If a mattress is just a mattress, then a car is just a car and a salesperson is just a salesperson.
Every experienced bedding salesperson has at one time heard a customer – usually a male – remark that a "mattress is a mattress." Generally that remark aims at minimizing our premium line of bedding by implying that the choice of a mattresses does not call for the selling or purchasing skills of a "rocket scientist." But in reality, not much else does either.
Because I recently began to teach critical thinking and writing at Cardinal Stritch University, as well as the fundamentals of selling, I found myself analyzing the remark; "a mattress is a mattress." The remark falls within the classification referred to as a tautology, a word that means to say the same thing, to repeat. Any time that a word being defined is repeated in its definition, you have a tautology. Other examples of a tautology are "a car is a car" and "a table is a table" and, oh yes, "a rose is a rose". While tautologies are not misstatements, they are not useful definitions either. All tautologies immediately take you back where you started. In other words, they don’t take you anywhere.
Now hardly any of our customers, I believe, know what a tautology is, probably not even the rare rocket scientist who may find herself in our store. The same holds true for our salespeople. Nor is that meant to be critical of rocket scientists or of salespeople. I don’t know engineering and a host of other things, though I can still tell an excellent piece of engineering by its performance, much like I can tell a fresh egg from a rotten one even though I can’t lay a chicken’s egg. I can also tell a premium mattress from a smooth top. I have slept on both and know the difference. So can our customers, if we are smart enough to have them test our mattresses properly while they are in the store. See Stop Losing Those Bedding Sales – Part 2, posted to www.furninfo.com in the sales skill index.
DON’T LET CUSTOMERS GET AWAY WITH THIS!
When customers tell me "a mattress is a mattress", even though I don’t talk to them about tautologies, I also don’t let them get away with that remark, and neither should you. Mind you, I’m not out to embarrass those who make that remark, but I am wholly convinced that consultants like John F. Lawhon are right on the money when they say that our job is to provide the customers with the information they need in order to make the best buying decision. How do I tactfully point out that their remark falls quite short of the mark? I do so by way of an analogy or comparison.
A CAR IS A CAR
All customers drive or are driven to our stores in an automobile. Often we get to see their cars parked right outside our stores. So I ask my customers who say, "a mattress is a mattress" why they bought the very car they did and no other. I get various replies: "It had all the things I was looking for in a car" and "It gives me the mileage I want." And on and on. Next I ask them if the one they bought was the only car that had what they were looking for. They nod. I then ask them if the other cars they looked at had at least some of the things they were looking for, but not all of the things. Finally I say: "But only the car you bought had what you were really looking for, right? Again they nod. And then with the straightest of faces I tell them: "The car you ended up buying was the least expensive, right? This time no nod. Usually they say, "Heck no" or "I should be so lucky". I reply, "And yet (I try my darnedest to avoid the word "but") all cars you looked at were cars, right? (I reuse to let go of that "right") The customers usually nod at this point, as their eyes trail off to one side with that look of one who is beginning to see something without quite knowing what that something is. It is at this point that I go on to say that all cars are cars, yet all cars did not have the very things they were looking for. "It’s the same with mattresses, " I say. "Simply because all of our mattresses are mattresses does not mean that all of them have what you require in a mattress to get the kind of sleep you need."
I pause a while, then continue: "You know, the mattress you have at home is a mattress too, and I’ll bet it doesn’t have what you’re looking for in a mattress, or why else would you be shopping for a new one? Somewhere you’re going to find the mattress that’s best for you, but since you are here, why don’t we work together to find the mattress you’re really looking for. Let’s start out by my telling you that I know my mattresses inside and out, but I don’t know your comfort needs. With your cooperation we can find that out in a hurry. Has anyone ever taught you how to test a mattress properly?"
A CUSTOMER IS A CUSTOMER?
Does this approach always work? Nothing always works in sales because each customer is different, in spite of the fact that a customer is a customer. That’s the challenge in selling and that’s why I’ve never met a dull-minded salesperson who excelled at selling. Note, I didn’t say – I didn’t even imply – that successful salespeople have to have more degrees than a thermometer. Degrees don’t necessarily guarantee success in selling, or in any other career for that matter, but smarts are another matter. All successful salespeople are smart. They all learn to let go of what doesn’t work for them. The others keep on practicing what’s wrong. That’s because of another tautology that’s wrong: "a salesperson is a salesperson".
A SALESPERSON IS A SALESPERSON?
All salespeople are not the same. That’s why customers go from store to store until they find a salesperson. By the way, it’s just as wrong to say all customers are the same. They’re all very different. That’s the reason why salespeople need to qualify every customer they work with.
SLEEP IS SLEEP?
It is also wrong to say that sleep is sleep. Believing that is what leads salespeople to think that choosing the right mattress is completely subjective. What rot! The same salespeople who think that way always select the most expensive mattress in their lineup whenever they are lucky enough to have their name picked out of a box by some rep who is giving away a free set of bedding to the winner. Their theory of subjectivity goes right out the window.
A MATTRESS IS A MATTRESS?
All of our customers deserve to sleep on our premium bedding because that’s where the highest quality is. What keeps so many of our customers from buying our finest bedding is the mindset so many of our salespeople have about price. Here’s a principle of selling that can be etched in stone. The less professional the salesperson, the more weight the customer attaches to price. The more professional the salesperson, the less weight the customer attaches to price. This principle is founded on what I call the Valence Factors. Valence Factors were discussed briefly in the August 2000 issue of FURNITURE WORLD, Stop Losing Those Bedding Sales – Part 2, posted to www.furninfo.com in the sales skill index. This concept is more fully developed in the video, "Stop Losing Those Bedding Sales!" If you master the Valence Factors, you’ll never again let your customers get away with saying, "a mattress is a mattress." That’s a promise you can take to the bank, and remember, a promise is a promise.
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 Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.