ignore the customers who have taken the time to come into their store. Leaving them to fend for themselves to locate products, or figure out on their own if a certain product is right for them can leave the customer feeling disrespected and uncared for. These… Read more »
David Zahn
11 years 6 months ago
Carol outlines a microcosm of what happens all too often and has repercussions for BOTH the retailer and the customer. The “need” had not been established upfront (what drove her to the store…getting back at the “ex,” a desire to see shows in a more vibrant picture, the desire to be current in technology, the aesthetics of a new set vs. the “Flintsonian” one, etc.). That should have been referred to throughout the sale to cement the positives of completing the sale. The delay between the verbal “yes” and the write up of the order was far too long and allowed the “buyer’s remorse” to build. At that point, the junior salesperson should have been all over it complimenting her on her choice, showing her DVDs or CDs she could buy to try out the new system at home, etc. If time had to be spent between the verbal and the write up (and I’m not sure why it would be needed), make it productive and sale-building! The inability to allow the buyer to walk… Read more »
Anne Howe
11 years 6 months ago

Wow. If this is representative of a pattern Carol sees, retail sales training needs to be “re-imagined” for higher-end products. If the ultimate user experience is going to be connected to delayed gratification, the sales person should start to establish up front that “it’s going to be so worth it” when it all comes together, so that the concept of anticipation becomes the positive motivator, not the deal killer.

I think that’s true for every product that’s got some sort of a learning curve to it, which most “tech” products do. Even those you can walk out with and just turn on and enjoy.

Case in point: my iTouch, which I’ve had for a month, is not yet fully delivering the happiness promised since my learning curve is pretty steep on all of its features and benefits…well we could blame some of that on the lack of innate operator ability we Booomers have with this stuff….

Doron Levy
Doron Levy
11 years 6 months ago
I think this sale was doomed from the start. Considering Best Buy using a non-commission structure, I would say they should have been upfront with the closing details at the beginning. That huge delivery range is unacceptable. Granted that is where they are making up most of their margin, I cannot believe they would state such a wide range. In fact, I’m surprised they offered a range. Most big-box electronic retailers offer 3 or 4 levels of service that are priced according to content of the package. And those delivery times are completely absurd. My contact at Futureshop (owned by Best Buy in Canada) says that their warehouse is full of every kind of product imaginable. Why would you have to wait more than 1 day for a plasma TV? The furniture, well what can I say here. BB is limited to the real estate they have (I do agree that their associative product program for home entertainment is very weak). You could go to Sears and have a reduced selection of electronics (and an… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
11 years 6 months ago

First, some setup. In order to remain competitive with Wal-Mart, Best Buy prices and sells most of the big components (like the TV) at or below cost. This is offset by the fat margins in the ancillary accessories and services–furniture, speakers, Geek Squad, warranties, etc. Using Carol’s experience as an example, the sales staff is just as focused on building the margin of the sale with these margin boosters (good result for them) as they are on selling the customer on a new home video experience (good for her). This is not a good balance.

I have had the same experience with Best Buy and I am continuously surprised that, as shrewd as they are, they have not developed a better way to streamline the post-close transaction process. These are high-cost discretionary purchases. After all, who really needs a 60″ TV? Giving this customer time to develop buyer’s remorse is deadly, as Carol’s experience demonstrates.

Mark Burr
11 years 6 months ago
I’m not quite so sure there was an ‘intent to buy’ in the first place. Nevertheless, I had a similar experience with Best Buy recently with a laptop computer. I went with an intent to buy and was ‘sold’. It was only then that I found out that I had to go pick it up at another store. While I could have dropped it right then and there, and probably should have, I didn’t. I do however, remain wary of Best Buy at this point. There’s significant room for improvement well beyond treating every customer as a thief when leaving the store. Perhaps that was what bothered me the most, even more than the second trip. The problem with the experience outlined in the article and my own experience was that the ‘fun’ was taken out of it in the details. All possible excitement was lost in the ‘closing’. All of which comes down to the details. They killed the fun in the details. That’s never a good thing and the chances of winning become… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
11 years 6 months ago

Great, true story. The survey choices were missing the one key point. It was not one thing that went wrong, it was lots of little thing put together.

The situation posed about Best Buy is not typical of a retail sale because of the size of the sale and the complex nature of the purchase. But the things that can be learned are basic.

