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Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Qualifying Questions

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 145 NO.5 September/October


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In the July/August issue, we discussed the Qualifying Step of the Sale. This time our discussion continues with a close look at ways the Retail Sales Associate (RSA) can use Qualifying to discover the needs and wants of an UP (“UP” being defined as a would-be customer.)

One more point before we proceed. A very important function of qualifying questions, beyond probing the customer’s needs and wants, is to keep the conversation flowing. Silence is deadly in a sales presentation. Long pauses lose the customer’s attention, lose control and lose the sale.

You might ask, “How many qualifying questions can there be?” I’ve never counted them, but there are an awful lot. This article and the next will discuss many of the common ones, but a thorough, skilled RSA should not have a problem developing new, unique qualifying questions on the fly, depending on the situation.

Even though our discussion will center on qualifying questions for mattress and bedding shoppers, this article should be of interest to all furniture RSAs. That’s because virtually every furniture store RSA is called upon to serve bedding shoppers, try as they might to avoid them.

Again, to repeat my constant theme from every article, we strongly recommend that the RSA be fully versed and fluent in all of his store’s (1) products (2) inventory (3) policies (4) advertising and (5) financing options. Fluency in all of these topics will make the qualifying step more spontaneous, useful and fun, for both RSA and UP.

As we discussed previously, the term “qualifying”, means asking and probing to find out what is on prospects’ minds. Why did they come in to the store? What is their home furnishings problem? What goals do they have for their home, short-term and long-term? The UP will not usually volunteer this information. Quite often, they would prefer to be left alone. Unfortunately, leaving them alone does not solve their problem, nor does it advance the prospect of making a sale. The RSA has to get involved in the process, and I mean deeply involved. Otherwise, the UP will walk in the front door “looking for ideas,” and will probably walk out the front door a few minutes later, more confused, still “looking for ideas”.

In the following paragraphs we will list and discuss a series of questions that should start right after the Meet and Greet. We will talk about the right time to ask them, what to do with the answers, and present some follow-up questions.


Open And Closed Questions
In a lot of training manuals, authors like to talk about Open Questions and Closed Questions. To me, this drifts off a bit into the theoretical, and in all my years of selling bedding, I cannot remember a single time that I stopped before posing a question, and asked myself, “Am I asking an open question or a closed question?”
A Closed question normally requires a very short answer, and gives brief and specific information. An example of this is, “What size bed are you looking for?” An Open question invites a more lengthy, conversational type answer. An example of this might be, “How did you find out about our store?” If you like to dissect your qualifying questions in this way, no problem, go right ahead. Just don’t forget, the purpose of qualifying questions, open or closed, is to get answers, whether specific or general, that will help solve the customer’s problems and get the sale.


Questions For The Bedding Customer
There are four basic qualifying questions that MUST be asked of every bedding UP. They may be asked in any order, but these questions are not optional. They should be asked very shortly AFTER the greeting, and BEFORE showing any beds.

#1 What size are you looking for?

Now, they don’t always buy the same size they came in to see. Sometimes, they change their mind, and if they change their mind, it usually is because the RSA reminds them of something they had not previously thought about. That being said, however, the RSA must know the size they are thinking about.

#2 Will this be for the master bedroom or for a guest room?

Notice the wording here. I phrase it this way on purpose. The RSA should never assume the shopper or shoppers will be using the bed, either singly or together. I’ve seen RSAs offend a shopping couple by asking, “Is this for y’all to sleep on?”
Their indignant response, “No, this is my aunt!,” and they huffily turn to the other person and say, “Let’s look somewhere else!” The phrasing I use is tactful and inoffensive. It shouldn’t anger anyone. I often get a response something like; “I guess it’s for the master, we don’t even have a guest room.”

Sometimes, the customer will tell you “guest room” when he really means “master bed room.” Why do they do this? They probably don’t want to spend much money, but they don’t want to look cheap, either. One hint to look for is when the customer is VERY interested in how the guest room mattress feels. The smart RSA will suggest, “Have you thought about retiring your old master mattress to the guest room and buying a new mattress for the master bedroom?” This tactic avoids embarrassing the customer when it becomes apparent that he was attempting to deceive the RSA.

#3 Do you prefer a harder feel or a softer feel?

