And... why many salespeople look upon their vices as virtues.
Years ago when I was attending a private all boy's high school, one of the teachers told us that if we lived long enough with our vices we might begin to look upon them as virtues. Well, I've lived long enough, and I now believe that very thing about us salespeople: at times we do look upon some of our vices as virtues.
I am referring to the over simplistic catch phrases with which we pretend to make up for our lack of design skills. I mean like "Brass goes with anything," and "Beige is a neutral color. Anything will go with it," and "You're always safe with earth tones; they go with anything." Even a noted author on selling fell into this simplistic trap. Commenting on the topic of interior design skills, he disregarded his insistence elsewhere on specialized knowledge and settled for general knowledge. Inspired by the spirit of the Latin maxim, PARIA CUM PARIBUS EUNT (likes go with likes), he wrote what he terms a rule of thumb: big with big, small with small, modern with modern, high priced with high priced, etc. Unfortunately, it is the kind of oversimplification that has driven so many of us to what I call the "Brass goes with anything syndrome."
Let's take the following scenario. A woman enters our store to look at our brass beds. To get her excited about brass we hit her with the tranquilizing words, "Brass goes with anything." Think about it. What could be less exciting than the thought that what one is about to buy goes with anything. Our approach is all wrong. What we're really telling the woman is that brass is safe to mix with anything. Safe is never exciting, not in love, not in war, and not in interior design. Unique is exciting. Creative is exciting and so are daring, imaginative, different, original, challenging, and all those other adjectives that fly in the face of what is common and average and mediocre and safe, the very things exciting minds like that of Cyrano de Bergerac fought against with every pulse of his gallant heart. It's what the Latin poet Horace was fighting against when he proclaimed. "I cannot stand mediocrity."
You can bet the thin lacquer on your brass beds that what our customers hear in our "Brass goes with anything" is "Madam (Sir), you're probably a klutz like me. Neither of us knows a darn thing about putting colors together, so let's at least be safe about all this. Let's opt for brass. It goes with anything."
Our industry is in sore need of a savior to rouse us from the tepidity of the less than mediocre design skills the average salesperson has. When will we rise above the blind presumptuousness of making statements like the following when asked by customers how we think a sofa will look in their homes: "Terrific, it's going to be a knockout." If there are any gods of furniture who listen to such bravado, they must roll with laughter. We glibly throw out such pronouncements despite the fact that we've never seen the inside of the customer's home. Nor do most of us compensate for that by taking the time to ask pertinent questions about the carpet, the walls, the drapes, the other items in the room, etc. What clothier would dare comment on the appropriateness of a tie if he had not seen the shirt and suit it is to go with?
Until that savior comes forth, I'd like to suggest some tips that might prove helpful. The next time a customer comes in looking for a brass bed, ask her what color bedspread she has. Do the same regarding the carpet, the walls, the drapes, the curtains. Then when she fills you in with blues or pinks or violets or greens or any other colors in solids or florals, tell her that brass is terrific and outstanding with her unique color schemes. Then watch the pupils of her eyes dilate with excitement. Follow the same rationale in the rest of your selling whenever the customer seeks your opinion.
There's magic in the right choice of words too. Don't refer to your bed frames as having wide casters. Call them carpet-saving casters. That'll stoke the fires of their desires and you'll not fail to make the sale, as Lawhon is fond of saying. Don't wait until the customers refer to the wrinkles on your sofas and the depressions on your plush mattresses. Instead, call both of these comfort creases. The idea is really quite simple. It's smarter to bring up a characteristic of your product as a benefit before the customer can bring it up as an objection. Words do make a difference as the verses (left) demonstrate.
In the spirit of these verses, let's put aside the old bromides like "Brass goes with anything," and "Likes go with likes." Finally, let us remember that birds that go together and flock together are also the ones that get shot down the most frequently.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.