Over 154 Years of Service to the Furniture Industry
 Furniture World Logo

Are Your Customers Confused Or Enthused?

Furniture World Magazine


Confuse,” is an active verb, meaning to perplex, baffle or mix up. If your customers are confused, they cannot be enthused! And once they are confused, they find themselves in the LAND OF LOST!

If your customer “Harriet” hears your presentation, goes into a “Haze” and can’t make a decision, then you need to consider that the problem isn’t her. It is not her responsibility alone to choose. That’s why you’re here!


Whoever uttered those famous words, “I have seen the enemy and it is me,” knew what they were talking about. Sales consultants reign over a kingdom of consumer Confusion, Delusion, and Lost. Even worse for our industry, the majority of sales consultants have moved into the kingdom right next to their customers. There is one main cause for this sorry state of fairs and that is ~ FEAR. Yes, a new 4-letter “F word” is moving in.

Fear Makes Strangers Of People Who Should Be Friends

Your customers are afraid of not being in control when they visit your store, and this fear is taking them out of their cars and into cyberspace! They’re touring the “information highway” with their mouse. It’s convenient, and they feel safe. While online, their fear of being attacked at your door has been eliminated. That is the reason given by 98% of on-line shoppers. Of these, 88% also state that they are there to avoid being pressured, and 65% are “afraid” that they will ask dumb questions, or be made to appear stupid. By the way, only 39% shop online for the lowest price!

Today’s home funishings shopper, the brick and mortar variety, sum up their shopping experience with the three “T” words ~ “Terrifying, Tedious and/or Treacherous.”

Still, when the customer is in your store, and has trouble making a decision, you may find yourself thinking to yourself, “Doesn’t she know what she wants? Why can’t she just PICK ONE?” Well, nobody just “picks one!” Buying is a process that consumers must go through. But, when it’s for their home, the words “buying process” take on a whole new meaning.

Remember, when they buy it’s an emotional experience. When they don’t, they’ve made a logical decision. So how can we help our customers to have a positive emotional experience?

Paying $4.00 for a latte at Starbucks is not logical. Who cares? We want to have the “Starbucks Experience.” That’s what they’re marketing. That’s why we, as a culture, pay. It’s not about price or the coffee!

“To develop enthusiastically satisfied customers.”
-Company mission statement of Starbucks-

To quote Kim Wiley in the April edition of “Selling Power” magazine, “Starbucks has not only succeeded in turning coffee into a luxury item, but also in creating an environment and mind-set that makes the purchase price seem reasonable.” That’s why customers are “enthusiastically satisfied.” Bean and Co. are certainly living up to their mission statement. We will get back to Starbucks later.

To communicate with emotional buyers, home furnishings stores must connect with them on an emotional level. In his new book, “Questions That Sell,” Paul Cherry points out that, “As professional consultants it is important to create passion with our customers. That is how we develop connections that separate us from our competition and let us motivate our customers to take action.”

Connecting emotionally is one way to disperse our customer’s worst fears. “Deep down as professionals, we’re hesitant to get deeper with our customers for a variety of reasons. We’re uncomfortable. We don’t think it’s professional. But, we must recognize that there is an emotional component to EVERY sale.” Cherry explains.

Your Customer’s FEARS

Recent research by Baylor University has shown that, “the bigger the risks, the more emotions come into play. ...economic decision making is proving to be much more complicated and irrational than anyone had thought.”

Aside from the fear of losing control mentioned above, the furniture buying process incorporates big risks for your customers. These risks translate into fears that make the furniture buying process more difficult for you and your customer. Here are just a few:

1. Economic Fear: One of the greatest furniture buying fears is economic. The furniture purchase is a big investment. Your customer may be afraid that if she makes a serious buying mistake, she will have to live with her decision for a long, long time.

2. Fear of Change: She knows that she needs new furniture, yet she may be comfortable with her old styles and colors. Most customers just can’t picture what “new” is with regard to the furniture purchase decision. Yes she can see herself in a new Mercedes or a new Lexus, but what about that bedroom set that fuses Sheraton and Mission styles? How scary is that? That is why she needs your help. She needs you to take the fear away and help her define and create “new” in her home.

