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Stop Losing Those Bedding Sales! - Part 2

Furniture World Magazine


Customer objections, sales strategies, the valence factors and the role of the salesperson.

Editor's note: In the April/May issue of FURNITURE WORLD (part 1), Peter Marino presented eight ways that home furnishings retailers routinely lose bedding sales. In this issue he looks at handling customer objections, selling with a strategy, the Valence Factors, the foundation for qualifying customers and the roles of the salesperson. This 2 part series is based on the new FURNITURE WORLD video and workbook "Stop Losing Those Bedding Sales." For more information on these important sales tools contact booksales@furninfo.com.

Handling Customer Objections

Never "overcome" a customer's objection. The word overcome indicates an adversarial relationship between two sides. Our customers are not our enemies. They are our friends.

Instead of "overcoming" a customer's objections, look upon every one of them as an implied need. The salesperson's job is to "infer" the need that the customer has implied in the objection. Let's look at the following objections to see how to infer the implied need in them. Another term for this is "reframing."

Customer's Objection: "That's too expensive."

Salesperson: "Help me out. Are you saying that this is more than you intended to spend or that this isn't worth the price?"

Customer: "It's not worth the price."

Salesperson: "So your concern is that you won't get your money's worth."

Customer: "Right. There's no hood like the one on my car to open up to look at what's inside this mattress."

Salesperson: " What I hear you saying is that you need more information before you make a decision. Is that it?"

Customer: "Sure. A guy doesn't buy one of these things every day."

The inferred need implied by this exchange is that the customer needs more information.

Customer's Objection: "Let me think about it."

Salesperson: "I certainly agree that this decision deserves some serious thinking, so tell me, is it a matter of needing more information about what I've shown you, or are you looking for something different from what I've shown you?"

Customer: "What else do you have?"

The inferred need implied by this exchange is that the customer needs to see something else.

As the two examples illustrate, the important thing is to handle the customer's statement as a need rather than as an objection. That way the salesperson seeks to "come over" the objection rather than to "overcome" it. No objection can be supported as such; only a need can be supported.

Selling with a Strategy

There are several reasons why retail bedding salespeople need a selling strategy.

  • To help customers feel that they have found the "best" sleep set in your store.
  • To keep the customer from wandering aimlessly on the sales floor and ending up confused.
  • To help keep the salesperson in a leader's role instead of a follower's role.
  • A selling strategy helps the bedding salesperson to complete the sale successfully in the least amount of time without customers feeling pressured or rushed.

The rule of three is an excellent strategy for retail bedding salespeople.

The reason for this effectiveness is that the concept of "best' is a superlative that is always based on the number three.
In order for customers to arrive at what they consider to be the best sleep set on a given sales floor, the customer needs to find one sleep set that stands apart from the rest. Though the possibilities are many, only one sleep set will stand out as best. Here are a few of the possibilities.

  • The sleep set on one sales floor will be perceived as better than that seen by the customer on another sales floor. Both will be better than the one the person has been sleeping on at home. Of the three sleep sets, one of the three is seen by the customer as best. He buys the one that is best in his eyes.
  • The customer has not shopped elsewhere. In the first store he finds three sets he likes, but he likes one of them best and therefore buys it.
  • The customer has seen one sleep set in one store he likes a lot, but decides to keep on shopping in two more stores. He then returns to buy the one he liked best in the first store.
  • The customer has seen one sleep set in one store he really likes, but decides to keep on shopping. In another store he finds one he likes best of all and decides to buy it.

The idea of "best" is always arrived at by comparison and contrast and not by comparison alone. That is to say, a customer cannot generally arrive at the best sleep set as long as all those he has tested compare favorably to one another. Only when one of those tested stands out in contrast to the others as best, will the customer firmly commit to buying it.

How the Rule of Three Works
The rule of three advises the salesperson to start out by finding one sleep set the customer likes. At that point the salesperson should show a second set that is slightly lower in price and comparably comfortable and supportive. Whichever of the two the customer likes better, the salesperson should then proceed to show the customer a third set that is still lower in price and proceed to ask the customer which of the two the customer likes better. In that way the salesperson finds out which of the three mattresses the customer likes best. At this point the salesperson asks the customer if he or she feels comfortable going with the set he or she likes best. Should the customer indicate that he or she would like to think about it, the salesperson should trial close to find out what is keeping the customer from committing. If the salesperson determines that the customer is stalling because of price, the customer should be shown another mattress somewhat lower in price. If the customer gives a strong buying signal for that fourth mattress, the salesperson should again ask for the sale. If instead the customer still prefers the former more expensive mattress, the salesperson should ask the customer to explain what he or she likes more about that mattress. In that way, the customer is giving his or her own reasons for that preference. Note that the rule of three does not mean that a customer is not shown a fourth or even a fifth mattress. It merely means that the first three mattresses lay down the strategy for proceeding with the sale.

