4 Smart Ways to Help Associates Overcome Their Fear of Selling

Being scared to sell is a common problem, even in a sales-centric world like retail. Many associates feel iffy about selling to customers out of fear that they’ll appear pushy or drive shoppers away. This results in a lot of missed sales and customer service opportunities.

If you or your associates are battling a fear of selling, fret not. We’re here to tell you that selling, when done right, doesn’t have to be pushy or even “salesy”. Effective selling is about helping customers find what they need and ensuring that they’re genuinely happy with with their purchase.

Retail sales pro Reese Evans (who provided some excellent tips in our popular post about suggestive selling) is back on the Vend blog to offer actionable tips for retail store owners and managers on how to help associates get over their fear of selling.

Check out what she has to say below.

Create a comfortable environment for associates

According to Reese, the first step to helping people get over their fear of selling is to boost their confidence and make them feel comfortable.“You want your staff to be at ease and not feel like they’re going to be judged if they do something wrong,” she says.

There are plenty of ways to accomplish this. For one, Reese recommends the use of positive reinforcement to motivate the staff. While you should definitely talk to your employees about the things they should improve on, don’t forget to mention the things they’re doing right.

“Your staff needs to hear that they’re doing a good job. They should know what they’re great at and what they should do more of,” she adds.

Matt Heller, author of The Myth of Employee Burnout, offers the same advice. As he mentioned in our article about boosting employee morale, owners and managers need to communicate what the employee is doing right, and more importantly, how their actions are affecting the business.

“The more people hear how they are having a positive impact on others, the more they will want to do it again and again… if you regularly communicate how an employee’s behavior is impacting others, they will start to understand how they support the bigger picture and company goals,” he says.

To demonstrate his point, Matt offers the following example:

Let’s say you have an employee, Josh, who is very good at resetting the store and displays after large crowds have come through. Recognition that ties his behaviors back to the company goals might sound like this:

“Josh, I noticed how quickly you get out on the floor to reset the displays after a big rush of guests. I really appreciate this! It helps the guests find what they need and ultimately creates a more pleasant shopping experience for everyone.”

Now Josh knows that what he does has a direct impact on the guest experience and the performance of the store, and is much more likely to be motivated to take that action again.

Remember this scenario when you’re dealing with your staff and see how you can apply it in your store.

Arm your staff with ample store, product, and customer knowledge

Knowledge is one of the best defenses against fear and lack of confidence. If your staff is armed with the right information about your store, merchandise, and customers, they’ll be more confident in approaching and talking to shoppers.

“Your employees need to understand what they’re selling and who they’re selling to. In addition to helping them get to know your business better, having this knowledge will also give them talking points that they can use when engaging with shoppers,” continues Reese.

Arming your staff with the necessary knowledge encompasses a number of things, including:

Store background

“Associates should feel confident talking about your shop’s history, background, and mission. Such details are important to many customers, so knowing these things will help them better connect with shoppers,” mentions Reese.

That’s why you should include an “Our story” segment in your training program. See to it that each employee knows why the business was started, what it stands for, and it how it grew. In addition to giving them tidbits and talking points to share with shoppers, discussing your story with employees also helps them them feel a stronger affinity towards your business.


Your staff would be hard-pressed to sell products they’re not familiar with. So set aside some time to discuss your merchandise with the staff. You can, for example, hold “unboxing sessions” with your team.

That’s what Elevator, an accessories and jewelry boutique in Toronto is doing.

“Having a well-informed sales team is absolutely essential for the sales experience and actually driving more sales. The aesthetics of a particular product is very important, but people will always want to know what something’s made of, or a little bit about the designer,” says store owner Niko Downie.

“Whenever new designers arrive at the store, we sit down with the product in front of us, look at it really thoroughly, talk about the materials that it’s made from, who the designer is, what’s particularly unique about this product, and how to demonstrate it. We tend to do that as new items, new designers, and new collections arrive in the store.”

See if you could do something similar in your business.

Vend Tip

Are you a Vend customer? You can add details such as product tidbits and other selling points in the description field of your product pages.  Log into Vend U, our customer-exclusive education portal, to access courses on adding products into Vend. 


Get your staff familiar with the different types of customers, and how to sell to each one, advises Reese. This will help them tailor their approach and enable them to connect different products to various customers.

Customers can fall into general categories–for instance bargain hunters vs. premium shoppers. However, there are also customer types and categories specific to your industry. If you’re in fashion, for example, then you could categorize shoppers according to body type or fashion profile (hipsters, classic, etc.)

Have a think about the types of customers who frequent your business, and determine the best sales approaches for each type. Then communicate that information to your associates so they know who they’re dealing with.

Teach them the “FAB” formula

“If your employees are stuck and aren’t sure how to structure their pitch, teach them the FAB formula,” advises Reese. FAB stands for features, advantages, and benefits. It’s a great tool for coming up with ways to approach or talk to shoppers.

Basically, features are the characteristics of a product while its advantages pertain to what the product or the features can do. The benefit, which is the most important part, is what the customer can get out of the product and its features. For best results see to it that the benefit you pitch to the shopper is unique to them.

“Let’s say you’re selling a jacket. A feature could be that is has a pocket on the inside of the garment. The advantage could be that the pocket is “hidden” inside the jacket and could be opened and closed using a nifty zipper. And then the benefit could be that the customer can use it to subtly store small but important items like extra cash or their IDs.”

Reese says that retailers should orient their staff on FAB and encourage them to use it when talking about products. But she does have one caveat: “Before launching the FAB spiel, the associate should first get comfortable with the shopper and determine what they want or need. Jumping into a FAB pitch without getting to know the customer is very off-putting.”

Re-define the concept of sales

Often, one’s fear of selling is rooted into how they define sales. Many people view selling as a sleazy act where someone is trying to push a customer to make a purchase. But this shouldn’t be the case, says Reese.

“A lot of times I hear associates say, ‘I don’t want to be pushy’ or ‘I don’t want to make people buy something they don’t want.’ But the thing is, that’s not what you’re doing when engaging with customers.”

Quite the opposite, actually. According to Reese, selling is about helping customers find what they want or need, rather than pushing something that they won’t get any value out of.

“It’s always good to remind your staff that a customer wouldn’t be in the store if they didn’t want or need anything. As a sales associate, their job is to fill that need.”

Reese adds that selling is about educating customers. It’s important that associates enlighten shoppers about what makes a product great, but also be honest if something isn’t right for them.

“Let’s say a customer wants a pair of shoes that they can wear all day everyday, and they’re looking at an item that’s not made for that purpose. The job to the associate is to educate them on that, and then point them in the right direction. So in that sense, they’re not being pushy, they’re simply advising the shopper on the products that are right for them.”

Finally, Reese says that sales can also be about increasing the customer’s confidence in a product. “If it’s the right item for them, the salesperson should make them feel at ease and confident about buying it. The last thing that the associate and the customer would want is for the shopper to miss out on a great purchase,” she continues.

“Remember, there are two types of buyer’s remorse. Buying something then hating it, and then there’s hating yourself for not buying something. The job of a retail salesperson is to prevent both types from happening.”

Your turn

Got any other tips for people who are scared to sell? Share them in the comments.


About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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