Instead of asking question number three, a lot of sales trainers and professional sales associates prefer to show the customer two top-of-the-line beds with significantly different feels, one being hard and one being soft. The customer frequently does not know what he wants, and sometimes does not know what a soft bed should feel like. Testing the first two beds also provides an easy opportunity to “start at the top”, as so many mattress reps suggest. This technique is pretty much the same as asking question number three, and the RSA should explain to the new UP why he is showing these two beds right at the get-go. It is to be hoped that this demo will settle the question of hard or soft for the RSA and the customer

I prefer to use the word “hard” instead of “firm.” All premium beds should give firm support. Even soft beds have interior firmness to provide proper spinal alignment and back support. When we say hard or soft, we mean the exterior, surface feel.
The problem with the two-bed trial, instead of asking question 3 is that not every customer is interested in being educated about hard and soft. A lot of customers, especially single men, are in a hurry; they want to take it with them, and they don’t really care all that much how it feels, which brings us to our next question.

#4  How soon will you need your new mattress?

One of the hardcore principles of the bedding business is the importance of urgency in bed buyers. Some buyers are willing to wait, but some must have a bed tonight, or right now. These are the ones that look for the headline in your ad, “Buy it today and sleep on it tonight!!”

The customer walking in your store may not tell you, unless you ask, that he absolutely must have the bed tonight. That is why you ask the question. If he or she brought their pickup truck with the intention of taking home a mattress, then the RSA better show them ONLY what he has in stock. There is nothing quite as frustrating for buyer and seller than to spend thirty minutes on a great presentation, and then inform the would-be buyer that he’ll only have to wait seven to ten days for his new bed, and the would-be buyer suddenly blurts out, “I can’t wait! I need this bed tonight!”

Ask the question, save yourself and your customer some grief. If he needs it tonight, only show what you KNOW you have in stock.


Interpreting The Answers
Now that we have listed the first four of what will be many qualifying questions, lets pause a moment and discuss the many ways customers can answer qualifying questions.

First, we hope the customers will give clear, intelligent and honest answers to the RSAs questions; questions that are easily interpreted and followed up on by a skillful RSA.

But, unfortunately, customers may decide to answer your questions deceptively or even dishonestly. Why would they do this? I don’t know why, but some will. Some may just not answer your questions at all, remaining silent while the RSA chatters on. When this happens, the perceptive RSA must pay greater attention to other signals, such as body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and especially, interactions between couples, if two people are shopping. This is really subject matter for a separate article, but must be an integral part of any qualifying procedure. Learn to read and interpret all signals from the customer.


More Qualifying Questions
There are a lot more questions than just the first four. This does not mean that the RSA poses every one of these other questions to every customer. There is a correct time and place for each question, and sometimes it takes years of experience to know when and how to ask them, and on the flip side, when not to ask them.
The following paragraphs list a number of qualifying questions organized by subject matter, such as medical issues, comfort issues, etc. No narrative or sales situation where various questions can be used will accompany them since there are so many different paths any given sale can take. Consider this a smorgasbord of qualifying questions for the RSA to pick and choose from as needed. Until the RSA is intimately familiar with a vast arsenal of multi-faceted qualifying question, and has them ready for all occasions, I might suggest that this list be carried while working on the showroom floor.


Health & Medical Related Questions
Before we start, remember that RSAs are not health professionals. I have seen RSAs ask a few health-related questions, then based on the answers they receive, recommend which mattress a shopper should buy. DON’T DO THIS! The average RSA is not qualified to make recommendations, especially health-related ones. Even chiropractors and M.D.s should probably stay out of the bed-recommending business.

So, why should the RSA ask health-related questions, if he is not going to diagnose and make a recommendation? The answer is, you ask the questions for the same reason you ask all other qualifying questions; to search out everything that will help the customer make a sensible buying decision, and in doing so, show to the buyer that you are a professional sales person who cares about the customer’s well being.

#1 Do you have any back problems?

It is a rare individual that does not have an occasional back problem. Back problems vary in severity, as everyone knows.

Note: I have heard RSAs ask the follow-up question, “Is it skeletal or is it muscular?” There is nothing wrong with the question as it is, as long as you don’t use the answer to make a mattress recommendation.

#2 Are your back problems severe, chronic or sporadic?
You ask this mostly as a lead-in to question #3.

#3 Are you currently being treated by a physician or a chiropractor for back problems?

The answer to this question can be very helpful to the RSA. You now can have a clear pathway to making the sale by asking the next question.

#4 Has your physician made a recommendation for a type of mattress?

If the physician has made a recommendation or even written a prescription, show beds that meet that recommendation. If the doctor has selected the bed she wants them to buy, all the RSA has to do is find it on the showroom floor.


Other health-related questions
#5 Does your back ever hurt (morning backache) when you get out of bed?