1. Confused minds don’t buy and when things went from simple to complex, the sale was lost.
2. Keep the purchase process simple.
3. Have trained, adequate staff to take care of the customer.
4. Make sure to ask for the order.

Cathy Hotka
11 years 6 months ago

Great story, and well told.

One problem here is intent. Sales associates are hired to explain products and answer customers’ questions–but that doesn’t mean that they’re responsible for making the sale. There should probably be a mechanism that alerts the store that a customer is considering a sizable purchase, so that someone can be put in charge of making sure that a sale is made. Explaining product metrics is important, but not as important to the customer as the concept of something new and cool in the home. Sell sizzle, and make it easy.

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 6 months ago

Asking for the sale is at least one of the keys here. Regardless of the retailer, this is a constant challenge. Even at the small, independent bicycle shop by my house, I have been there when a customer has their wallet out and asks all the “buying” questions, and they end up walking out the door because the shop owner didn’t ask for the sale. I actually know the two people who I saw at the shop, and both of them bought bikes that day elsewhere. Basic stuff.

Herb Sorensen
11 years 6 months ago
I picked Bob Phibbs line out of all this great commentary: “once it gets too hard to decide.” The failures here in personal selling are so egregious and so common that they resonate with everyone here. I’d like to spin this further to a growing transformation of SELF-SERVICE into personal selling. Selling is all about getting a decision–and keeping it. After all, the same good principles of personal selling used in the best stores–Nordstroms used to be a prime example–can be deployed with tremendous effect in a self-service environment. It is what I call “The Amazonification of Walmart,” merging these two on a conceptual basis, even as they are beginning to grapple on a real basis. SELLING all comes down to the close, bringing the customer to the point of decision. But once that point has been reached–as it apparently was in Carol’s example–it is essential to CLOSE the sale, immediately, hence the prime rule of personal selling, “close early and close often.” (Get a good book on it!) Once the sale has been made,… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 6 months ago

Great customer experience, engaging and knowledgeable salesperson, brutal execution. In this category, BB isn’t in the business of selling stuff, they are in the business of ‘delivering’ an experience. They are ultimately performing a service, supported by product. The deliverable is not just an outstanding in-home entertainment experience, but also speed, convenience, and simplicity (at zero added cost!) in installing the system in the home. Their execution failure was in not having all their installation ducks completely in a row even before the first customer came in the store.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
11 years 6 months ago

When you have customer who is ready to buy, willing and interested to part with their $$$, you need to be able to seize that, make the process as seamless as possible and not make the process so onerous.

Arthur Rosenberg
Arthur Rosenberg
11 years 6 months ago
The problem lies with Best Buy corporate. They should have a system implemented which simplifies the process and guarantees a speedy delivery and installation. The world is tough enough these days. When a customer is inclined to splurge they are generally treating themselves and expect, at least, a totally pleasant experience. Any rough patches takes some fun away and ultimately may puncture their balloon. Best Buy constantly espouses customer centricity but sees little more than ‘blue is for boys and pink is for girls’. They see things as they want the customer to see them. They fail to walk in the customer’s shoes. As with the situation stated by ‘Scanner’, I once experienced Best Buy’s futile system. Some time ago I spotted a wall of bargain priced CDs and decided to purchase two. The checkout priced them at about ten dollars each more than sign at the wall. When I indicated the discrepancy I was told I had to find a sales associate to mark the price, he then had to find a manager to… Read more »
Joel Warady
Joel Warady
11 years 6 months ago

If the salesperson would have pulled out a handheld computer, or a smartphone, right then and there to “write-up” the order, this would have solved part of the problem. If the same salesperson brought over the “home-logistics expert,” who could say ” Leave it all to me. I will make sure that it is all delivered within the next 72 hours, and I will track it all for you, and inform you ahead of time when it will be delivered,” this would handle the second part of the problem.

Cost of the handheld–$300.

Daily cost of the logistics expert–$225.

Having a happy customer willing to spend $5000–Priceless!

Mark Price
Mark Price
11 years 5 months ago

The greatest failure in the sales experience is failing to meet customer expectations. It was clear that her friend wanted instant gratification with her purchase–at least in the next couple days. Since that was her need, the waffling of costs, dates, and installation methods was a complete failure to hear what the customer needed and then to expedite normal procedures to meet those needs.

The expediting of delivery, installation, etc. is where small companies have a chance to shine, since larger companies are constrained by policies and procedures that are hard for them to break.


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