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Sales Connect!

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 143 NO.4 July/August


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One of our major objectives at retail is to connect with customers. What creates connection? Chemistry? Commonalities? Other alliterative factors? When it’s there we know it, but can we develop it? Connection doesn’t always happen easily. Think of the people in your life now that you were not so sure about the first time you met them. The truth is that the connection sales professionals make with customers is only one part (albeit a very important part) of the equation.

Store owners and managers ask a lot from sales people and one of their primary jobs is to be sure to set them up for success. they are tasked with creating a store space that is inviting and full of quality merchandise sales associates will be proud to sell. They must also make strategic moves in marketing and promotion to bring in the right customers who identify with the store’s brand identity and merchandise.

Customer Connection is multifaceted. Let’s explore connecting on all of these three levels, the store image, marketing message, and the personal connection brought about by our sales team’s charm and expertise.




The Stage for Success Image IS Everything

If sales people are to have a chance at consistently connecting with their customers, the store environment has to be appropriate. Store attributes that affect connection include the store’s visual appearance (first impression) inside and out. What does your facility say about your business? Is it clean? Is it well kept? Is it intimidating or welcoming? What do you want your customers to feel and experience when they drive up and then walk in the door?

The experience your customer has inside your store is multi-sensory. We tend to focus on the visual but we also need to remember that scents encountered in the space and sounds that customers hear also play an important role in their perception of your business. Scent is the sense most closely connected to emotion. It is important that the space be free of any offensive odors (chemicals, overpowering perfumes, etc.). A little research can help you to decide how to properly incorporate scent into your space. Likewise, choose background music or background sounds that are appropriate and work to further the image you are trying to put forward.

The interior of the showroom (heavy emphasis on the merchandise mix and visual display) should also reflect your brand messaging. Envision your ideal customer. Then envision the type of space they would feel comfortable in and enjoy spending their time. Work to make the two compatible.

A cohesive exterior and interior design is an important part of your messaging that powerfully reinforces your image and brand message throughout your facility. Your building both inside and out should look like someone who cares, lives (works) there and that they are living in the current century. Periodic updates are a must in a fashion-oriented industry.

Simply put, when a customer is pulling up to or looking around your space, they should be able to sense, without question, exactly what it is your store has to offer and what it stands for.
Marketing Message: Clarity allows you to choose ideal customers instead of chasing not so ideal customers.

Marketing and promotion should be a perfect reflection of your store’s goals and values. To succeed, your approach needs to be current and effective. Again, designed to connect with customers.

Recently quoted on the website entrepreneur.com, David Ryan Polgar, an attorney, professor and creative consultant stated "Lasting relationships result from a matching-up of values.” In short, your company values equal value and your marketing message should reflect that. You’ll also want to be very clear about your ideal customers.

Ideal Customers: Who are your ideal customers and how do you best reach them? In crafting your marketing strategy, put effort into attracting the right customer. Be sure you are sending clear messages so customers walk in with clear expectations. Yes, it is the sales person’s job to help expand shoppers’ understanding of what your store has to offer, but they should not have to unscramble convoluted marketing messages on the store’s behalf.

When you are clear about your marketing message and base it on your company values, your sales force and customers will connect easily. For example, if you feature mostly high-end furnishings you will want your marketing message to reflect that. This clarity in messaging will help you to avoid chasing not so ideal clients. It will also help your sales associates to prequalify buying prospects and speak to them in a language that facilitates sales. The marketing philosophies of Lisa Manyon as seen in “Inc. Magazine” state that marketing is all about relationships, by acknowledging the challenge of your customer, offering a solution, and extending a friendly invitation to do business with you, your sales team will build relationships and make sales. This is precisely why Manyon says “The revenue is in the relationship.”

Sales Team’s Role

Now for the all-important connection between sales professional and customer. A true sales professional carries the expectation that he or she will work to connect with every customer. There are many strategies and techniques sales professionals can utilize to increase the chances for effective communication and a genuine connection. In doing so, and not just going through the motions, sales team members will maximize selling opportunities. Below are five strategies that work to further that connection.

Connect with Customers Five Ways


1. Find common ground. One technique to increase opportunities for connection is mirroring or pacing. This technique is often misunderstood to be copying the other person’s gestures and becoming this person. When done effectively, pacing involves subtle changes in your own non-verbal communication in an effort to be more similar. It can be as simple as matching their speed of movement and reflecting their level of intensity.

For more information on this topic you may want to check out Harry Mills’ book, Artful Persuasion: How to Command Attention, Change Minds and Influence People.

2. Ask key questions regarding function, tastes, preferences, and lifestyle.
  • Ask open ended questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.

  • Ask clarifying questions. If a customer expresses that he or she likes something ask why do they like it? What do they like about it?

  • Use follow up questions: Ask follow up questions to be certain you understand who your customer really is.
3. Sketch rooms: Drawing a rough sketch and jotting down the important details will allow you to collect a great deal of needed information. It will also help to create a bond as the customer realizes you care on a level they did not experience when shopping the competition.




Here are just a few of the benefits of sketching.
  • Technical and functional planning saves your customer time and money. Sketching allows you to prevent the customer from making costly mistakes involving pieces that are too large for the room or pieces that won’t function properly due to lack of electrical access. 

  • Taking the time to gather information in this way communicates that your store cares about giving individualized attention to customers. This will not soon be forgotten.

  • Sketching will save you time and provide vital information needed to offer the right solutions. Many sales professionals worry that they don’t have time to sketch customers’ rooms. I would challenge that notion. In fact, when you go through the sketching process with a customer, the sales person is better able to present solutions based on accurate, personalized information and the likelihood of success is much increased. 

  • Sketching sets you apart from the competition. Sketching adds a personal element and helps build relationships, taking the level of selling in your store a notch higher.
4. Reflect: Be sure the solutions you present represent the design preferences your customers express. This is where listening is KEY. What is your customer’s style, formal or informal, contemporary or traditional? Sales people should have a basic understanding of design fundamentals. If you can’t show customers contemporary when they ask for it, they will be out of there in an instant.

5. Follow up: Stay in touch with past and potential customers. Use an efficient Customer Relationship Management System to ensure referrals and repeat business. Combine this with a low tech approach such as sending postcards to a different group of valued customers once a week.

As with any worthwhile endeavor, the sales process has to be done with passion and authenticity. When you come from a genuine place of customer care and work to meet customer needs, you will set yourself and your store apart from the competition. This increases sales results organically and establishes an authentic connection with customers to increase sales success. When customers’ needs are met, the payoffs are extraordinary, making the selling process easier and more comfortable for all involved. Loyal customers and referral business will be created. This is further proof that “the revenue is in the relationship.”

Rene´Johnston-Gingrich is Vice President of Training Development for the Profitability Consulting Group, specializing in delivering the programs Design Trac: Design Skills for Retail Sales People and Sales Trac III: In Home Selling. Rene’ has owned and operated an interior design firm for 17 years and now works with organizations to ensure they have the best possible team environment.

Rene´ served as a regular columnist for The Lewiston Tribune Business Profile and is an adjunct faculty member of Lewis-Clark State College’s Business Division. Rene' has a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Interior Planning and Design and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. She can be contacted at reneg@profitabilityconsulting.com.
Read other articles by Rene´Johnston-Gingrich