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Use It Or Lose It (Passion That Is!)

Furniture World Magazine


How even veteran salespeople can keep their level of excitement high so that customers will view their furniture as outstanding and buy!

Whenever I'm involved in the training of salespeople new to the furniture industry, I put this question to them:

Question: "What was your first reaction to all that furniture on your sales floor?"

Typical responses: "One big jumble... A sea of furniture... overwhelming..."

I then ask: "Try to remember what all this new furniture looked like to you the first time you saw it. That's the same way your customers see it the first time they visit your store.

What's my point? Actually I have more than one point. First, the customers who see our furniture for the first time are confused about our line-up. Of course they are. It's full of hidden packages. Most of the features of our products lie buried under fabric and ticking and layers of finishes and sealers.

Second, the customer desperately needs your help. You must, therefore, quickly move that customer from diffidence and doubt (she doesn't have the information to make the best buying decision) to confidence and certitude. At the same time you must dispel their fear of making a bad buying decision... of getting a poor value or, as is probably more often the case, that of disapproval by family members and friends.

Third, whenever buyers and sellers meet, complex psychological interactions always take place. How you the salesperson play your role, always affects the outcome of the buying-selling process. Note that I did not refer to this process as one of selling alone or of buying alone. For while those of us who sell tend to think of it as selling, our customers tend to think of it as buying. For that reason, customers are very conscious of their salesperson. The more conscious the buyer is of the salesperson, the greater the probability of the former's diffidence, doubt, and fear.

Two factors regulate that

  • The cost of the potential investment.
  • The degree to which the purchaser foresees the possible pain of making a poor purchase.

Three truisms tend to follow these two factors.

  • The customer's doubts will not be set aside if the salesperson displays his or her own doubts about the merchandise.
  • In order for the customer to make a purchase, she must find something outstanding in the store, that is, she must find something that stands out.

Salespeople who fail to grasp the relationship between standing out and outstanding fail to understand what John F. Lawhon meant when he defined the salesperson's role as providing the customer with the information needed to make the best buying decision. In other words, customers arrive at the conviction that a furniture item is outstanding only when it stands out in their mind as best. They only purchase by comparison.

Customers are moved to perceive something as outstanding if the salesperson demonstrates an excitement about that same merchandise. In this regard, note what the Roman poet Horace had to say: "If you would have your audience weep, you must first feel grief yourself." What the poet wrote about audiences weeping applies equally to excitement. If you would excite your customers, you must first be excited yourself. Virtually all salespeople start out being excited about their merchandise. The best salespeople manage to stay excited. Too many, however, do not. For that reason someone once wrote: "Experience and excitement are seldom found at the same time in the same salesperson."

What do we mean by excitement? Does everyone display it in the same way? I believe not. Dr. Paul Hieronymus was my Greek and Latin graduate professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Dr. Hieronymus was an exciting teacher. Yet he was not an exuberant teacher. As a matter of fact, he usually wore a calm but kind expression. He never got off the subject to digress on personal anecdotes. He always stayed on task, stressing what was his scholarly passion--grammar and syntax. The only time his facial expression changed occurred whenever we'd make a serious grammatical error. We never heard one caustic remark from the lips of that venerable man. He would show no anger, only hurt, as if we had harmed one of his grammatical children. I loved that man! We all did. While he did next to no publishing under his own name, not one of the other full professors dared to publish without having Paul Hieronymus scrutinize their manuscripts prior to sending them out to press.

Different personalities convey this thing called excitement differently: the quiet and the introverted, the dramatic and the extroverted, each in his or her own style. Yet both types have one thing in common: they love what they do and it shows. It's as if the work they do is the air they breathe.

But, some of you might interject at this point, "I don't love what I do. It's not the pride and joy of my life. It's only my job." My reply to you is: "I feel sorry for you, because your job is what you do during most of your wakeful hours. Shame on you for not having the courage either to find a way to become excited about your job or to find another job." After all, what we do during most of our conscious hours is more than simply earning a salary. Author Mary Richards writes: "We are not meant to work for wages but for wholeness."

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote that the wise man drinks from cups of gold as if they were made of clay and from cups of clay as if they were made of gold, by which I believe Seneca meant that the wise man knows that more important than what a cup is made of is the fact that essentially every cup is a container. As for what each of our containers contains, although some may not agree, that has more to do with us than with what fate has dealt us. We can't determine all that ends up in our cups; we can determine how we see what ends up there.

In the December issue of Furniture World we read how Alvin Law proved that point by becoming the Canadian state high school champion drummer even though he was born without arms.

My friends, take a closer look at your store, your products and your life. Use the passion you have, once had or only occasionally glimpsed. Use your love of home furnishings or design, for helping your customers make a good buying decision, or of just being alive. If you master this feat, then as Seneca suggested, your cup of clay will be seen as a cup of gold. Your customers will see that gold too, and sales will soar.

Editor's note: Peter Marino holds a Ph.D. in classical languages and literature. He would have loved to have lived the professorial life for which he studied so long and hard. Instead, he ended up first selling furniture (while also teaching part time at universities and colleges) and then training and educating retail salespeople and managers in advanced selling techniques. He continues to do training and education in the home furnishings industry, much of it gratis. He loves what he does. His passion is obvious to everyone he touches.


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