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Steps of the Sale Series: Qualifying Questions

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 146 NO.1 January/February


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In the September/October 2015 issue of Furniture World, we began a discussion of Qualifying Questions (see the entire Steps of the Sale series at http://www.furninfo.com/Series/Bedding). That article included qualifying questions every RSA who sells mattresses should know with an emphasis on:
  • Health and Medical related questions
  • Sleep and comfort questions

Three additional categories of qualifying questions will be covered in this article which are:
  • Selection and Presentation questions. 
  • Problem and situation analysis questions.

When RSAs probe the needs and wants of would-be customers (ups), they need to learn everything they can about each shopper’s problems, wants, limitations, history and needs.

Should RSAs ask qualifying questions by category or in a certain sequence? My opinion is that it isn’t necessary to try to put each question in a category, or ask the questions by category. The RSA/up interaction is better when it is a free-flowing conversation that can touch all subjects, and change direction quickly, depending on the shopper’s response.

Also, not all of the qualifying questions presented below fit neatly into a discrete category. Again, salespeople should pick and choose from the list, as needed, using it as a prompt, or reminder. In fact, I find that it’s a good idea for salespeople to carry a “qualifying questions” list with then while working on the showroom floor. If the conversation slows or stalls, they can just whip it out, find a good question and keep it going.

Qualifying

It’s important to mention at this point that a thorough fluency in using qualifying questions is only part of being a successful Retail Sales Associate. It doesn’t matter if salespeople memorize and recite every qualifying question ever written down, unless they also prepare by immersing themselves in all the thousands of details of the store’s:
  • products 
  • inventory 
  • policies 
  • advertising 
  • finance programs 
  • a complete dossier on all of your store’s competition
  • industry trends and players and 
  • mastery of the steps of the sale.

More information about each of these areas of knowledge, plus how to present them to sales associates was described in the March/April 2015 issue, Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: RSA Bedding Sales Training - Part 2, that can be read at http://www.furninfo.com/Series/Bedding.

Categories Of Questions

Selection and Presentation questions. The RSA can use these to gain an insight into what the customer prefers or seems to be thinking about.

Problem and situation analysis questions. The RSA asks these to ferret out information that might be a current problem with the customer, and also to find out what might be a future problem, if left unresolved once the sale has been made.

Urgency and closing assistance questions. The RSA asks these questions to determine the urgency of the buyer; to get a time frame and, to bring the sales process to a successful close.

Selection And Presentation

In Furniture World’s November/December 2015 issue, quite a few qualifying questions about Comfort and Sleep were covered. These questions tend to overlap Selection type questions and could easily be folded into this category. There are, however, many selection-type questions that are unrelated or only distantly related to comfort and sleep, presented below.

1. What size are you looking for?”
This is one of the first four questions that RSAs should ask every bedding up. It doesn’t mean the shopper will necessarily buy the size they mention, but the RSA needs to start somewhere. Don’t wander around the store wondering what size they need. Ask them.

2. Is this for a master bedroom or for a guest room?
Another of the First Four questions; and please notice how it is worded. When two people walk into your store together, the RSA has no idea what their relationship is. And, the RSA should never make assumptions, or even ask about this relationship. If they are a couple, you will find out soon enough, without asking. If they are not, don’t embarrass yourself and them by asking a risky question. A risky question, if you haven’t already guessed, is something like, “Is this going to be something you two are going to be sleeping on?” Their outraged and offended response might be, “No, this is my sister!” My suggestion is; stay away from risky personal questions. This question can also be phrased as follows: “Who will be sleeping on the new set?” Or, even better, “Do you mind if I ask who will be sleeping on the new set?”

Don’t overdo the “Do you mind if I ask?” thing. It’s great when used sparingly and at the right moment, but overuse can get old really fast with the customer.

3. What sort of budget are you working with?
This “budget” question is widely debated by sales trainers. Some like it and some don’t. Some think it is intrusive and others say the RSA should “start at the top” with every sales encounter. If you start at the top, why do you need to ask about budget?
I bring it up, not as an advocate or an opponent, but simply because it needs to be talked about. Every experienced RSA knows that budget is a very important consideration in almost every purchase of durable goods. If you know the customer’s budget, you have a better chance of helping them make a proper selection and then go on to close the sale. To fly along without an idea of their budget, hoping they will buy the “top of the line” every time, is probably not realistic.