3. Fear Of Making A Bad Decorating Choice: She’s afraid of being sold something that won’t be appropriate for her needs or her tastes. She is also afraid of what her peers may think about her purchase. After the sale, her friends, neighbors, concerned relatives, and opinionated in-laws will all line up to cast there vote!

4. Fear of Making a Final Decision. Without professional help, and faced with the choice of 8 frames and 75 fabrics, she will be thinking. “Oh no, “how do I choose? What do I choose? I’m so confused!”

This internal conflict tends to make our customers a little or maybe a lot crazy. Yep, she’s there. She’s crazed. It isn’t pretty! What’s her answer to this confusion delusion? How does she deal with her fears?

More shopping, of course! She thinks that she might have missed something! (She’s not sure what, but, she might have missed it!). She thinks that if she had seen the right items, she would be able to make an easy decision, free from fear and emotionally invested in the outcome. Since that hasn’t happened yet, she’s on a mission.

Her quest includes the search for the “phantom fabric.” So, back she goes, back out into the retail jungle to slay her foe of fear. This is the time the cloud of confusion takes over her brain and messes with her psyche. At this point she can no longer remember what she saw, or even how to find her way home!
THAT’S “Louise’s” problem!

Salesperson's Worst FEARS

Now that we’ve looked at our customer’s fears, let’s take a look at our own.

Instead of helping her solve her problem, we say things that cover our own fears. We complicate the entire situation by leaping into “Lizard Lingo!” You remember the “Lizards.” That is when you open your mouth, these unfortunate words pop out.
We become part of the problem, instead of part of the solution. What did we say earlier? “I have seen the enemy and it is me! It is me, and my mouth!

Our Fearful Phrases:

1. Fear of Being Pushy: We are afraid of being pushy, so we tell our customer, “Take this ‘quote/proposal’ with you.”

Try not to make this offer. Remember, this is the information you have gathered so that you can help her complete her room. It is primarily for your information and for your use.

If she wants a copy for prices or dimensions, put that information on the back of your card. When you put information on your card, your card becomes more special and she has more incentive to keep it.

What do you do if she insists on getting a copy of the quote? Well, give her one but let her know:

“I’ll give you a call in a couple of days. I’ll be anxious to talk with you to help you with any questions you might have. I know how excited you are about furnishing your new room. I want to be the one to help you get it started.”

Get her excited about your call, her room, your help, and you. If you do this, you will appeal to her emotions, bond with her and help her to make her choice.

That’s what sales professionals do. That’s what will set you apart from all the clerks lurking in the Land of Retail who are dropping her off in the Land of Lost!

2. Fear of Phantom Decision Maker: We are afraid that our customer’s spouse will kill the sale so we say, “I’ll make you a copy to take home so your husband can see it.”

Why? If it’s a sofa, “Ralph” can’t sit in the picture! If it’s a wood piece, can he really see it? So make an appointment for “Ralph” to come in and see or sit on the furniture up close and in person. If Louise doesn’t know his schedule, tell her you’ll call her. Say, “Talk to “Ralph.” I’ll give you a call. We’ll confirm the appointment at that time for him to “try on” the sofa and chair that you like. Let’s get his input and make him part of the process. He’ll be using the room too. Let’s make him feel important, and that we do need his opinion. Let’s get him involved so he doesn’t feel left out. He needs to be comfortable, and that’s what he needs to know. “I look forward to meeting him, and getting your new room started.”

Make an appointment for “Ralph” to come in and see or sit on the furniture up close and in person. If she doesn’t know his schedule, tell her you’ll call him.

Plug in the “E” factor. Now “Louise” and “Ralph” are both emotionally invested in this decision. Now you can get them both excited. Now you’re connecting. Now you’re communicating on all levels of the buying process.

3. Fear of Closing: We are afraid to ask her to buy, so we tell her, “Take your time and think about it.”

All this does is make the process longer. We think that we are being “Nice” but we actually make it harder for her to “pick one!”
Now not only is she afraid, she’s having doubts. She’s doubting herself, her decision, and you.

