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Mystery Shopper: Near perfection in sales skills at Fitness Resource

We ventured down to the Atlanta metro area to a Fitness Resource store for a mystery shopping expedition. And we found a salesperson who had his questioning, listening and answering skills honed to near perfection. And that, as we all know, is the true key to sales success and the hallmark of a superb retail salesperson. We are sometimes amazed how few really do this well; this time, we were amazed how well he did it!

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As we always like to point out: Our goal with these Mystery Shoppers is not to pick on one person or one store — or to praise one particular store or person — but to point out what went wrong and what went right and, hopefully, offer a learning experience. Each and every shopping experience can be widely different, even at any one store or with any one person. Don’t forget to visit our Training Center ( to see our entire lineup of past Mystery Shoppers.

This week, we ventured down to the Atlanta metro area to a Fitness Resource store. And we found a salesperson who had his questioning, listening and answering skills honed to near perfection. And that, as we all know, is the true key to sales success and the hallmark of a superb retail salesperson. We are sometimes amazed how few really do this well; this time, we were amazed how well he did it!

The Atlanta metro area has a population of nearly 5 million people, and it has almost that many streets with the word “Peachtree” in the name — Peachtree Lane, Peachtree Ave…. You get the idea. So we dispatched one of our Southern shopping specialists Leroy confident that he could navigate his way through the Peachtrees of the Atlanta world.

Around 1:30 p.m. on an early fall weekday, Leroy strolled into the Fitness Resource store on Peachtree Road in Atlanta’s bustling, upscale and trendy Buckhead area. He noted elliptical machines along the front window, Hoist strength machines along the left wall, and several cardio bikes crowding the right side of the floor.

He looked toward the office in the back of the room. Through a window, our Mystery Shopper could see a man in the office talking on the phone. After a few seconds, the man looked up and waved to Leroy; less than a minute later he emerged from the office, ready to be at Leroy’s service.

The employee — the only one in the store — appeared to be a fit man with brown hair and a quick smile. He introduced himself as Dale, and then quickly struck up a conversation, which took some interesting turns. Somehow, the two got to talking about learning to play the guitar, and Leroy was enjoying the conversation so much that he almost forgot about his mission: to play out a cover story that he was shopping for a cardio machine for his mother. That certainly built the rapport that all sales folks want to have with a customer. Finally, our agent mentioned that he was shopping for Mom, and Dale immediately replied, “Does she exercise a lot, is she in pretty good shape?”

“Well, she’s trying to get in shape,” our agent replied. And Dale asked if she had any health concerns. Hey, good stuff, Leroy thought. Dale was not only immediately trying to qualify Mom’s fitness level, but also working to identify any physical limitations she might have.

“She has some hip problems,” our agent said.

“Has she had a hip-replacement or anything like that,” Dale asked.

“No, but her hips just get sore sometimes,” Leroy replied.

Dale then asked if Leroy’s mother had any other health concerns, such as heart trouble, and our Mystery Shopper replied that she has diabetes. Dale asked a couple more questions about her health and our Mystery Shopper was more than impressed that this salesperson was going to such lengths to get an accurate picture of the customer he was going to try to serve. After all, issues like mobility, cardiovascular conditioning and other health concerns are naturally important when selling cardio equipment to any person, especially an older individual. Kudos to Dale for not only recognizing this, but also for asking relevant questions.

“What types of exercise has she been doing? Dale asked.

“She’s been walking and also riding a bike — you know, one of those that has a fan for a wheel,” our Mystery Shopper said.

“Oh, an Airdyne bike?” Dale asked.

“Yeah,” Leroy replied. “I got if for her a couple of years ago. It’s OK, but the seat is messed up, and it’s really loud, so she has a hard time hearing the TV when she’s using it.”

“Is she doing anything else?” Dale asked. And there again, our agent noted that Dale was being persistent in following up with additional questions to further qualify the customer. Rather than rush into the sale, he chose to be patient and thorough, gathering all the information necessary and getting a good feel for what to take our shopper.

“She’s also been doing tai chi,” our agent said. “Hey, that’s great,” replied Dale. “Martial arts are really good for developing balance and strength.”

Dale then walked to the far side of the room near the front door to a LeMond brand exercise bike. “Do you know what a recumbent bike is?” Dale asked. (Hey, nothing wrong with starting with basics. We appreciate the lack of an assumption about a shopper’s knowledge. Asking this doesn’t force the shopper to pretend he or she knows so as not to appear stupid.) Leroy replied, “Yes,” and Dale said that this would be the best machine considering his mother’s hip issues. Dale said it would not only put her in the most comfortable position while cycling, but it also had a seat low to the ground so she would have an easier time getting on and off the bike.

