Can I Help You?

Here’s a test.  Fill in the blanks.

Q:  "Can I help you?"
A:  __ ______, ____ _______."

Jeffrey Gitomer writes today at about Bob, a true SALESperson who’s eliminated the ugly question, "Can I help you?" from his vocabulary and is obviously reaping the financial rewards.

Let’s take a look at this sad excuse for a selling technique.  "Can (or may) I help you?"  Of course you can help me.  You work here.  You know the merchandise.  You know where everything is.  You know the price of everything.  (Or you have the ability to find out.)  You know where the bathroom is.  If I’m in your store, there is certainly some way that you can help me.  Your job, the reason you’re there, is to find out how you can help me, and then do it. 

But years of conditioning, holding mom’s hand as she shopped the mall, going with dad to the auto parts store, learning the ways of the world, have taught me that there’s only one response to the CIHY? question: "NO THANKS, JUST LOOKING."   You aren’t going to find out how you can help me by asking how you can help me.  It takes more effort than that.

Who first asked the question and who first formulated the answer are lost in history but the two are forever linked in our psyche.  Like ham and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, and spaghetti and meatballs, they can’t be pried apart with a crowbar.  If you ask the question, you’re going to get the answer.  So why ask it?

I guess it’s because the same conditioning that’s taught us the proper response to the question has taught us that it’s the way every person in every retail selling situation ALWAYS starts the conversation.  But the chain CAN be broken.

Let’s be clear about something.  Except in very rare circumstances, the customer ISN’T JUST LOOKING!  In today’s busy world, normal people don’t just decide to leave home, get in the car and burn some expensive gasoline only to go spend an hour looking at merchandise that they have no intention of ever buying.  They just don’t.  There may be a few exceptions.  A frantic mom may run into your sporting goods store asking if little Junior can use the restroom and mom may browse the fishing rods while he does, just to pass a few minutes.  Under normal circumstances, mom wouldn’t touch a fishing rod with a ten foot pole.   That’s an exception.

If you’re in the car business, people may browse a bit when the new models come out just out of curiosity.  But even then, sooner or later they’re going to buy a car.  For such a big ticket purchase, it’s worth the time to answer their questions, get their contact information, and put them in your database.  But, none of that is likely to happen if the salesman approaches with "Can I help you?"

Specialty retailers cater to a narrow audience.  That’s how independents survive in today’s highly competitive environment.  Serving a narrow audience means that people come into your store with a purpose.  They’re not just looking!

Like our friend Bob, a creative greeting to every customer, one that shows that you’re actually interested in being of service, will get you the information you need and help you establish a relationship.  If nothing else, it will make you stand out in the customer’s mind.

You can subscribe to a weekly newsletter from Jeffrey Gitomer at his web site.

3 Responses

  1. Good post.

    It proves the point that following the crowd (i.e. following the “conventional” method of selling) is not best for you, or your customer.

    I’ve been a subscriber to “Sales Caffeine” for 3 years now, and I definitely agree with you–Jeffrey Gitomer provides some great information to his subscribers. He is unconventional, in a very memorable way.

  2. Michelle,

    Thanks for the nice words. It’s all about building relationships and you do that by showing a sincere concern for the other person.

    By the way, your blog, Economic Edge,, is very good.

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