When you strike out trying to sell the top of the line, where do you go from there? The answer is, “You will need to know what kind of budget they are working with.”
There are many ways to phrase the budget question. We’ll save that for another article. Or for more detail, read my chapter on Qualifying Questions in my book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”.

4. Have you shopped anywhere else?” And, if so, “What did you see there that you liked?

This question would also fit in the Urgency/Closing category. This is an important question. Properly asking it, at the right time, will hugely increase the RSA’s chance of making the sale. Remember, your store has competition. They sell bedding, too. Your up has probably visited more than one other store before he/she came in to see you. You MUST find out what else they have seen and how much they liked it.

Now, don’t just pop out with this question right after the greeting. The right time to ask it is after the initial qualifying questions and well into the Selection Step of the Sale. The best time to ask is when the customer has looked at a couple of your offerings but is not showing much, if any, enthusiasm for you or your products. He is probably thinking “You know, that set over at Uncle Ed’s Beds and Bar Stools was really nice and he said it was half-off!” If you fail to ask Question 4, and its follow-ups, you probably just lost a sale to Uncle Ed.




Only by asking Question 4, will the RSA be able to discover where the customer has been, how he has been influenced by what he saw, and who he talked to.

I find that customers are usually honest in answering this question. They usually even have a card, with some scribbled prices and specs on the back. With this information, NOW you know exactly what you have to do to impress the customer and make the sale.

5. What is important to you in a new mattress? Is it support? Is it comfort? Is it luxury? Is it durability? Is it price? Is it brand? Is it warranty?
The RSA can ask each of these separately, or together, depending on the customer. The answers given will give the RSA a great advantage in helping customers select the right bed for them. It can also help to shed light on some needless reservations they might be harboring before buying, especially worrying about which brand and what warranty. Only by asking, can the RSA draw out these concerns into the light of day.

6. Have you done any research on the internet or in consumer publications?
The internet is loaded with information and opinion on every possible subject, bedding being no exception. Your customer may very well walk in thinking he already knows everything he needs to know; that he doesn’t need your help. Some of his “understanding” may be valid but a lot of it may not be. Now, it becomes easy to perceive why it is so important for the RSA to be PREPARED. The prepared RSA can handle anything the self-important know-it-all customer can throw at him. The unprepared RSA will lose respect in a hurry.

7. Have you visited our store before?
It doesn’t sound like a very important question, but the RSA should find out the answer. This is a good opportunity to develop a rapport; to educate the customer about all the benefits the store offers its customers, and to begin to build a long-term relationship with that customer.

Problem And Situation Analysis

1. What is bothering you about your old bed?
This can be a comfort question, but so often, the problem with the old bed is more than just comfort. It may be too big, too small, too old, too dirty, too much associated with bad memories, etc. Shoppers buy comparing old to new, and new to new. The RSA must know why they hate their old bed.

2. How long have you had your old bed?
This question is similar to question one, and should be asked at about the same time. The answer will usually give the RSA a good hint as to the urgency of the customer’s need, so this could also be used as an urgency or closing type qualifying question.

3. Will you need a new bed frame or is your old bed frame in good condition?”

This is an extremely important question. Most customers have no idea about their bed frame, but, very often, the bed frame is the real source of their problem. For example, all queen and king size beds MUST have proper center support. I have seen so many times in my years of selling bedding that the customer has a queen mattress set stretched out over an expanded twin/full frame. And guess what? His mattress is sagging in the middle. Please do not sell a queen or king mattress without knowing what condition the bed frame is in. How do you find out? It’s not always easy. Some stores solve this problem by giving away a free frame with every new set. I don’t necessarily think this is a good idea, and there is no guarantee they will use the new bed frame anyway, unless your store delivers and sets up the new set. But I can assure you of one fact. If their old bed is sagging in the middle because of a faulty frame, their new bed will also sag in the middle for the same reason. And, they will be back in to see you, but not to thank you.

