The internet has changed the face of retail selling. Customers are able to search for information and evaluate alternatives online. In store retail sales processes have, in many organisations, failed to adapt to the increased power consumers have now.

All retail sales people at some time will be taught a sales process.

The sales process and the goal of each step will look something like:

Step One: Planning and Preparation – Ensure you have all and understand the information to make a sale
Step Two: Opening the Sale – Establish a person-to-person relationship and break down resistance
Step Three: Probing – Determine ‘what’ and ‘why’ and establish trust
Step Four: Demonstration – Establish the value of the merchandise and create desire
Step Five: Trial Close – Cement the sale on the primary item and identify what else the customer needs to make a purchase
Step Six: Handling Objections – To determine the real reason for the customer not buying, identify ways to add more value and build trust
Step Seven: Closing the Sale – Increase the closing ratio and overall productivity
Step Eight: Follow-up – Establish a relationship with customer – create positive ‘word of mouth’.

Creating an environment where sales people can learn and practise the sales process with immediate feedback on parts of the process they do well and parts which they do not do well has a positive impact on most sales teams.

However, to reach our potential sales, having a well practised sales process today is not enough.

The customer’s buying process has changed. Or more accurately, the channels through which customers execute the elements of their buying process have changed.

Retail customers buying process follows this form:

Step One: Need recognition or problem awareness. For example, I’m renovating my kitchen and need to look at what is around in the way of ovens, stoves and cook-tops
Step Two: Information Search. For example, I’m not too sure what I really want. I’m not sure if I want an all in one stove, or a separate oven and cook-top
Step Three: Evaluation of alternatives. For example, Ilvie is a reputable brand name but how much will the one I want cost? What is included in that price? Who has the best price? Is there an extended warranty? Can I get a package?
Step Four: Make a purchase. For example, I can get the same unit at one of the competitors, and they will provide an extended warranty, what can you offer?
Step Five: Post purchase evaluation. For example, I’m happy with what I have, it was delivered and installed on time and works as I hoped. I’ll go back to the same place and recommend them to others.

Before and after step four, customers require a lot of information. The more involved they are in the purchase, the more information they need.

Prior to the internet, the channel selling the goods controlled not only the physical distribution chain but also the information distribution chain. The information mediums including brochures, flyers, posters, advertisements and word of mouth were directly controlled or heavily influenced by the selling organisation.

Since the advent of the internet, goods made of packets of data can be delivered via the internet whilst physical goods must still be delivered by physical means under the control of the seller. However, the information component is not only delivered over the internet, but the control is no longer with the seller.

Web 2.0 technology including blogs, wikis and social networks are increasingly giving independence to control information flow. Hundreds of product reviews are easily available on products from books to cars. People write about their experience without fear or favour.

Organisations can influence what is said by posting their own blogs but must take care not to sound like any other online brochure. Internet-savvy consumers pick a slick marketing blog at first glance.

Building or contributing openly to a wiki or blog about the products and services they sell is daunting to most organisations. However, one suspects that the first organisations to do it effectively will reap the benefits of trust building outside of the in-store sales process.

The increased use of Web 2.0 tools also forces in-store changes of emphasis in the sales process.

For example, preparation now needs to include a review of what is said on the web about the products they sell. Memorising prices, features, advantages and benefits is not enough.

Trial closes can take advantage of popular add-ons described on-line. Objection handling training must cater for the most regular complaints and unfulfilled expectations posted on-line.

The adage, information is power, is evident in the customer’s purchasing behaviours. Web 2.0 technologies magnify that power. Retail sales organisations must build strategies and tactics into their sales process inclusive of the shift of power over information in the customer’s buying process.