Shows like “Extreme Makeover For the Home” and “Queer Eye” have changed your customer’s furniture buying expectations.
Life is one big educational seminar. If you pay attention to its lessons, you will have the opportunity to grow and improve. This is especially true in the world of retail. I love this industry because every day and each situation within every day is different. Every customer encounter is unique. If you can’t learn something new, why would you even bother getting out of bed?
Research by economist Herbert Simon suggests that “it takes three to five years to establish yourself in a career and ten years to master it.” As the ultimate professional, you are in a unique position. You are an entrepreneur who can achieve new and higher standards for your company, “Me, Inc.” To quote management guru Tom Peters, “being CEO of your own company was once a luxury. Now it’s a survival strategy.”
When your job description includes working with “humans” on a daily basis, every day is different. That’s what makes the job so fascinating and, at the same time, frustrating. Fascinating, because each person and scenario is unique. Frustrating, because these situations don’t fall into one, simple, easy to handle, category. This is why a sales consultant’s job description can only be labeled as “etc.!” Your responsibility, requires that you learn some diverse and challenging lessons in your quest to become the ultimate sales professional.
Our Industry, Exposed!
Our industry is being exposed for its entertainment value. Homes are making headlines. “Extreme Makeover for the Home Edition” was recently the number one show on ABC. A lot of viewers are hooked on HGTV, and, who can dispute the popularity, fame, and most important, fun of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?” Consumers are talking about it around the water cooler, and the kitchen table.
If you want to take advantage of this cultural shift, you may not need liposuction or a chin implant, but you will need to learn a few new skills. Here’s how you can improve sales by becoming a partner/resource, learn to listen like a psychologist, look for solutions like a philosopher, act like their mentor, become a cheerleader and coach, a performer, fix-it wizard and a diplomat.
Be A Partner/ Resource
Furniture retailing is much more challenging today than just ten years ago. Customers can purchase furniture locally, from their home computer, while watching TV, at large discount stores that work on reduced margins, from retailers across the state or across the country. That’s why, if you are serious about developing and retaining clients, you need to Partner on Purpose like a Pro. You must become your customer’s new Resource. In the March issue of “Fast Company” magazine, the article “Evolving,” by Shoshanna Zuboff, states that, “Consumption is becoming even more abstract, as people seek control over the quality of their lives, not just the quantity of their stuff… Our assets are distributed in our hearts and minds, dens and kitchens. New wealth and well-being are released as our yearnings are satisfied.” That is why today’s relationships must be forged and partnerships merged with “Ethel.” A caring attitude and commitment to clients’ needs is the mantra of the successful sales consultant. The days of “How can I get you to buy what I am selling” are long gone. Today it is all about, “Talk to me, “Louise,” so that I can help you have what you want to own. That is why I’m here.” Ms. Zuboff points out, “The consumer’s needs promise an escape from today’s economic dead end. YOUR CO. can invent its way out of the trap, but only if it steps through the looking glass.” Come on; let’s follow “Alice” to explore some more exciting ways to think about your role in today’s ever changing sales culture.
Listen Like A Psychologist
Who are they? What are they really saying? What do they truly want? 99% of your job is psychology. One size does not fit all. It is crucial that you study your customer’s face and watch their body language. The popularity of the “Home” shows has produced a new breed of shopper. They’re more sophisticated and savvy. Increasingly, the traditional fear of making a costly purchase mistake has given way to excitement. They want this to be fun, but they need your assistance to help them play. However, they want to play with a pro. Research by Dartnell ranks “approach” as the number- one, must-have selling skill. Come on; show ‘em your stuff on that initial approach.
“Welcome” (as you’re staring them directly in the face) should be the first word out of your mouth. Let them know that you appreciate the fact that they’ve come to your showroom. “Thank you for visiting “Sofas-R-Us.” When they tell you that “they just want to browse.” Let them know “That’s great! Browsing is part of the fun.” Just make sure that you let them know that you will be coming back and why. Be careful here. Don’t tell them you’ll be coming back to see “if they have any questions.” That’s what clerks say. You are not a clerk. You know what to say. You know the drill: Give them an assignment, or tell them about the services you and your showroom offer. Yes, set yourself apart from everyone else in town and set yourself up to win. When you believe that they “are just browsing,” they become the seller, and you become the buyer. You’re the buyer because you are buying what they are selling you. What’s wrong with this picture???
They’re browsing for a reason… to see if you have anything that they would like to own. You’ll never find out if you never go back and approach them. You need to listen like a psychologist, but since you can’t “partner” like a pro over a long-distance, you need to engage them in a conversation. Chris Lytle author of “The Accidental Salesperson,” puts it this way, “Buyers really do like good sales consultants. They want to be given compelling reasons to act. They want to feel certain the purchase they have made is the right one.”
Find Solutions, Like A Philosopher
In the March issue of Body & Soul, Mark Baard’s article, “What Would Socrates Say,” cites Gretchen Breese , a philosophy professor at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, “Doing philosophy requires some hard thinking. It demands an openness to recognizing how much we don’t know, and to see all aspects of life from different points of view.” AMEN! We’re not talking the Zen of sofas. We are talking about being responsive to new ways of analyzing situations. We’re listening and solving problems. Remember, we’re in the solutions business, not the sofa business. According to management consultant Peter Drucker, “Top performers in every industry sell concepts. That is why they are top performers.” When we’re philosophical, analyzing the whole picture, we’re keeping all of our options as well as “Ethel’s” options open. To quote Mr. Baard, “Responding philosophically to a problem pushes a person beyond black-white patterns of thinking.” Instead of doing your job on automatic pilot-- finding an obvious need and selling them a “green one”-- you have the opportunity to look a bit deeper. You may be able to solve your customer’s design problems from a creative and unexpected point of view… and in the process make buying furniture fun and profitable for both you and your customer.