The Valence Factors, the Foundation for Qualifying Customers

In chemistry, the term valence is a measure of the combining power of an element such as hydrogen, chlorine or sodium. I coined the term "valence" for use in bedding sales to describe the variable preferences each customer has for support, conformabilility, durability and price. The salesperson can use these preferences to create an individual model of what a customer is really looking for.

Support and conformability are a combination that create comfort and work together to provide the customer with:

  • Proper spinal alignment.
  • A mattress that does not sag.
  • Proper reaction to the customer's pressure points (hips, shoulders, arms, and neck).

Note: People are said to sleep more restfully on a today's thicker more luxurious mattresses because of their ability to conform better. Significantly fewer people seem to prefer what they refer to as a firm mattress. By firm they mean one that gives them the feeling of being supported but at the same time has a harder surface because it lacks the softer conforming layers. To that majority of sleepers who like the more luxurious mattresses the word "firm" is negative. To the fewer who find the luxurious mattresses "too soft," the word "firm" is positive. The task salespeople face is to determine through their qualifying whether the latter are finding the less luxurious mattresses less supportive because of a groundless mindset. This can be a very tough challenge for bedding salespeople. The best way for salespeople to meet this challenge is to teach customers the proper way to test a mattress.

Durability is the ability of a sleep set to provide customers the kind of comfortable and restful sleep that lasts.

Regarding the matter of price and how much weight (valence) customers give to it... that depends more often on the salesperson's professional ability to sell, than on the customer's initial feelings about price. Customers go from store to store until they find a salesperson.

The Relationship Between theValence Factors and Qualifying
The role of the salesperson is to qualify how much weight or valence each customer gives to support, conformability, durability, and price. It is important for salespeople to keep in mind that most adult customers shopping for a sleep set for themselves have not experienced the industry's more thicker luxurious mattresses before, because these mattresses are relatively new on the market. Nor do motels and hotels tend to provide their rooms with these thicker luxurious mattresses. Therefore, motels and hotels do not tend to provide customers with an opportunity of experiencing today's more luxurious mattresses.

Also, for many years mattress stores, by emphasizing the words firm and extra firm in their ads, convinced many customers that "hard" stood for quality. For that reason many customers have a bias about the current more luxuriously soft mattresses. In addition, for many years chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons erroneously advised their patients who suffered from backaches to bolster their mattresses by putting boards under them, thus adding to the further bias about hard mattresses being of superior quality.

Both the objective and the subjective elements will always enter into what defines a quality sleep set. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as a comfortable sleep set. No sleep set is comfortable until someone gets on it and finds it comfortable. That's the subjective element. However, every sleep set manufactured has a degree of quality built in before the name goes on. That's the objective quality. Salespeople should be careful not to say to customers who ask how to judge the quality of a mattress that they'll know that once they get on it. Two mattresses can feel quite similar to the customer who tries them for a short time in a sleep shop. Yet, if one of them has been manufactured to keep that comfort longer because of superior specifications, it will keep its comfort longer than a mattress with inferior specifications.

The Proper Way to Test a Mattress
The salesperson must get the customer to learn how test a mattress properly very early in the sale, certainly before beginning any kind of comfort testing.

  • First, the customer must try the mattress on his or her back for proper support for a minimum of 30 seconds.
  • Next, the customer must try the mattress on his or her side to test for reaction to pressure points about the neck, shoulders, arms, and hips.
  • While being tested, the customer should be told to shop for a mattress the way he or she shops for new glasses. The optometrist has the client view different lens through a phoroptor. The optometrist does not stop that test as soon as the client finds a better lens than the one he or she currently has. Instead, the optometrist keeps moving the phoroptor back and forth until the client finds the "best" lens.
  • Having learned how to test a mattress properly, the customer should be told to do the same with the rest of the mattresses he or she tests.

The Roles of the Salesperson

The first role of the salesperson is to act as a partner, because the customer must look upon the salesperson as one who can be trusted to do nothing dishonest or self-centered. Only with that mindset can the two work together to help the customer make the best buying decision.

The salesperson must also be a consultant, because the customer must be able to rely upon the salesperson's product knowledge.

The sole reason why salespeople need specialized product knowledge is so that they can win the customer's trust. Every buying customer trusts first in the salesperson, second in the salesperson's store, and third in the salesperson's product.
The third essential role of the salesperson is long-term relator, because today's cost of doing business dictates that the salesperson make repeat sales and get referrals.

The last role of the salesperson is differentiator, because more than anyone or anything else in the organization, it is the salesperson who causes the store to stand out as one that is different from the others, that is, to stand out as best. The reason for this lies, in two different kinds of quality.

  • The product's quality
  • The salesperson's quality

I'd like to conclude this article with the strong recommendation that every retail furniture store and sleep shop have a properly trained sales coach skilled in helping salespeople make the necessary changes in their selling behavior. Seminars alone won't bring about those changes in behavior. Sales coaching is a skill, which like every other skill calls for practice as well as learning. As our own great American educator John Dewey was fond of saying, "We learn by doing." Without a proper sales coach very little doing will go on.

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at pmarino@furninfo.com.
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