Strategies that help customers make the best buying decision are the ones that are also the most effective.
"The definition of insanity,” Albert Einstein once quipped, “is doing things in the same way and expecting different results.” This article is for those salespeople who are tired of habitually flying in the face of that definition by repeating things that don’t work. In particular, it is for mattress salespeople who are tired of habitually doing so.
More than one consultant has commented on the irrefutable law of cause and effect. A corollary of that law is that successful selling causes successful sales. Luck has nothing to do with the repetitively high closing ratio of successful salespeople, unless you define luck as preparation meeting up with opportunity. But what causes successful selling besides excellent product knowledge and a positive attitude? Professional selling skills strategically applied. In other words, successful salespeople make use of selling strategies. Meanwhile all strategies call for appropriate tactics that sales consultants tend to refer to as techniques. To better understand the word strategy it helps to know that the word derives from a Greek word meaning the science and the planning of military operations. Thus the Greek word for general was strategos. The word tactics also derives from a Greek word meaning the science of arranging and maneuvering military formations designed to be the most efficient and effective. How different the word strategem, which means a trick or scheme designed to deceive. Professional salespeople use strategies and tactics to help customers make the best buying decision for all concerned; salespeople bent on making the sale even at the expense of customers use stratagems.
The intent of this article is to get more salespeople to focus on the importance of selling strategies. One strategy is not enough. Salespeople who use only one strategy fall into the one-size fits all paradigm.
No selling strategy can be continually effective if it disregards a principle especially emphasized by John F. Lawhon: All buying is done by comparison. So strong is that principle that one can set up the following syllogism:
Major premise: All strategies that disregard the buying by comparison principle will tend not to succeed.
Minor premise: Strategy X disregards that principle.
Conclusion: Strategy X will tend not to succeed.
The principle of comparison is based on three forms of adjectives: the positive form (good), the comparative form (better) and the superlative form (best). The principle of comparison states that all customers naturally tend to select what in their minds is the best. The operative words are in their minds. It is important to note what I refer to as the valence factors, that is, those factors that motivate a customer to make his or her buying decision. Every time a customer makes a buying decision, he or she prioritizes those factors. Not only that, but customers tend to use different valence factors depending on the category of furniture they are looking to buy. Therefore, the valence factors customers prioritize when they are looking to buy a mattress differ significantly from those they prioritize when they are looking to buy sofas, dining room furniture or bedroom sets.
Take sofas, for example. While one customer might put the color of the fabric at the top of her list, another might put style at the top of hers. Still another might put durability at the top of her list. Whatever valence factor ends up at the top of the customer’s list turns out to be what some sales consultants call “the customer’s hot button.”
Whenever a customer ends with the words, “Let me think about it,” you can rest assured that you have not found the product that can satisfy the customer’s “hot button.”
You probably noticed that I left out one of the valence factors that is always on the customer’s mind: price. The following is my theory about price. The more professional a salesperson is, the less importance a customer attaches to price; the less professional a salesperson is, the more importance a customer attaches to price. Also, as long as price remains the customer’s highest valence factor, that is, the customer’s hot button, the chances of the customer buying from you is slim to non-existent.
Let’s take a look at what other valence factors besides price customers tend to rely on when it comes to buying a mattress. The majority of salespeople would probably agree that most customers are looking for comfort in a mattress. But before rushing to conclude that comfort is the number one valence factor customers look for in a mattress, we need to understand that various elements enter into a customer’s feeling comfortable about buying a mattress. Price can enter into a customer’s feeling comfortable. So can a quick delivery or pickup. Warranties can also enter into a customer’s feeling comfortable. And, of course, there is the physical comfortable feeling a customer experiences on a mattress. We can break down the meaning of the physical comfort a customer looks for in a mattress by discussing the terms customers tend to use to express that physical comfort: firm, hard, cushiony, soft, supportive, etc. Color and size are not normally valence factors customers consciously look for in a mattress. Only once have I heard a customer say the following up front: “I’d like to see your blue mattresses.” It turned out this customer had a phobia for the color blue. As for size, virtually all mattresses come in the various sizes. Most of the stores I have worked in were able to accommodate those customers looking for the odd sizes of one kind or another, provided they were willing to take a look at some less recognizable brands.
The next installment of this article will discuss the role selling strategies play in helping customers prioritize the valence factors in a way that helps them make the best buying decision.
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.