The terrible triplets of selling... drawback, skepticism and indifference.
We shall take up the third and final part of this series, the handling of indifference, in two parts. Simply stated, your customer is indifferent when she says that she is not interested in the benefits of the products you would like to sell her.
As we mentioned in the first article which appeared in the November issue of FURNITURE WORLD, there are two kinds of customer indifference; objective and subjective. As salespeople we can only effectively deal with the subjective variety. When your customer truly needs the benefits you offer, even though she may start out by insisting that she doesn't; she is showing subjective indifference. Objective indifference, on the other hand, takes place when the customer truly does not need the salesperson's benefits. For example, the customer wants to buy two mattresses for a bunk bed. She does not need the box springs, and so she is objectively indifferent to them. Salespeople should understandably honor that kind of indifference.
At this point we should point out the difference between the subjective indifference outside salespeople experience at the start of a sale, versus the kind inside salespeople experience. The immediate challenge outside salespeople experience is to win the customer's interest. Inside salespeople face a different challenge. Their customers generally start out in two ways: They either tell the salesperson the category of furniture they are looking for, or they say "I'm just looking."
The "I'm just looking," despite what some salespeople may believe, is at least the customer's implied admission of being interested in looking for furniture. In fact, more often than not, the "I'm just looking" is a strong buying signal and not an indication that the customer is there to kill time. The "I'm Just looking" can, however, only be perceived as a strong buying signal by those salespeople who are aware of the three customer mindsets, as I call them. The customer mindsets are outlined in figure one (a more complete treatment of customer mindsets is contained in "The 35 Principles of Selling" computer learning course, published by FURNITURE WORLD).
Once the salesperson has keenly analyzed this situation, he can begin to understand the following thoughts implied in the customer's "I'm just looking"...
Look, this is an important decision for me. It represents a sizable amount of my hard-earned income and not the four, five, or six percent commission it represents to you.
Also, I don't want to suffer the disappointment that always follows a bad buying decision, whether that be the hurt I feel over a failed product or the disapproval I experience on the part of my family or friends.
Based on my past experience with salespeople, I do not believe you can help me make the best buying decision. This makes me nervous about you. After all, if you can't help me, why do you want to help me? I don't trust your intentions.
Therefore, I'd like to look by myself, if you don't mind. And by the way, the last salesperson I told this to made it very evident by his frown that he did mind.
As I leave you, please, please, please, I want you to know one thing. Down deep I'm hoping that you're different, because I also know that my chances of making the best decision by myself are not very good. Simply begin to do the little things that will win my trust and confidence.
One thing is certain. The instant the customer first sees the salesperson, the customer's mindsets begin to either be validated or break down. The following factors tend to break down the customer mindsets:
Proper dress and grooming.
A warm greeting with a
Know exactly what's in your current ad and where each item is on your floor.
Take control of the situation by asking questions designed to win the customer's attention.
Get down to business as quickly as you can by probing for specific customer needs.
Use your ears at least twice as much as your mouth.
Acknowledge every customer concern no matter how small.
Support your customer's needs with relevant benefits.
Ask for the sale confidently, persistently, and skillfully.
Apply your product knowledge every inch of the way in keeping with the following maxim: "If you know all there is to know about your product, you are an expert; if you tell your customer everything you know about your product you are a bore."
These are the proven ways to overcome the customer's indifference about you and what you represent as a salesperson.
Now that we have taken a close look at why the customer's frequent "I'm just looking," is most often a buying signal in disguise, we can now use some common examples to examine real subjective indifference. This, as was previously mentioned, is the kind in which customers allege not to
need the salesperson's product benefits... usually resulting from their ignorance of what the relevant product features can truly deliver.
In either case, the task facing the salesperson is to penetrate the customer's indifference. The best way to do so is for the salesperson to follow the steps suggested by Learning International, Inc.:
In the many seminars I have conducted with retail furniture salespeople on the subject of indifference, a frequent objection of theirs sounds like this: "But Peter, we don't really deal much at all with indifferent customers or they wouldn't be in our stores." I love hearing that objection. First, it serves to reinforce the kind of attitude all salespeople should have, namely, that all customers who enter our stores are there to buy. Second, it allows me to point out that customer indifference is in fact a daily occurrence. What I point out is that although customers are interested, let's say, in looking at dining room sets, they are often indifferent to a store's full range of dining room sets. In other words, they are often indifferent to the features and the benefits of more strongly constructed chairs, extra chairs, a server, more supportive glass shelves, a table pad, a finer and more durable finish, and on and on. Or take the customers who are shopping for a sleepset. Too often they show an indifference to premium bedding as is evidenced in the following common objections: "I can sleep on anything," and "It's only for the guest bedroom," and "Show me your cheapest mattress." Or take the customer who insists on buying only the mattress because the box spring is still good, despite the fact that it's as old as the worn-out mattress.
In every one of these examples, the role of the salesperson is to somehow get the customer to 'see the light'. The only kind of salesperson who can consistently turn on that light for the customer is the one who has both mastered the selling skills presented in Learning International, Inc.'s "Professional Selling Skills" and mastered John F. Lawhon's "Five Groups of Knowledge." What makes that task difficult, even with those skills and that knowledge is the following truism; The obscure our customers eventually see, but the obvious takes them a little longer.
We have now covered what for unskilled and un-knowledgeable salespeople are the terrible
triplets of selling: the drawback, skepticism and indifference. Only through repeated role playing in which salespeople bring together their selling skills and product knowledge can owners and managers hope to see continual improvements in this regard. The Japanese have a word for continual improvement - KAIZEN, which, by the way, can serve as a useful acronym, as follows:
Keep on trying.
Maintain a proper... Attitude.
Renew your Interest daily.
Sell with Zeal.
Accept the New challenges each day brings.
You will never be perfect at handling the drawback, skepticism, and indifference, but follow the motto of one car manufacturer: The relentless pursuit of perfection.
You can take that motto to the bank.
Figure 1: Customer Mindsets
the average customer entering a store does not trust either the salesperson's product knowledge or his intent. In short, the average customer does not believe that the salesperson waiting to greet her at the door or to approach her somewhere on the floor is equipped to help her make the best buying decision.
the average customer has more faith in her product knowledge than in the salesperson's.
the average customer has very little trust in her own product knowledge. Therefore, it is only her fear of being misled by an incompetent salesperson who wants to take her money and run, that gets her to say, "I'm just looking."
Corporate trainer and educator Peter A Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. He is also a noted speaker and group leader. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to Peter care of FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.