This is also a “sleep and comfort question.” If the shopper gives you a “yes,” a good response by the RSA is, “Some studies have shown that morning backache is frequently caused by a mattress that is not giving proper back support and spinal alignment. Do you think it is possible that your mattress might be causing your morning backache?” This, of course, leads to a discussion of their old mattress, involving a different series of questions.

#6 Are you aware of the importance of R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) sleep?

There are volumes of information regarding the sleep cycle and the different levels of sleep. I suggest that the RSA go online and find out as much as possible about the phenomenon of sleep. R.E.M. sleep is essential to your customers’ health and well-being, and mattress comfort has a great effect on sleep quality. While you do not want to use this to make a recommendation to the buyer, imparting this information makes you look more professional and will alert the buyer to the need to buy a better mattress.

#7 Do you have any allergy problems?

Medical science, according to what I read, is only beginning to scratch the surface on the study of allergic reactions and conditions. As far as the RSA is concerned, however, the old bed, old sheets and the old pillow may be virulent sources of nasty allergens such as dead skin, dust mite waste, and body fluids. This is why you ask the allergy question. Keep reminding the customer how bad their old bedding may be for them.


Sleep & Comfort Questions
There are so many possible comfort-related qualifying questions, that I probably don’t have enough space left to discuss them all. Why should the RSA ask comfort-related questions? Because that is what we are selling! Comfort and sleep, via better bedding, are our products.

#1 Do you prefer a hard or soft feel? (One of the first four, already discussed.)

#2 What do you NOT like about your old bed?

The real heart of selling bedding is to find out why they aren’t sleeping well, and to find them a bed that will improve their sleep and comfort. It helps to find out what they don’t like. This question will probably prompt a series of answers which will not only give the RSA useful information, but will also prompt even more comfort questions.

#3 How well are you sleeping now on your old bed?

Usually not well. That’s why they are in your store.

#4 Do you have trouble going to sleep and staying asleep?

Of course, there are many causes of poor sleep, unrelated to bedding, but while the RSA needs to know these things, our concern is good quality bedding.

#5 Do you sleep better or worse now than you did one year ago?

If worse, their old mattress is deteriorating.

#6 How long have you been sleeping uncomfortably?

Amazing as it seems, a lot of people will put up with an old, bad mattress for five years before finally straggling in to look at a new mattress, (and even longer with pillows!)

#7 If you have a morning back-ache, does it go away after you’ve been up for a while?

If so, this is usually the sign of an old mattress. Make their life better. Sell them a new, better mattress. They will thank you.

#8 Do you sleep on your back, side, or stomach?

I hate to generalize, but I have noticed that stomach sleepers usually prefer harder beds, while side sleepers more often prefer softer beds. Only use this information to show beds for their consideration. Do not recommend a bed. Let them make the decision.

#9  Do you sleep better in a recliner than in your own bed?

If yes, this might be a hint to show the benefits of adjustable beds. Of course, you should show adjustable beds to every customer, if the opportunity presents itself.

#10 Is a hard bed more comfortable; or is it that you’ve heard a hard bed is better for your back?

Be careful with the customer who says he wants a hard bed. There are some people who like hard beds, but some customers come in with the idea that the hard bed will improve their back conditions. I have years of anecdotal evidence to suggest that hard beds are not better for your back. For an amusing story on this subject, go to page 94 in my book, How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual.

#11 Does your arm, leg, hip, shoulder, etc. “go to sleep” during the night?

This is a sign of excessive pressure points in the mattress.

#12 Do you toss and turn while sleeping?

Again, this is a sign of pressure points causing discomfort.

#13 When was the last time you awoke fully refreshed and rested?

This question should build on the already growing dissatisfaction with the old mattress (and maybe pillow.)

To Summarize
This article has just begun to scratch the surface of qualifying questions. We covered two general topics. In our next Better Bedding Sales article, we will cover the next installment on the same subject; more qualifying questions. The RSA should never run out of qualifying questions. They are the keys that unlock the door to the sale!

David Benbow, a twenty-three year veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company. Dave’s company offers mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) Dave’s many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas uniquely qualifies him as an expert in selling bedding at the retail level.

David is the author of the recently published book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”. This book is the first book to systematically present a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It is a complete training course in one 292 page book. The book can be purchased on-line at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.

He also offers hands-on training classes for retailers on a variety of subjects and issues as well as on-line classes that can be downloaded from the websites mentioned above.

David can be contacted via e-mail at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or in person at 361-648-3775.
Read other articles by David Benbow