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Did Apple Tame the Salesman?

Salesmen are going soft. They’re toning down their pitch and ditching the “always be closing” approach. And consumers largely have the Apple Store to thank – or blame.

Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Industry experts say Apple’s blue-shirted smiling staff is now the envy of other retailers. Best Buy is remaking its “Geek Squad” in Apple’s image, in a pilot program at its Richfield, Minn., location. General Motors plans to institute “no-haggle prices” on some models, which will remove some of the salesman’s role in negotiating a car purchase. “Apple has had a tremendous amount of influence,” says Milton Pedraza, the president of Luxury Institute LLC, a marketing firm.

The floor staff at Apple emphasizes customer service over sales, with new employees taught an APPLE acronym for their “five steps of service,” says Carmine Gallo, a communications coach and author of “The Apple Experience.” (Approach in a warm manner; Probe politely; Present customers with a solution that may not involve a sale; Listen carefully; End with an invitation to return. ) “AT&T retail is closely following these steps,” he says.

Apple, AT&T and Best Buy declined to comment.

In fact, sales people at many big-name stores are no longer called sales people. “The Apple store never hires a cashier or sales person, it hires a concierge,” Gallo says. Best Buy has its “Geek Squad” and Starbucks calls its staff “partners.” When training staff, many large retailers are also updating their terminology and using phrases like “relationship building” rather than “closing the deal,” Pedraza says. Another technique: Encourage staff to use their customers’ first names. Think Starbucks’ baristas taking your latte order.

That said, the hard sell may simply being going high-tech. Email marketing, apps and social networking allow retailers to take a more aggressive approach – even after customers have left the store, says Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. For instance, a new app, Glimpse, alerts users to discounts from Facebook sites they’ve “liked.” Even Wawa sandwich kiosks – recently given the thumbs up by Mitt Romney – “take the dreaded ‘do you want fries with that’ component away from the employee,” Lenard says.

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