Learn With Us
Join the Newsletter

Understanding the Difference Between Selling vs. Clerking

cannabis retail people sales Jun 09, 2024

Cannabis selling is more than ringing up sales. 

Budtenders and store teams hold the power to build customer retention and loyalty. 

Selling is both an art and a science. It requires more than memorizing the product's features and benefits. Great selling can even build trust with customers.  

Customers come from all walks of life and have different cannabis knowledge levels. Some might be seasoned veterans, while others are just stepping into the dispensary for the first time. This makes budtending particularly difficult. Teams in-store need to understand the customers' wants and needs while confidently guiding them to purchase. 

We have all been in a situation where a team member points you toward the menu and waits for you to make a choice. That's a clerk—someone who takes orders. They are friendly, but they don’t create any sort of connection or experience with the customer. And they don't optimize the interaction to improve financial results, like increasing basket size or frequency of customer visits. 


How do you know if you have a clerking environment?

Here are a few signals:

  • Lower units per transaction (U.P.T.) - Customers aren't guided towards additional products that might enhance their experience.
  • Stagnant customer retention rates - The lack of a personal touch creates a transactional experience, not a lasting connection.
  • Minimal repeat purchases - Customers may not find precisely what they need, leading them to explore other retailers.
  • Difficulty maintaining positive online reviews - Negative reviews often stem from a lack of guidance and personalized service.


Selling, on the other hand, is different

It's about building rapport, having conversations, and making sure the customer walks out with the right product for them. 

Imagine a customer entering your store, feeling intimidated by the vast array of strains.  A skilled budtender steps in.  Leveraging their product knowledge and honed sales skills, they delve deeper, uncovering the customer's "set and setting" – their desired experience and consumption environment.  Through insightful questions, they build trust and tailor recommendations to perfectly suit the customer's goals.

Selling is effective when a customer walks out not just with a product (or two) but with a sense of satisfaction and confidence. 

This is the essence of successful cannabis retail sales.

Open Ended Questions

The thing you hear the most when learning to sell is to ask open-ended questions.

Remember when your English teacher used to say, ‘Okay, class, it's time to write an essay. Write it about anything you want!’. And you would freeze. With so many topics, how do you pick one to write about?!

This freeze scenario occurs when you prompt an untrained team to ask open-ended questions. This type of guidance is not unique to cannabis; it appears in training materials in almost every industry. But it isn't very helpful. It is not directional if someone doesn't understand how an open-ended question sounds and looks. 


How do you know you’re asking the right question?

Open-ended questions require the customers to elaborate on their points rather than being answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no.' 

However, there is a lot of variety when it comes to the quality of open-ended questions.



Here are a few examples of some good and bad open-ended questions:

  • Bad: Do you know what you are looking for?
    Open: What brought you in today?

  • Bad: Have you been in the store before?
    Open: What led you to our store?

  • Bad: Did you like the last product you purchased?
    Open: What was it about the last product you enjoyed?

See that pattern? Most open-ended questions start with ‘what’ or ‘how’.


The Power of What & How Questions

These two words are incredibly helpful for budtenders who want to understand the intent behind a customer's purchase.


Why? Because they:

  • Encourage elaboration: These words prompt customers to explain their needs and desires in more detail, going beyond simple yes/no answers.
  • Broad scope: They offer flexibility, allowing customers to answer in their own way and reveal valuable insights.
  • Universality: They're universally understood, making it easy for budtenders and customers to converse on the same level.

In dispensary sales, the more a budtender can uncover about a customer and their plans for consumption, the better they can authentically connect the right customer with the right product.

Budtenders have a lot of choices (not unlike the customer). In a moment where there is so much choice and a variety of questions that can be asked, they freeze and resort back to what feels familiar. 


This is why you see budtenders ask the same questions or sell the same products over and over.  With the high product turnover, they turn to recommendations and products that they feel confident about. But in reality, these recommendations don't always provide the best products for the customers’ needs or wants. That doesn’t bode well for a repeat visit to your dispensary.

Open-ended questions are where next-level Cannabis retail selling begins, and provide them with a framework so they have direction to guide the customer through their decision-making. 

Budtenders will go from clerks to sellers, helping to increase basket sizes, sell a wider variety of products, and leave customers confident in their purchases and more likely to return.

Set & Setting

"Set" refers to your customers' mindset when approaching a cannabis experience.

This encompasses the customer’s:

  • Intentions: What do they hope to gain from the experience? Self-discovery, pain management, creative exploration, or relaxation?
  • Expectations: Are they expecting an intense ride or something more gentle?
  • Emotional state: How are they feeling now, and how do they want to feel?

"Setting" refers to the physical and social environment in which your customers have their consumption experience. Both their physical surroundings and social setting.

Why does it matter? When your budtenders are able to ask open-ended questions that result in Set & Setting answers, they can tailor their recommendations. A customer seeking daytime focus needs different products than someone looking for a relaxing evening experience. But if these customers had been asked, “What are you looking for?” They might have had the same responses.

Scenario Example: A customer mentions they're looking for something to unwind with after work. You ask about their "Set & Setting" and learn their definition of “relax” is to read a book at the park. This gives you so much more information than just uncovering that they are looking for something to relax.

You could now respond with something like “Well, because you are going to be in a park, I'm guessing you are looking for something that is easy to consume. That’s usually prerolls, edibles, or beverages. Does one feel right for you?”


As a budtender, uncovering a customer’s Set & Setting is a key tool.


Armed with these little nuggets of information, your team can guide the customer through the menu and help them choose the right products. 

Equip your budtenders with the right tools. Ditch the generic "open-ended question" directive and empower them with the "Set & Setting" framework. 

This equips your teams to ask insightful questions that delve deeper into customer goals and consumption preferences.  Coach and train the team to have meaningful conversations that transform from order-takers into trusted advisors, building customer loyalty and driving long-term success for your cannabis retail business.

This type of selling will be what sets you apart from the competition. Creating a customer-centric environment that builds trust, boosts sales, and encourages long-term customer loyalty.

Tactical insights to become
a Cannabis Retail Insider!

Access expert insights in one easy-to-digest
and follow-along newsletter.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.