Book Review – Selling Retail – Book One by John Lawhon

John F. Lawhon, one of the highest paid retail salespeople in America has written a two part course in the art of retail selling.

If I were to try to get through this as quickly as possible, I could simply say that Mr. Lawhon’s first book in this series is based mostly on two premises. To be successful, a retail salesperson should:

A. Be able to recognize the customer’s true needs, and

B. Be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary not only to meet those needs but to aid the customer in realizing what his or her needs really are.

Mr. Lawhon presents the case that good, i.e. professional, successful, and highly paid sales people, will work on achieving these two goals. Those who enter the profession of sales without learning these skills and adopting this attitude will merely become “order takers” who will never achieve the potential presented by a retail sales position. In short, Mr. Lawhon believes that most top-notch and truly successful sales professionals are NOT born, but achieve success through learning and practice.

Mr. Lawhon draws on the lessons of his own years of selling furniture, and an extensive body of personal research to make and/or illustrate his points. For example, he explains why the approach to the customer is so important, and he also explains HOW to make that approach… and why. He believes that each approach to a customer should be made in a genuinely cheerful manner thus beginning to break through the wall erected by so many customers. He then believes in establishing communication with the customer, both in order to “break the ice further’ and to open up genuine lines of communication as well.

This opening and widening of communication is crucially important, because it is through this that the truly competent sales person will begin learning about the customer and his or her needs. As pointed out above, it is this recognition of the customer’s needs which will allow the sales professional to begin illustrating and applying the knowledge and skill which will be the “tools of the trade” by which the sales professional will be able to help the customer find the product which will actually meet their real needs rather than some product which will only partially provide the satisfaction they are seeking.

In order to guide the reader through the entire process of retail selling, or at least those parts covered in this first book, Mr. Lawhon has divided his book into three major sections:

I. Revelations

In this section, the author reveals 11 basic principles which will be of value to the reader. Many of these appear to be taken from the author’s own experiences and he makes wide use of story telling and parable to illustrate the various points.

In one chapter, for example (Old Ugly Was a Dog), he explains that beauty IS MOST CERTAINLY in the eye of the beholder. He uses the example of how he taught his sales staff to sell what most considered to be a hideous sofa by simply getting them to understand that there would still be some people who would consider it to be perfect and that for those people, the sofa would sell itself without their assistance, but that they could LOSE THE SALE by overtly or tacitly expressing their opinion on the beauty, or lack of it, of a piece of furniture (in this case) until the customer had expressed his or her opinion.

Having used the story of old ugly to make a basic point, he then elaborates by pointing out various lessons which can be learned from this one simple story. In this case, for example, he explains that until you know what the customer needs and wants, including their perception of “beauty”, you may be trying to sell them something that they do not see the same way you do. This is extremely counterproductive as it is easier to sell someone something they DO like rather than to try to get them to like something well enough to buy it if they do not really care for it.

II. The Groups of Knowledge

Based on his personal experience, Mr. Lawhon believes that a top notch sales professional should have five groups of knowledge at his or her fingertips.

* Knowledge of their products and those of their competitors.

* Knowledge of their inventory and that of their competitors.

* Knowledge of their advertising and that of their competitors.

* Knowledge of their credit plan and that of their competitors.

* Knowledge of their policies and that of their competitors.

Using the fact that 75% of sales are made by 25% of the sales people, the author explains and elaborates on how proficiency in these five areas can help put the reader into the 25% who are making most of the sales! He also shows how being able to accurately assess and satisfy the customer’s needs by means of these five groups of knowledge, will allow the salesperson to more accurately and successfully achieve the goal of achieving actual customer satisfaction and making a sale of the right item to the right person with minimum effort during the sales process itself.

Within this section, the author also gives substantial advice on how to go about acquiring the five groups of knowledge.

III. Selling Techniques

Having previously laid down an overview of some general philosophies on selling, in this final section, the author actually begins to give instructions on the selling process itself, focusing on greeting and approaching the customer, qualifying their wants and needs, and making the selection of the product(s) which should satisfy those wants and needs.

At the very end of this book, and in preparation for Book Two of “Selling Retail”, Mr. Lawhon makes a few valuable points.

He states simply that once you have acquired the five groups of knowledge, greeted the customer, qualified their needs and wants, and made a selection to present to them, the selling has STILL not yet begun… and that is the subject of Book Two.

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