Many counter salespeople keep their “red cape” under the counter at their fingertips.

Counter sales area at Economy Plumbing Supply, Indianapolis, IN. Photo by Pat Lenius 2007

As a counter salesperson, when a customer walks through the door, you are generally the person they want to see. The customer wants to place an order and expects you - the counter salesperson - to take care of it. Although this encounter is usually brief, let’s examine what the customer’s overall expectations may be. What do customers expect of counter sales professionals? Because customers’ perceived value of you as a supplier drives their expectations, knowing the answer to this question is important to meeting expectations and building relationship equity.

Today’s customers expect more than free coffee and popcorn at the counter. They expect a more than satisfactory experience with the people that represent the company with which they are doing business.

CEO Strategist research indicates customers have the following expectations of counter sales personnel:

  • Product and application knowledge in order to efficiently answer questions.

  • An understanding of the customer’s business in order to make good buying recommendations and to ask intelligent questions to learn about his or her needs and interests, problems and types of customers served.

  • The ability to provide accurate pricing, inventory and timely service.

  • A steady stream of information about new products, special promotions and company policies affecting the business relationship.

  • Timely follow-up to the customer’s questions, timely solutions to problems and timely complaint handling to ensure customer satisfaction.

  • A service attitude that proves the customer’s business is valued.

  • A sales mentality to help match the right products and the right services to the customer’s needs. This will provide your clients with choices of accurate information about the features, benefits and the value of each.

  • The Rest of the Story

    As the counter salesperson you are definitely on the front line, yet everyone in your company also plays a role. Accounting, human resources, warehouse personnel, truck drivers, administration, information technology and even your receptionist, if you have one, are part of the service excellence formula. People from every one of these functions touch the customer in some form or fashion.

     Purchasing plays a particularly important role. The purchasing department must be knowledgeable about every manufacturer and each product line, and aged and dead inventory must be kept at a minimum. Remember, the right product at the right time is a key expectation of the customer. This is particularly true at the counter. Purchasing and inventory management play a key role in meeting customer expectations.

    Counter Responsibilities - Juggling and Multi-Tasking

    You are a frontline warrior who makes real time face-to-face contact with the customer. First and foremost,you are a salesperson. That deserves repeating: First and foremost,you are a salesperson. As a result, helping the customer buy is a key responsibility. But keep in mind that in customers’ eyes, you are also the service person. You are their lifeline, their support structure and their solution to all problems. That translates into them wanting immediate attention to their needs. This can include pricing, problem solving, recommendations and even sometimes just someone to listen to their issues and/or problems. You will check stock, write orders, pick and pack and even invoice and collect on occasions. Indeed, you are the ”director of first impressions,” so don’t underestimate your value or your impact on developing customer relationship equity.

    Frankly, you play a crucial role, which means you need technical knowledge, product knowledge, industry knowledge, leadership skills, and most importantly, people skills. You must be able to recognize opportunities to help the customer through suggestive selling, defining your value proposition and offering a choice.

    Your knowledge, professionalism and people skills will lead to respect, which is the only platform able to support your efforts in building relationship equity. Look around. How is the counter organized? Are you always searching for product literature and flyers and promos, or is everything common to your customer base at your fingertips? What about your merchandising efforts? What does your storefront look like? Do you have shelf talkers, end caps?

    The job of the front line counter salesperson is not always clearly defined, but by nature it encompasses many responsibilities including:
    • Sales - serving the customers at the counter or on the phone.
    • Up-selling and suggestive selling - giving the customer a choice.
    • Merchandising - maintaining stocked shelves and displays.
    • Order filling - picking, packing and pulling product for customers.
    • Administrative tasks - for returns, credits, lost sales, etc.
    • Receiving and other warehouse duties.
    • Will-call.
    • Education - learning product lines/applications, including features, benefits, warranties and limitations, plus training and sales meetings.
    • Company policy - understanding policy for credit and product return/exchange.
    On top of all this, a counter salesperson is often expected to support field sales by taking their calls for customer service issues, product inquiries and numerous other requests, and they’re often subjected to disgruntled field sales representatives.


    The counter salesperson plays a pivotal role in sales success. They are a key link to the customer and a crucial ingredient in the service excellence formula. Don’t underestimate their impact on customer relationships, sales growth and profitability. Customers have higher expectations of counter salespeople as they generally have more face-to-face contact with counter sales than anyone else in the company. They want to get the right product, at the right time, at the right price. They also want to talk to knowledgeable, total solution providers who do more than just write orders and handle complaints.

    Please consider this:

    1.What value do you place on your customer’s experience?

    2.What type of culture have you created at your counter?

    Be brutally honest when you answer these questions. Your future growth and profitability at the counter may depend on it.