Act Like A Mentor
Since you and your customer are partners in a new relationship, you are their mentor. You are educating them about your services. You’re letting them know how your product can benefit them and meet their needs, based on what they’ve told you. You’ve listened and are determining a solution created just for them. For you ladies, your mothering genes and nurturing skills may also be kicking in.
Be Their Cheerleader/ Coach
When people buy, it’s an emotional experience. When they don’t, they’ve made a logical decision. So, why wouldn’t they buy something from you? Usually the reason is that you didn’t get them excited enough. They just didn’t “have to own” your products and services. They couldn’t visualize that new dining room furniture in their home. They couldn’t see how good it would make them feel or how it might transform their life. Hey, you’re the cheerleader. Get out the pom-poms and get them in “play” mode. Make the buying process fun. You don’t want to sell your customer something they don’t need or will be sorry they purchased, but think back on the times you’ve bought something you shouldn’t have? Why did you do that? E-M-O-T-I-O-N – sheer raw EMOTION! It’s E-Motion… NOT PRO-motion!
Counselor And Confidant
Sometimes “Louise” doesn’t buy because she can’t make up her mind. The fear of making a decision may be so deep she is frozen in space and time. As her consultant, let her know that it’s okay. Let her know that, “You have made a beautiful decision. Now it is time for you, “Louise.” “Give yourself permission to own your new sofa. It’s okay. You deserve it.” As her consultant and partner you need to have patience and perhaps do some hand-holding. The lessons you learned in psychology class are really kicking in here, but remember that you are their counselor, not their new best friend.
You Are A Performer
Your showroom is your stage. As a presenter, a professional, you must be UP. You must be ON! Performing, being UP, being ON is key to your success. It sets you apart from all the rest if you are having fun. If you aren’t, your true nature will be revealed as a phony.
Let your customers know that playing is involved. Buying furniture is a big-ticket purchase. It’s a serious purchase, but not deadly serious! This is a “wow ‘em business! Overdose on your senses. Commit to lunacy! You created this for “Ethel.” Make it an experience! Whether it’s a new customer that you are presenting to, or a formal presentation, Prepare, Practice and Polish your Performance. Add Romance. Paint a picture of their new room. Bring it to life! Chris Lytle calls this kind of performance, “selling with a purpose.” He emphasizes that, “Buyers can feel the difference when you “sell with a purpose.” Chris is so right. Let’s take it one step further and call it Performing with Passion on Purpose! It shows that you’ve practiced, that you’re prepared. It lets them know that you are a professional whose passion is showing. You are glowing! And . . . Never forget the power of play.
Service Representative And "Fix-It" Wizard
In “The Accidental Salesperson,” Chapter 13 says it all. “Customer Service is Not Something You Do When You’re Too Tired To Sell.” The service process is part of the sales process. The success of your business, your company, depends on your follow-up, follow-through, and most important … your “follow-ing.” (They’ll never recommend you, if they never hear from you). As Mr. Lytle states, “Not losing customers you have is the final piece of the puzzle.” Your service process is a tool for your toolbox that constantly needs to be polished. Remember your job starts when they sign on the dotted line! Hey, you’re a customer. How would you like to be treated? Would you buy from you?
Dale Carnegie said that, “the best way to win an argument is to avoid it.” Mr. Lytle agrees, “Life is not a contest… The best way to handle objections is to prevent them.” A short list of prevention techniques follows:
Repeat back what they are telling you. This is Reflective Listening (“So what you’re saying is…”)
Use the phrase, “Based on what you’ve told me…”(This shows that you listened to them. It also incorporates what they told you into the final solution/ decision).
If Price is an issue and they’re telling you, “It’s too much money!” You have to find out what they mean by too much. How much are you off? Ask them, “what price range were you thinking about?” You need to know the answer to this question before you can help them.
Don’t Ask: “What’s your budget? (It’s too personal), or “How much did you want to SPEND?” (Nobody likes to spend).
An objection is a process –not—an event! If they are objecting, you can be confident that they are still interested. Objections are just implied needs. Address their concerns. Answer their questions. After all, you are the expert here! That’s why your diplomatic skills are so crucial.
Wow! You wear so many hats, and you have to hone so many skills, no wonder your job description is filed under “Etc!”
Life is really a classroom. Especially in the world of retail where school is always in session!
Learning is wonderful and exciting, but for some, it can be uncomfortable. If you want to grow, you need to s-t-r-e-t-c-h. Most “humans” choke on change; they are afraid of leaving their comfort zone. In the May edition of “Hope” magazine, Frances Moore Lappe co-author of “You have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear” states, “I’ve come to believe fear usually means go. It always means listen closely.”
In his wonderful book, “The Power of Intention,” Wayne Dyer points out, “One of the most effective ways of moving from ordinary to extraordinary is saying ‘yes’ more frequently and eliminating ‘no.’ Ordinary says, “No, I can’t do that.” “No that won’t work.” “No, I’ve always done it this way.” ( Now, never mind that THAT way isn’t working! ) Be careful here, because this is a H-U-G-E- NO! “Ordinary implies being stuck in a rut. Which means attracting other rut dwellers, which means you’ll stay in your ordinary rut!” We don’t want to get stuck. Instead, we want to move out and up to extraordinary!
Next month, we’ll talk change. We’ll handle fear and we’ll become extra ordinary when we get together at our next session. For now, class dismissed. P.S. play! Take notes with crayons!
Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates\”T ‘N T.” She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Questions on any aspect of sales training or sales management can be sent to Cathy care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.