Three Irrefutable Sales Lessons from Home Shopping Hosts

Whether you do most of your selling in person, online or through other media, these tips can help you boost revenue.

July/August 2016

Want a more effective approach to boosting sales? Help your customers make a choice, rather than hitting them with a hard sell.

That is a core takeaway from some veteran experts of home shopping channels such as QVC and HSN. These networks have been around since the 1980s, using sales techniques that continue to prove effective today. So what do hosts from these channels know about selling that can benefit your business? The following tips can be applied to any size business in any industry and come from folks who know a thing or two about connecting with customers.

#1. Tell a story

While the first step is to get potential customers to pay attention, engaging them to need the product can be just as critical to making the sale. Whether you are speaking with a prospect face-to-face or communicating through blogs or by social media, starting with an example can open prospects’ eyes to what your product or service means to them personally.

A key part of the home shopping sales model is called “the dance”, and takes place between the channel’s host and the guest who represents the brand behind the product. Maureen McGrath, who has been an executive with QVC and is CEO of McGrath Brand Consulting, says the on‑air dynamic between the host and guest helps the consumer see why this purchase is right for them.

“The host really sells the product,” McGrath says. He or she talks about the price and what you get when you make the purchase. Meanwhile the guest is there to provide information and educate the customer—but not to sell.

The trick to borrow here, McGrath says, is to give your customers a sense of having a conversation over the backyard fence with a friend. It all comes down to storytelling that puts your client in the moment. For example, a home shopping host serves as a sort of surrogate for the customer, posing questions anyone might have about the product. You can leverage this tip by implementing this type of storytelling into online customer testimonials or interviewing a customer for a blog post.

Taking this idea even further, Dave King, an actor, QVC and ShopNBC (now EVINE Live) host and media coach through his firm On Air Excellence, says the goal is to suggest situations where customers see how they can use a product in realistic ways. King also offers a tactical tip: “The key to success on products for QVC starts with an ability to put it in the hands of the consumer,” he says—even through a screen.

In the real world, it is not always possible to give your customers a firsthand experience with a product or service. So King suggests talking prospects through how your offering works and telling stories they can relate to. “Allow them to visualize owning the product or using the service,” he says.

#2. Discuss positives and negatives

Once you have a rapport going, you want to evoke a response from the other side, regardless of how you reach out to the customer, says Bob Circosta, a legend from the beginning days of HSN. He is credited with being the first-ever home shopping host and has done more than 75,000 different product presentations. His company, Bob Circosta Communications, trains other hosts to appear on HSN.

A recurring mistake Circosta sees some salespeople make is not discussing the issues the customer is having and how the product fits in as a fix. “If I don’t have the problem, then why do I need your solution?” he asks. Show how your service is a real remedy, Circosta says, and that can get a customer to want to make a purchase.

Set real expectations for the customer. This includes talking about what makes the product or service unique, and discussing positives and negatives, even if a product is not the right fit for them. “An example might be ‘This particular top might not be great for you to wear if you are petite, because it is very long,’” McGrath says.

Use the senses and educate the customer—people tune out all the time. Relate to them in different ways about the product, whether it is by sight, sound, smell, feel or fit, so they are satisfied when they get the product, King says.

#3. Validate the purchase

The dialog and storytelling with your customers and prospects doesn’t end at the transaction. Let the customer see that they made a purchase that can eliminate a problem or solve an issue. The bottom line is you want the customer to feel wise for buying your product. “You don’t say those words, but that’s the idea you want to convey,” King says. “Give them credit for making smart decisions in life. They want to feel good about themselves.”

In your follow-ups, talk about the problems your customer was having and how he or she is solving those issues. Focus on their successes, not the success of the product. Take, for example, an IT consulting firm that recently acquired a new client who decided to move most of his accounting and invoicing functions to the cloud. The consultant can follow up by asking how the new customer implemented an improved accounts receivable practice, rather than asking how the cloud solution is working.

King adds that you should stop selling and start helping your customer. “I was taught by Bud Paxson, the founder of HSN, that when you’re selling, you are doing something to somebody—but when you’re helping someone, you are doing something for them.”

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