That’s perfect, our Mystery Shopper thought. He identified a key factor that would influence the buying decision, matched the customer with the appropriate product, and then explained exactly why the LeMond bike was a good choice. Dale also realized that this customer was probably looking for something that’s convenient and easy to use. “Feel this seat,” he said. “It has a gel in it to make it more comfortable.” He then demonstrated how the seat could be adjusted easily and pointed out the mesh back, which would allow air to flow through the seat and keep the rider cool.

Dale then asked Leroy to get on the bike and check out the smooth action. Another key step in selling: Get ’em on the equipment. And Dale moved just right to show it, explain it, then get the shopper on it to feel it. We could scream at the number of times we have finally, after hinting around, invited ourselves onto equipment when the salesperson never got around to it.

The salesman then did a thorough demonstration of the bike’s computer functions. As he explained how the bike could help a rider stay at a target heart rate, he looked at Leroy and asked if he knew what target heart rate was. And we should pause here to make a point — if you are going to delve into technical issues, make sure that the customer understands what you’re talking about, or you’ll just confuse a person with a lot of jargon. Again, Dale was right-on in asking. People just don’t want to look stupid and will often just nod affirmatively even though you are speaking what could be Greek.

Dale opened a booklet for the LeMond bike, and showed our agent a few recommended workouts. “Some of these workouts look pretty intense,” our Mystery Shopper said. “Do you think this might be too much bike for her?” But Dale said no, explaining that there were plenty of settings appropriate for her. He then ran through a couple of programs that our agent’s mother would likely use the most — the manual setting or the so-called fat burner setting.

This salesman obviously knew his stuff, but Leroy wanted to see how he dealt with a little resistance. “You know, one thing is that my Mom has always liked the bikes that have the arm attachments that move. She likes to use those to get more of a workout.” Without missing a beat, Dale then turned to the neighboring piece of equipment, the SportsArt Fitness XT10 Trainer.

“This is probably one of the most unique pieces of equipment in the store,” Dale said. He immediately invited Leroy to try it out, and the salesman showed him the computer programs, and how a rider could press buttons on the machine’s arms to control resistance of the arms and the pedals separately. Hey, cool, thought Leroy.

Leroy was impressed with how easily the salesperson had switched to another product, and kept his enthusiasm and attention to detail all the while.

Dale then asked what our agent thought between the XT10 and the LeMond, without even starting to play the price game yet. He no doubt sensed that he had effectively narrowed the sale down to a couple of options, so it was time to gauge the customer’s interest and go for the close. But, our agent was enjoying this experience so much — and Dale was doing such a great job — he decided to press him a bit more, and then asked him to see another bike similar to the LeMond model, just to do some comparison shopping

“Well, you can never go wrong with a Lifecycle,” Dale said as pulled an R35 bike from the row of machines to gain better access. He got on the bike and pointed out its five different heart-rate settings, which were the main difference between it and the LeMond bike. Dale went into some detail about the heart-rate setting and the cool-down function, always pausing occasionally to ask whether he was adequately explaining things.

Dale asked again which of the bikes our agent preferred — great tactic for gauging opinions and listening not just talking — and, without prompting, said he would recommend the LeMond bike due to the mobility issues. “For you and me, getting on and off a bike may be no big deal,” Dale said. “But to her, it might be like getting on and off a horse each time.” Wow, that’s a good way to put it, Leroy thought, remembering that he had to stand on a stump to get onto the last horse he rode.

Dale then explained that the store was marking down the XT10 bike by $2,000 and the LeMond bike by $200. He gave our Mystery Shopper info on the three pieces he’d shown and stapled his business card to one of the pamphlets. “We also do service after the sale,” Dale added. “If anything goes wrong with the equipment, we’ll come out to your house and fix it.”

He then asked how long it might be before our agent would make a decision, and Leroy said maybe a week or so. Dale wrote down Leroy’s contact info, and invited our man to drop back by or call if he had more questions.

About 25 minutes after entering the store, Leroy walked out the front door quite confident that if he ever really was to buy Mom a new exercise bike, he knew exactly where he’d go.

SNEWS® View: For a salesperson, it is one thing to put yourself in the shoes of a customer standing a few feet in front of you; it is quite another to put yourself in the shoes of a 60-something-year-old woman who is not even present. But Dale was able to do just exactly that. His most important comment may have been when he said, at the conclusion, that to the mother, getting on and off the bike might feel as hard as getting on and off a horse. It was an astute observation that Dale was able to make because he had asked enough questions to understand his customer.

Also, he knew that the woman’s hip soreness and comfort would play major roles in choosing the right product, being comfortable with it and, of course, being happy with it and using it. Also, this salesman never stopped asking questions, even as he was going through the various features of the bikes, even as he was wrapping up the visit and taking down our agent’s phone number. We could go on bragging about this guy for his great demeanor, his spot-on product knowledge, etc. But his ability to question, listen and respond set him apart.

Bottom line: Do what Dale does and you’ll sell more stuff to satisfied customers.