Whether you call them budtenders, sales associates, patient consultants, or cannabis advisors, the primary responsibilities of dispensary staff are educating patrons and driving sales. This requires training and support to set them up to ethically and successfully sell cannabis. Dispensary owners and managers can do this by encouraging their budtenders to embrace these seven practices to increase sales.
Remember your customers. I like to explain to new employees that being a dispensary associate is similar to being a barista or bartender. You’re expected to remember names, or at least faces, favorite products, and a few bits of trivia about your regulars. Most dispensary customers and patients frequent a neighborhood shop or one that is on their regular commuting route, which makes shopping part of their routine and their community. The social aspect of visiting the dispensary is almost as important as the cannabis purchase for those who live alone, deal with social anxiety, or just feel isolated. Unlike traditional retail stores where you may see a customer monthly or at most weekly, dispensary customers often shop daily. A budtender who takes an interest in those they serve will often have higher sales because they foster the relationship in a meaningful yet professional way.
Don’t ask about a patient’s price range. Unless a patient or customer brings it up, a dispensary consultant should never ask about the budget. It is easy to judge someone walking in the dispensary and assume they will or won’t spend a certain amount of money, but as cannabis professionals, we are responsible for breaking down stigmas and stereotypes. This includes making assumptions about an individual’s budget. Dispensary associates need enough price knowledge to mention it naturally as part of the conversation or be able to quickly navigate a menu to accurately identify the cost of the options they present. A good cannabis advisor presents at least two pricing tiers of products when offering customer options; this not only provides the customer dignity by leaving their budget out of the conversation, but it also reduces the time spent on the buying process, which improves wait times and overall volume of patrons served per day.
Know what’s in stock. We all get very frustrated if, after spending five minutes discussing a product or strain we want, the patient consultant then returns to tell us the last item was just sold. Customers and patients are no different. On the other hand, offering the last of something to a patient because you know it’s their favorite makes them feel valued, and the sense of urgency will often have them increase their cart total. Having a robust point of sale system or menu that allows sales associates to check on inventory levels is critical, but employees should also check the vault periodically to physically see changes. By organizing a “one-off bin” or a “Nearly 86’d List” for staff to quickly reference makes sure low inventory is front of mind when speaking to customers.
Understand what products to bundle. Setting up a time to have vendor and product training will help your staff up-sell more effectively. In addition, they need training on how to ask open-ended questions to better assess a customer’s needs and make well-rounded recommendations. For example, asking a patient, “how do you want to feel” will often lead them to discuss their pain, energy, and need for better sleep. This opens the conversation for the budtender to explain how using a topical and an ingestible at night may help manage pain and improve sleep, which would improve their energy during the day. And then adding a vaporization product for quick relief of pain during the day. Staff also need to know which batteries and cartridges are compatible and which devices accommodate the use of multiple forms of cannabis. At the register or when wrapping up the purchasing conversation, each employee should have at least one item they typically ask about. When I am helping a customer, and they are purchasing flowers, I always ask if they need papers or a lighter. This is a quick, easy add-on, and asking doesn’t feel “pushy.” This approach is a basic step for newer dispensary associates who are not used to up-selling or don’t yet feel confident recommending an entire day-to-night regimen.
Share employee passions. The team should feel comfortable calling on other members of the dispensary staff to offer recommendations and experience to better educate customers. When each member of the team is known as knowledgeable on a certain product type or brand, or extraction processes, their teammates will specifically call on them to help serve a customer. This will enhance the team’s cannabis IQ as well as the customer’s experience; customers feel more confident making a purchase if their budtender tells them honestly, “I’m not as familiar with this product. Let me get so-and-so”. By receiving truthful information and seeing the staff excited about the products they recommend, patrons will continue to visit your dispensary and trust the staff to guide their purchases.
Set goals. It is really tough to motivate employees or accurately judge their performance without giving them a target to aim for, but the manager doesn’t always have to set the goals. Ask each team member what they are focusing on for their shift. This may spark friendly competition or encourage everyone to intentionally mention a slow-moving product. Daily sales goals can help motivate the team and keep them excited, especially on busy days when they know they are meeting and beating the number set for them that morning. Incentives like pizza parties or a discount on products for selling out of a given item or not allowing any products to expire in a given month are fun ways to build teamwork, drive sales and margin, and encourage intentionality among the group. During times of product shortages, I used to tell my staff if they sold out the vault, they could go home early. Of course, this never happened, but they would get creative with their product suggestions so that no guest left empty-handed, which is always the goal.
Serve your customers. Without sales, there is no dispensary, so having an appreciation for the money customers and patients spends is an absolute requirement. Holding your team to a high level of customer service will increase sales and encourage patients and customers to keep coming back, as well as tell their friends, families, and social networks. The dispensary staff aren’t salespeople. They are customer service associates. Putting an emphasis on a servant culture changes the customer experience in such a way that patrons will happily spend more because of it. Saying “please” when asking for payment and “thank you” when you notice someone dropping their change in the tip jar acknowledges that you appreciate the money dispensary patrons spend. And most importantly, when someone leaves, a member of the dispensary team must say goodbye. There’s nothing worse as a customer than feeling like the good vibes stop as soon as the transaction is complete so making sure cannabis associates say “thanks for shopping with us” or “have a great day” as a patient exits the dispensary makes them feel an even greater sense of value. Taking this approach to creating a welcoming and polite environment may also help offset negative situations from escalating. Patients and customers who consistently have positive interactions and feel like their dispensary actually cares about their wellbeing will react less severely when something goes wrong. And in the heat of the moment, dispensary staff trained to communicate with an attitude of gratitude often resolve customer service issues more quickly and to a greater level of satisfaction.
When implementing training to implement these practices or others to increase sales, make sure to continuously educate your staff on why you’re making changes. Focus on the improvements to the customer experience, making their jobs easier, and truly helping patients by making thoughtful purchase suggestions. And of course, make sure managers and supervisors lead by example.
By Marissa LedermanDispensary: When to promote a budtenderWhen management determines its time to