Making Your Professional Attitude Shine

Putting on your happy face will help customers open up, even when you're not really feeling it.

Making Your Professional Attitude Shine

Photo: iStock

My past stint in retail sporting goods constituted a second job. I was good at it, usually the store’s top salesman month to month (sales associates earned commission, so these things were tracked closely). But I wasn’t exactly happy to be there. The second job was taken in desperation when my wife was unexpectedly laid off from a longtime military contract job under the Obama administration, because the mortgage, health insurance and such still needed to be paid for. So for several years I operated on five to six hours of sleep per night, waking at 4 to 5 a.m. daily to remain abreast of writing deadlines, working on my days off and commuting an hour to the “real job” to put in a full day. And then the promotions started, increasing my work load and responsibilities in exchange for modest pay bumps. I was invariably exhausted and generally resentful. That’s about as brutally honest as I can be about the entire situation.

And though my workmates might have suffered from my sleep-deprived grumpiness (especially after being promoted into management positions), customers certainly did not. For customers, no matter how tedious, rude or pushy they proved, I put on my happy face. At first this felt completely forced, but eventually it became my default demeanor. A more accurate explanation might be that I am truly shy at heart, but as I began to become more comfortable around customers, putting my best self foreword became easier each day.

I also remember, while still a teen, reading someone, somewhere — one of those cheesy self-help gurus like Zig Ziglar probably — say that being positive was imperative to success. If someone asks how your day is going, for example, they don’t want to hear about your aches and pains or personal issues. Seriously, they really don’t. Instead you respond with something to the effect of, “I’m great! Isn’t it a wonderful day?” even if your favorite dog just died and your wife/husband left you. The idea is that by projecting a positive attitude, people view you as successful and trustworthy — someone they want to do business with. It’s something I’ve somehow never forgotten, from my days of guiding big-game hunters right out of high school to this day.

Yet the fact remains that no matter how disingenuous this may seem, projecting a positive attitude at all times is contagious to those around you. Observe the people you work with and you’ll invariably see those who are constantly complaining of petty slights, incompetent management, or being underpaid and overworked (yet they always seem to have time to stand around kvetching). These people are downers and have a tendency to bring those around them down with them, forever spreading seeds of discontent. Now think of the employee who seems to excel, rally people when the pressure is on, jump in with a can-do attitude, laugh when others are upset, and refuse to let the kvetchers get them down. You look at them and tell yourself, “They’re right, it’s not that bad. We can do this.”

I’ve long contended that you make your own mood. You can decide to be mad at the world or you can choose to shake it off and put your best foot forward. You can become depressed about your situation (everyone has their problems) or force a positive attitude. And just like a positive front changes the outlook of those around you, it also has a way of brightening your own outlook as well. Studies have shown that something as simple as donning a bright smile can positively affect the person smiling. Smiling and laughing changes your own outlook on life.

Being in a retailing atmosphere, you’ll be dealing directly with people with their own problems and biases. Generally, most customers are adverse to any perception of a hard sell or being pestered. They may feel they are being hustled or pressured, at worst, or their privacy invaded at best. To remain an effective salesperson, you must break through those barriers, and that starts with a positive, happy approach. Put yourself in a customer’s shoes. You’re approached by a mopey, monotone salesman who greets you with, “You have been helped yet?” or “Need help finding something?” or “What are you looking for?” and your first instinct is to get that depressing person away from you. The savvy salesman is a bit more patient (as I’ve discussed in previous columns) so as not to encourage a customer to instinctively deploy their deflector shield. But you must also exude positive vibes, happiness and light. You must make a customer trust you, yes, but you also want them to decide you’re someone they wouldn’t mind spending part of their day with.  

A bright smile is priority one. Subconsciously, every non-psychopath reacts positively to a smile. That positive start is then extended with small talk. Talk about the weather (“Man, it’s hot/cold out there, isn’t it?” or “How are the roads? It was pretty slick coming in this morning.”), talk about sports if your customer is wearing obvious team wear, compliment them on something they are wearing or on a woman’s hairstyle. You’re not in salesman mode yet — you’re lightening the mood, breaking down barriers. Only after you have broken the ice should you ask, “So, what brings you in today?”

That positive attitude continues during the sale. If you don’t have what a customer wants, make a concerted effort to find it for them, through special order, even at another store. Such gestures won’t be forgotten. If you must go into the stockroom to retrieve something, do so at a trot, letting the customer know their time is important to you. All the while, work to set your customer at ease, providing positive reinforcement for choices made or encouragement during decision making. For many, especially during big purchases like guns, bows or optics, that purchase brings joy. Be part of that happy experience and customers will return to enjoy your company again.


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