By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Ethical, unbiased, credible – these are words dietitian nutritionists hope people associate with us. For this reason, our recommendations around food have tended to focus on categories of food choices (think “eat more fruits and vegetables”) or nutrition criteria when making food choices (think “choose cereals with less than 10 grams sugar per serving”). When working in the retail space, however, consumers seek the product recommendation. Vendors fund programs with the expectation that RDNs will promote specific products in demos, store tours, media pitches or social media. For some retail RDNs, this may feel like a point of conflict with their professional ethics.
By using persuasive selling techniques, retail dietitians can make recommendations and maintain alignment with their professional ethics.
At the heart of persuasive selling are questioning and observing. Ask questions and listen intently. Try and understand the shopper’s point of view and the struggles they are having in adopting healthier eating habits. While as nutrition professionals we know what the nutrition ideals are in product selection, your shopper may not be ready for a drastic change. By probing, you can see the situation from their point of view and make a recommendation that meets their needs despite whether it meets your own goals. Working in retail provides a unique opportunity to have ongoing engagement with shoppers, and incremental trade-ups to healthier products may work best for some individuals.
Part of persuasive selling is understanding that the RDN role is behavior change not education. Find ways to create a connection with the shopper, capitalizing on moments of agreement and looking for common ground. Give credit to the shopper, showing that their opinions matter. Ask permission to share suggestions rather than launching into an educational monologue.
Often times in sales the focus is on the benefits of the product. But “framing the loss” can be a more effective strategy in some situations. Promoting increased produce consumption for shoppers at heart disease risking by suggesting it will keep their heart strong and prevent a heart attack may not work. But if you can paint a picture of what their life might look like if the shopper did have a heart attack and what they will lose if they don’t eat more produce, it may encourage them to make this behavior change.
In college curriculum, RDNs aren’t trained to sell, but in reality getting consumers to change behavior is a sales job. Using these persuasive selling techniques can help retail dietitians feel comfortable in promoting products at the point-of-purchase and in maintaining their ethical standards.