If you’ve answered her questions and done your job, why would she need to think about it? Why would she want to think about it?

Where’s the emotion you’ve helped to create? Where’s her excitement? If it isn’t there, then you haven’t done your job. All you’ve done is let the “Lizard” run amok!

So, instead of telling her to take her time, you can say, “I know how excited you are, “Louise.” Let’s go! Let’s get your new room started.”

Guess what? You just asked her to buy and it didn’t hurt one bit. At this point you can check yourself for bruises, but I don’t think that you’ll find any.

4. Fear Of Not Presenting The Right Choice: We’re afraid WE missed something. We just keep pulling more “stuff” for her to see. We sales and design associates are creative people. We like to create, so we give her options, lots of options.

If you’re not sure what to pull, you haven’t asked enough questions. Ask her “How do you picture your new room? What kind of feeling do you want to create?” If she then tells you that all she needs is a sofa, your question will take her away from just thinking about her sofa to thinking about the whole room. Just by using the word, “feeling,” you’re getting her emotionally engaged. Now she’s thinking, “What kind of feeling” do I want to have in my new room?”

If she doesn’t know what she wants, “That’s okay, “Louise.” Tell me what your room looks like now? Why are you changing your sofa?” That she knows the answer to. Now you haven’t made her feel stupid, and you’ve gotten more information to help her with this decision.

5. Fear of Not Connecting: We’re afraid that we didn’t do a good job of getting our point across so we give her information to take home. We load her up with all this information, and send her on her way – straight to the competition. We send her to “fast talking Larry” who sells her a “green one” that she doesn’t even want.

Support for the assertion that we must connect emotionally with our customers has been supplied by the science of studying brain waves. The field known as neuroeconomics studies how how individuals solve problems. Dan Houser, a professor at George Mason University, says the research proves that, “Emotional guidance plays a sizable role in our decision making.”

Christophe Morin is the co-author of “Neuromarketing: Is There a Buy Button in the Brain?” gets right to the difficulty we face everyday at retail. “It is easy,” he says, “to teach features and benefits. It is harder to teach how to create emotional connections.”

Some of us were taught long ago about furniture product features and benefits. We can recite the virtues of “double doweled and glued” in our sleep. Every salesperson needs to know general and specific knowledge so we are credible, competent consultants. We need to know this stuff. “Louise,” on the other hand, may or may not need it or want to hear it, to make a decision. An excellent discussion of this topic can be found in the article on “Sales Credibility” by Dr. Peter Marino in this edition of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine.

Be careful here. There’s a very good reason they’re called Features and Benefits. As Paul Cherry points out, “This factual scaffolding is beside the point of how purchases get made. To sell, you have to learn how to connect with buyers emotionally.” When delivering YOUR “benefit package” to “Louise,” if she can say “So what,” you weren’t listening. The information you delivered did not apply to her. The features you listed were not important to her. Instead, that “spraying & praying” mantra took over your mouth. You just kept “spraying” features, and “praying” something would stick!

Then there’s the “Issue” of our egos. We’re home furnishings professionals. We’re here to create. We want to create. That’s what we do. So we give our customer options, lots of options. We may be creating, but we’re also causing confusion by giving voice to our fears and saying all the wrong things.

The interesting thing is that, at the same time we are causing confusion and sending our customer down the street to buy somewhere else. Then our mind kicks in, and (wrongly) tells us that we’ve really done the best we can. At this point, we say to ourselves:

“I gave her all this information.”
“I did my job.”
“I don’t have to ask her to buy. She’ll be-back.”
“Okay, “Louise,” you’re dismissed.”
“Where’s my next “ up?”
“Next, who’s next?”

Now how scary is that?

As Starbuck’s has proven, it’s important to “develop satisfied customers who are enthused.” It is extremely difficult for them to be “enthused,” when we make them totally “confused!” As Chairman Howard Schultz says, “Our customers have given us permission to extend the experience.” Marian Salzman, trends guru at JWT Worldwide really drives this “home” when he says, “We live in a society where people think $5 is $1 because of Starbucks.” It’s definitely time to start “enthusing.” Yep, THAT’S EMOTION!

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 finney@furninfo.com