By Peter Smith
Peter Smith is president of Memoire and author of two books, “Hiring Squirrels,” and “Sell Something.” Connect with Smith on LinkedIn or at
Turning over customers—the delicate art of shifting a prospective customer from one salesperson to another when the chemistry seems not to be right—has much in common with New Year’s resolutions.

With the best of intentions, we determine to do better, we know we ought to do better and, yet, as we get into the meat of the year, we can often find ourselves lamenting that we are no closer to effecting change then when we made the resolution in the first place.

There are, naturally, many reasons why turnover is important in a sales environment but perhaps the most compelling argument comes from the research on bias conducted by Alexander Todorov and Janine Willis at Princeton University.

Todorov and Willis concluded that people make decisions about whether they like someone or not within 1/10th of a second upon meeting them.

If that first impression happens to be negative, everything that follows serves only to underscore the validity of the initial perception for the customer.

If someone takes an immediate dislike to you they will follow that perception down the rabbit hole to the detriment of you, your store and, ironically enough, themselves. In many respects, there might have been nothing you could have done differently to avoid your fate.

Rationalizing why customers might feel that way about someone they have just met serves no purpose.

It could be that you remind them of somebody they don’t like, it could be the color of your outfit, your accent, or even the closeness of your eyes.

There is also the possibility that you yourself unconsciously communicated your dislike of the customer in your own body language.
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If your schedule permits, you could conduct a post-mortem on what your body language communicated that might have been off-putting to prospective customers with whom you did not connect.

Or, in the interest of time and sanity, you can accept that no one person—no matter how nice, smart or well-intentioned—is ever going to connect with everyone they meet.

And you can get busy working on the practical aspects of how you might execute turnover in your store to ensure the best possibility for a win-win-win for your customers, your salespeople and your store.

Like most of human engagement, there are few absolute truths in how one ought to construct the practice of customer turnover.

I would suggest a “seamless turnover” practice, aided by a culture of team selling, is not a bad place to start.

That doesn’t mean invoking an “everyone in” approach to every customer where you risk overwhelming your customers with a gang-selling approach. What is does mean, however, is that you adopt the practice of what I call “loitering with intent.”

Loitering with intent means that when a given salesperson engages with a customer, one of her colleagues “busies herself” nearby, within earshot, so that she can offer an opinion, a helping hand or, when necessary, a life raft.

Seamless turnover is a good way to hand off a customer without him knowing that he is being passed from one person to another.

It is facilitated by having more than one salesperson (appropriately and respectfully) in the space (within a case length or so of the customer) and potentially in the conversation.

It also requires a practiced and subtle signal between the salespeople that one will pass the customer to the other when the first salesperson feels the chemistry is not good.

The hand-off can happen by the original salesperson quietly excusing herself with something as simple as, “Let me grab a coffee for you and I’ll have Sharon show you that ring. I know it’s a favorite piece of hers.”

There should be no hard stopping point (where you announce that you are handing the customer over) so the customer is not put in an awkward position. The hand-off should be as subtle and seamless as possible. Once the original salesperson has quietly slipped away, the second salesperson can take the lead.

Another way to make the switch is to have the original salesperson stay on the periphery of the conversation but nonetheless cede the lead role to a colleague.

As the conversation progresses, the original salesperson can gradually work her way out of the conversation altogether and eventually excuse herself to “return a phone call” or engage a new customer.

Salespeople will often be resistant to the practice of turnover.

Besides the perfectly understandable resistance to not wanting to give up potential sales opportunities, there are two additional reasons why salespeople might be resistant; one is psychological—not wanting to admit failure—and the other is more practical—you haven’t been trained to manage customer turnover and it might feel staged or awkward to do it.

Those latter two concerns, of course, need to be addressed before implementing the practice.

It is important to share with your salespeople why turnover does not signal a failure on their part, and why it is in the customer’s best interest to foster a culture of turnover as standard practice.

Those points, of course, will be underscored provided your salespeople are as often the recipients of handovers from their colleagues as they are the givers of customers to their colleagues.

A culture of turnover is the right thing for your business, it is the right thing for your customers and, ultimately, it is the right thing for your salespeople.

Peter Smith is president of Memoire and author of two books, “Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent,” and “Sell Something: Principles and Perspectives for Engaged Retail Salespeople.” Both books are available in print or Kindle at Connect with Smith on LinkedIn or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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