Back to Basics – Courtesy in Sales.

Simple courtesies can make all the difference in sales.  Consumers can be emotional about their homes and many an order has been lost just because the sales person hasn’t removed their shoes.

Most of you are naturally courteous and recognise the importance of good manners but just in case you’re unsure, see below for some best practices in some situations.

Simple courtesies should not be underestimated in sales. Regardless of the rules in your own home and what you are or are not offended by yourself, it’s important to understand that your customers may have other views.

sales basics courtesy - dog sitting on door mat

Take Your Shoes Off.

Offering to take your shoes off is the first and most basic of courtesies when visiting someones home. Some people don’t have a shoes off rule but it is the offering to do so that shows the homeowner that you care and have respect for their space.

If you’re concerned about smelly feet, then it is your responsibility to do something about that because there are sales that you won’t get just because you don’t take your shoes off. Buy some simple slippers that you keep in your bag. Customers are really tickled by this.

There is a lot of competition for your products and it’s the salesperson who stands out that has the best chance of securing the order.

A sales person should always take off outside shoes or wear shoe covers in a customers house

Addressing Customer by Their First Name.

Some people will tell you to start off by using first names because they believe that it breeds familiarity quicker. It might for some, but you risk offending others. I talk to everyone as if I’ve known them forever, but I believe using the ‘first do no harm’ principle you use the formal greeting first.

I know that you often only have the surname. When you’re checking you’re in the right place when they answer the door you enquire using Mr or Mrs.

‘Mr Smith, I’m from Home Improvements’.

If it’s an elderly gentleman, I am quite happy to say Good morning or good afternoon Sir. It really does no harm to show some old-fashioned respect but do what’s comfortable for you. When you shake their hand and introduce yourself, they will usually offer a first name. If they do that make sure you use the name or you’re likely to forget it by time it matters. If the name isn’t offered, I will usually wait until I’ve established some rapport before I ask what it is or ask permission to use it if I know what it is.

Your age and gender in relation to your customer have a bearing on whether your use of their first name is appropriate to them. People born in the 60s, maybe 70s, and before, have grown up calling adults by their surname and believing you show respect for your elders. It doesn’t matter that you may think it is an outdated notion. It’s your customer that counts. Why risk offending them when it’s so simple to start off with Mr and Mrs. 

When you don’t know how to pronounce their name.

There is nothing wrong in admitting that you don’t know something and asking the customer.  Usually, you would use their name at the door – to confirm that you’re at the right house. You can skip the use of the name initially and ask are you expecting me? If they are then you are probably in the right place. When you shake hands and tell them your name, they may tell you their name. If you don’t catch it, just ask them to repeat it and try it out loud. If it’s unusual they will be used to this and will appreciate that you made an effort to get it right.

If they don’t offer their name, then ask outright.

”What do you prefer to be called’?

‘I’m sorry, would you mind telling me how to pronounce your name’.

If it’s foreign, they may offer you an anglicised version.

Gender Roles.

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of referring to the other half as partners. Using the term husband or wife won’t necessarily get you into trouble but it does show a narrow view. Your customer will no doubt correct you if the partner is same sex or they’re not married. It’s not a huge deal but it’s a conversation that doesn’t need to happen.

Don’t make any assumptions about gender roles. It is outdated to assume that men pay the bills and women do the cooking even if it is still the case in a lot of homes. Just treat both partners as completely equal in the decisions. 

Use Shoe Covers.

You can buy cheap plastic shoe covers if you want to avoid taking off your shoes but they can be slippery. A better solution is to buy bowling shoe protecters. They cost about £12, look better and last forever.

Quick Tip.

Don’t wear white or light socks in case you take your shoes off. After a few minutes, your socks will be filthy and this can cause embarrassment for your customer.

Quick Tip 2.

Keep a lint roller in your car to remove pet hairs before you visit the next customer. Also always run it around your collar to catch your own hairs before you go in.

Quick Tip 3.

Don’t bang on the door too hard. It alarms customers so that they come to the door already fraught. It’s irritating and conveys an urgency that you don’t need.

Quick Tip 4.

If you’re not sure, just ask. 

‘Are there any house rules that you’d like me to be aware of’?

Make sure that if you get one first name you also get the other. If you have to email them. you cannot address one by the first name and the other formally. You’re left with with addressing them both formally which is strange if you’ve got on to first name terms.

General Courtesies.

Decide with your customer where you will all sit together. Don’t just commandeer a space. Ask permission before you choose where to sit to avoid sitting in someone’s favourite space.

If you’re plugging anything into their tv ask them to do it. Sometimes they don’t know how to set the tv onto the right channel to pick up your screen so you may have to take over the remote control but ask first. Always make sure you return the tv to the channel it was on before you leave.

Ask permission before you use their electricity. If the socket is behind a lamp or it’s a faff to get to, let them do it, especially if something else has to be unplugged to make space for you.

Using the loo.

