Pushing Leaf

While chatting with a tea friend last week, who is also in the business of tea, we happened upon the topic of sales skills. When one thinks about selling, it is very easy to conjure up the caricature of a sleazy, do-anything-for-the-sale, kind of a used car guy. If this is what your teashop staff thinks about selling, you might have to deprogram them a bit.

Ask your staff to think of a time when they were out shopping for something and received really great service. What did they like about that experience? My guess would be a knowledgeable sales person, who was informative, helpful, told them about any specials and mentioned a few companion items or items also looked at by customer with similar interests. Nobody likes to be pressured into making a purchase, but everyone likes information.

 These beauties can't speak for themselves.
These beauties can't speak for themselves.

Selling tea is all about teaching the customer and helping them find a tea they will enjoy. Probe the customer for their needs and evaluate their tea experience level as this can vary greatly from absolute newbie to connoisseur. I usually start by asking them what they normally drink, and try to determine if they prefer flavored or non-flavored. This will quickly help rule out things in which they have no interest. My friend who is from a medical background, starts with asking if they can or cannot have caffeine, and then follows by asking if they have any medical restrictions to keep things on the safe side.

From opening questions, you can probe further to see what kind of flavors they like, what teas have they tried, how do they brew, etc. The many categories of tea can be overwhelming to your customer. Asking the right questions can help narrow down the field for them and effectively assist them in finding a tea that is right for them.

Additionally, a few simple customer interaction "best practices" should be established to guide your staff. A while back in a previous incarnation, I worked for department store companies who coached their employees with the following customer service oriented basics:

    Smile – This should be a no-brainer, but it just simply isn't. A smile will help you relax as well as show the customer you are friendly. The customer will feel they are welcome and that no, they aren’t bothering you – not one bit!
    Approach the customer - Could be a simple greeting, but acknowledging people who enter your store goes a long way in opening communication – not to mention it's ...well, polite. Even if you have a line of people at the checkout, just saying, "Hi there. I'll be with you soon" lets the customer know they are not being ignored and that you value their time.
    Thank You – This should be ingrained in all of us from childhood reminders, but we know from experience, it just doesn't always happen. Even if the customer has not made a purchase, thank them for their visit. Thank them for their interest. If the opportunity presents, thank them by name to personalize the interaction.

By implementing these (or something similar) as customer contact standards, you will give your staff guidelines and easy-to-achieve expectations. Then have your staff come up with selling points for every product and discuss approaches that have worked for them. Selling points are simply product features that people seek and desire! Practice with role playing and how to handle those odd-ball and typical questions and requests. Doing so will develop confidence and prepare them for success.

Tea sellers have a built-in advantage, as our product is fairly guilt-free. It is generally healthy, enjoyable and relatively inexpensive. Its abundance of variety makes cross selling other teas or teaware a breeze. Effectively evaluating the customer's needs is key to being successful at selling and to do this requires asking questions and communicating. By trying too hard not to be the sleazy used car guy, your staff might become too "live and let live" with the customer, who desperately needs help choosing a tea (or tea ware!) Don't leave your customer out there, adrift in the ocean of tea. They might just float away!