4. What size bed do you have now?
It’s always good for RSAs to know what the customer is sleeping on now. Again, part of closing is emphasizing dissatisfaction with the old product, so they will commit to buying the new product. Another consideration is room size. They may be sleeping on a full size because their room will not hold a bigger bed. So, in this case, don’t try to talk them into a king size.

5. Will you need to dispose of your old set?
The delivery staff really likes to know the answer to this question. In fact, every invoice should have some notation about disposition of the old set, and every customer should be asked the question, especially if it is being delivered. An accompanying question is, of course, “Will you need the bed delivered or do you have a way to pick it up?” If it is being delivered, the delivery staff would also like to know: (1) “Is the delivery upstairs or downstairs?” (2) “Is it a drop off or complete set up?” (3) “Are there any special considerations about the delivery that we need to know about?”

6. Do you need the complete set or just the mattress?
Some customers just need the mattress. The RSA needs to know the answer to this question. First, the mattress is less expensive than the set, so price considerations will be modified. Secondly, the customer may not volunteer to the RSA that he only needs the mattress. Always ask this question.

Urgency And Closing

Closing the sale is really the whole point of going through the sales process, and for that matter, it is the whole point of even having a store and keeping it open. You can do everything else right, but then completely fail because you didn’t close the sale. This article is not about closing, it is about qualifying questions. But, certain questions, if asked correctly and at the right time, will help the RSA establish the level of the customer’s urgency and therefore strongly assist in closing the sale.

1. How soon will you need your new mattress?
This is one of the First Four. It must be asked, every time, without fail. The answer will usually tell the RSA the customer’s level of urgency. If the urgency is great, meaning, he needs it tonight; then only show beds you know you have in stock.

2. How will you be paying for your new set?
Now, I don’t necessarily think this is a very tactful question to ask directly. But, the RSA needs to know the answer. This is also a good time to probe into the customer’s creditworthiness, and whether he is a candidate for financing. Customers who can and will buy with financing and monthly payments will often buy larger and more expensive items, knowing that they can amortize the cost over time rather than putting out a large wad of cash on the spot. If they are finance worthy, monthly payment is an important consideration.

3. How long have you been looking for a new bed?
If they’ve just started looking, they probably have a high urgency factor. Take advantage of this and find them a bed today. If they’ve been browsing for several years, it might be okay to question how urgent they really are about a new set.

4. Will anyone else be involved in making this decision?
This question is very important if a single customer is looking. Often, wives come in without their husbands. The wife wants a new bed; the husband doesn’t want to be bothered with it. The RSA needs to know the answer to this question. A follow-up to this question should be, “How soon can the other party come in to look at the bed?” I always hesitate before selling a bed to just one member of a couple. What if the bed is delivered and the other person doesn’t like it? I’ve seen this happen many times. The point is, the RSA needs to have some advance warning before approaching the close of a sale like this.

5. Out of all the beds you’ve tried, which one do you like the best?
How does the RSA close the sale if he does not know which bed the customer likes?” If the customer is not giving off too many buying signals, the RSA needs to ask. It might turn out that the bed he likes best is the one he saw down the street at another store! The RSA can’t pitch a bed, or close a sale without knowing the answer to this question.


Summary

Even though we’ve gone over quite a list of qualifying questions in the two articles on the subject, we have barely scratched the surface. Qualifying questions are intended to produce answers from the customer. The customer’s answers then stimulate and produce even more follow-up questions. This process and conversation should continue until the RSA has a thorough rapport and understanding of what the customer really needs and wants. Only then, can the RSA help the customer find the solution and close the sale. And, in my opinion, that is the whole point of being in the sales profession.

David Benbow, a twenty-three year veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company. Dave’s company offers mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) Dave’s many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas uniquely qualifies him as an expert in selling bedding at the retail level.

David is the author of the recently published book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”. This book is the first book to systematically present a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It is a complete training course in one 292 page book. The book can be purchased on-line at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.

He also offers hands-on training classes for retailers on a variety of subjects and issues as well as on-line classes that can be downloaded from the websites mentioned above.

David can be contacted via e-mail at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or in person at 361-648-3775.
Read other articles by David Benbow