How nice it is when someone shows us the courtesy of offering the use of the cloakroom when we arrive or before we start the journey home? Unfortunately, it rarely happens. Despite the fact that every living being on the planet has the need to eliminate waste in some way, it’s still a bit of a problem for us.

Some people have a problem with strangers using their loo so it is to be avoided unless necessary but what do you do. Obviously the first rule is that you never use the loo without asking permission and if you do, you certainly leave it clean and with the lid down.

Why don’t they like strangers to use the loo? First of all, it may not be tidy or clean and they wouldn’t want others to see that. They also may hang their washing in there, use it as a broom cupboard or just have personal things in there. That applies often more to a bathroom than a downstairs cloakroom. They tend to be less protective of a cloakroom than a bathroom. A cloakroom in a hallway is less personal so if you must ask, you can do so more comfortably if you have already spotted that there is a separate loo downstairs.

When is the best time to ask? Preferably when you have already been there a while and have established some rapport, so you don’t seem so much like a stranger. Asking as soon as you arrive will almost certainly alienate you as it interrupts the introduction and ruins that foundation that you need to create. Be aware of where your customer is also. Don’t leave them waiting for you. For instance, if you’ve measured upstairs, don’t ask as you are all going down the stairs. This can leave them in an awkward position. They may not like to leave a stranger upstairs so what do they do? Hang around waiting for you? It can be awkward. Try to time it so it’s of no inconvenience to them. If you’re going out for samples and getting up anyway, just say, sorry to ask but do you mind if I use the cloakroom. You could also ask before you all settle down and they are busying themselves making the tea.

When the House is untidy.

Often customers are self-conscious about their house. If they offer an apology for the untidiness it’s always good to make them feel a bit better about it. Always assure them that you’re not here to judge their house and you completely understand. Maybe offer that you struggle to keep up yourself sometimes. If it’s because they have young kids and you experience the same problems, tell them so. It’s an opportunity to establish rapport.

When it’s so dirty that you’re not comfortable.

How clean a house is, is not an indicator of whether your customer can afford your products but what do you do when you’re offered a chair that is completely covered in cat or dog hair? Or the house stinks of rotting food, an unemptied bin or a cat litter tray. The standards under which you will work are entirely up to you. I’ve only refused two and both had dogs mess on the floor. That’s a step too far for me.

If you want the order, then you have to hide your disgust somehow. Nobody wants to be told their house smells. I hate to be covered in pet hair and keep supplies in my car, lint rollers, spare clothes, wet wipes and anti-histamine. On the plus side, your competition will be less because other salespeople will have given up on it.

When the customer is smoking.

I don’t come across this too often but occasionally you’ll come across smokers who carry on smoking while you’re there. Most people are courteous and don’t but if they do, it’s their home and it’s up to them. I can put up with it but don’t like it and the smell stays on your clothes. It is entirely up to you whether you are prepared to put up with it or not. You can state that they can’t smoke while you’re there but chances of getting an order after that are probably nil.

Using their furniture with respect.

If you are going to put your laptop on their dining table it is worth carrying a mat with you. You can get something really cheaply from a DIY store. The black rubber non slip shelf mat works well. I know you have rubber feet on the bottom of the laptop but this is a small courtesy that is noticed and appreciated, especially when they have an expensive polished table.

Don’t put heavy samples on their tables. Try to keep samples on the floor. It’s really easy to put something down heavily and make a mark or for them to drag it across a table and cause a scratch – for which you will be blamed.

If you’re given a drink, use a coaster if there is one. If not, pull out a notebook or something to use. You don’t want to be the one to leave a mark.

These are small courtesies that don’t always matter but the fact of you visibly showing respect does matter.

Check the Bottom of Your Bag is Clean.

If there is any chance that you are carrying in bags that are dirty on the bottom, then carry something with you to set them on to.

What not to say.

Don’t engage in political or racial conversations. It’s obviously been common for people to discuss Brexit in the last few years. Whatever your views and whether you agree with the customer or not, it’s not worth engaging. People are really emotive about it and before long you’ll find yourself drawn into saying something you don’t believe or arguing. It’s best to just not engage. Just say something non-committal like. ‘We’ll find out soon enough’ or’a lot of people think like that’ and move on back to a question about them.

No matter how obvious it might seem to you, don’t ask when the baby is due. Honestly, it’s just not worth it. I know this and I have still made the mistake a couple of times. It doesn’t matter. They’ll mention it soon enough. It’s not worth the risk.

Breastfeeding mums.

I feel like this has only become a thing in the last two years. On a couple of occasions, the mum has breastfed her baby while I was there. I don’t know if they would have done so if I’d been male but I think the rise in the belief that breastfeeding is natural and not to be hidden means that it’s probably only a matter of time before you come across it. They are in their own home and are entitled to feed the baby wherever they are comfortable. Just don’t make a big deal about it. Just carry on talking as normal and obviously don’t stare. You might use that time to go and get samples if you want to and it’s appropriate but if they haven’t asked for privacy then you probably don’t need to offer it. If you’re at all uncomfortable, just ask.