Between The Berms: Listen More. Talk Less
Hanging out in a gun shop can be enlightening.
While waiting around hoping somebody hunkered down behind a desk at an undisclosed federal phone bank would discover that the "I" in NICS stood for "Instant," I listened in on a cross counter conversation between customer and associate that drove home the need for a new sales strategy: Listen more. Talk less.
It was a slow day, and not just at the NICS call center but in this particular gun store. Since it was mid-afternoon on a week day, well before people normally got off work, customers were outnumbered by store employees two, maybe even three to one.
I watched as a younger woman approached the gun counter and inquired about purchasing a gun. Judging by her demeanor and the quiet, reserved tone of her inquiry it was clear she was new to firearms.
She did not have any preconceived opinions or brand preferences and relied on the associate behind the counter for his expertise and guidance towards a first firearm.
Listening in on as much of the conversation as I could without intruding, I watched as the associate did nearly all the talking. It seemed to be less a discussion and more like a lecture as the associate attempted to impart as much generalized information as possible.
I heard that revolvers are the easiest guns to operate, because - presumably - as a woman the enormous complexity of a semi-auto was well beyond her abilities. There was something about the need to protect our second amendment rights, because when you go to buy that first gun you're really there first and foremost to make a bold political statement.
Honestly, I felt bad for the woman as it appeared she was now being asked to drink from a firehose with the barrage of information being thrown at her.
From the 10 or 15 minutes I watched this process unfold it became clear that how we handle those new to buying a gun, or joining a shooting club or starting out in a shooting sport for that matter, is probably all wrong...particularly when it comes to women.
Despite the big increases in female participation, the shooting world is still dominated by males. And, being men, we often feel the need to be experts and show off how much we know. This isn't the best plan, especially when we should be concentrating on how much you the woman would like to know.
In a perfect retail world this woman's shopping experience would have gone a lot differently. Something more like...
Step #1: Ask More Questions -
Realizing the woman across the counter was new to firearms and unsure of what to ask, and therefore probably a little uneasy about potentially saying the wrong thing and making a fool of herself, the associate should have asked a series of probative questions to better understand what she was looking for.
Not knowing what to ask means the customer is likely far less talkative. This unfortunately can give the associate the false impression that the customer is enthralled with their dissertation on all things gun related and can't wait to hear more.
The fact is they are probably just being polite hoping you'll get around to actually helping them find their way to a purchasing decision. Asking questions about familiarity of firearms, purpose of the purchase, potential additional uses (like competition) and generally striking up a back and forth dialogue will make the customer more comfortable with this new, unfamiliar process.
Step #2: Listen -
If there had been more questions asked they would have led to answers. Taking the time to listen to the answers and will help develop additional questions. In addition to putting the customer at ease, this process will also demonstrate that the associate actually care about helping the customer and isn't there just to hear himself hold court on guns.
Step #3: Go Hands On -
While watching the customer associate interaction at the counter it dawned on me that the associate was doing all the gun handling instead of letting the customer handle the gun.
While we all have a brand bias of some sort, it's the ergonomics that play a key role in the purchase process. With women, as well as any other new gun owner, this is particularly important because they have no established allegiance to brand. Comfort and balance in the hand can have a far greater impact on their opinion of the firearm than any ad or celebrity endorser.
And let's not overlook the obvious, talking about the gun but not letting the customer hold the gun sends a not too subtle message that they aren't trusted with the gun.
Step #4: Go Shoot -
"I'd love for you to shoot a couple of these guns before making your purchase" is a phrase that ought to be part of every sales process with a brand new gun buyer. Yes, it does send them away (and their money) if you don't have a range at the store, but nothing irritates a consumer more than being talked into a bad purchase that they later regret.
If your ability to build a rapport with and create a comfortable buying experience for the consumer is so bad that you hate letting them walk out the door for fear they will make their purchase elsewhere, then you have bigger problems than just how to handle a first time gun owner.
How we sell to new gun owners, and how we welcome those new to the broader community of firearms owners, determines how we grow and survive in an increasingly hostile political environment.
If you have ever walked into an Apple store then you have experienced the kind of customer service that all gun shops should strive to provide. If you know very little about computers or which model you should purchase, you'll get the help you need in an Apple store. And leaving without buying isn't a problem because their service is so good that you're likely to return when ready to pull out that credit card.
These same principles of customer service apply when it comes to firearms. And if we did apply them, the first time gun buyer, like that woman I observed, would feel right at home in any gun shop.
And, she might feel more like the sales associate was talking with her rather than at her.
- Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network
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