Your customers, may carry with them a pernicious portfolio of perverse preconceptions they picked up before they ever talk to you.
In the May/June 2016 issue of Furniture World, “How Much Do RSA’s Matter?”, I suggested that the internet revolution has transformed the “Uninformed Customer” into the “Misinformed Customer.”
This statement is generally true, but in real-world retailing we see both the misinformed and uninformed.
Sounds like a problem, does it not? So, as the seller of merchandise, how do retail furniture and bedding retailers, their sales managers and Retail Sales Associates (RSA) fix the problem of poorly informed and misinformed customers?
Transform the Uninformed
If these poor, ignorant customers even make a decision at all, they are likely to be not completely happy with their purchase shortly after they get it home.
What is the remedy for ignorance? Most would agree that the remedy is education. But, what exactly is education, and how does the retailer teach customers?
John F. Lawhon, in his book, Selling Retail, says that supplying information is not only education, it is also selling. In fact, his exact words are, “the definition of selling is supplying the information the customer needs to make the best buying decision.” Now, I think there is more to selling than merely “supplying information,” but that is another discussion for another day.
As we all know, the internet supplies information in almost indigestible quantities. Some of that information is right and some is wrong. How do customers discover the right from the wrong, or the misleading? Your competitors, down the street or across town, also supply information, some right and some wrong. These are the main reasons many of your prospective customers walk through your door carrying an alliteration; a pernicious portfolio of perverse preconceptions!
So, how can you, handle this situation? You want your “ups” to become customers. As customers, you want them to make smart buying decisions so they can be happy with their purchases, and so come back again and again, right?
For this to happen, customers have to be correctly educated. This education includes:
- New information not known before.
- Correcting misunderstandings and misinformation collected from other sources.
- More rarely, confirming information has been correctly perceived and understood.
This is a lot easier said than done. If the “up” comes in with a lot of bogus information, somebody from your store has to deal with it. That job almost always falls to the greeting RSA. How does this RSA politely refute and correct the up’s misconceptions? This RSA, obviously, must be highly trained, prepared, tactful, honest, credible and consistent in his message. And, he must have proof to back up what he is saying.
So, selling and educating is not just supplying information. It also includes correcting misunderstandings, wrong notions and assumptions the customer collected before walking into the store. Properly done, this effort in education pays off. Educated prospective customers often become life-long buying customers.
What Is Meant By Educating?
Education, in theory, requires both a teacher and a student. In our discourse here, the prospective customer (or “up”) is the student. The primary teacher is usually the RSA. But of course, the store’s promotional and advertising mechanisms are also teachers. Let me make one important point before we go on. Our “teacher,” we hope, is well educated, and thoroughly prepared to assume his or her role.
The Store’s Role In Educating
A successful and well managed retail establishment should have a variety of instruments to help prepare and educate prospective customers before the RSA actually meets and greets upon arrival. Among these instruments are:
– Your advertising should help to educate prospective customers. That doesn’t mean that it should neglect the urgency message. “Buy now, before it’s too late!!”.
Messages that can be considered educational include;
- Store hours
- Locations and phone numbers
- Web-site address
- Delivery policies (such as Free Delivery, Same Day Delivery)
- Inventory policies (such as Everything In Stock, All the time; Buy Today, Sleep on it Tonight)
- Lines or manufacturers carried or represented by your store
- Best price guarantee – explained
- Immense selection
- Maybe even a little fun educational tidbit about the history of coffee tables, how to select the right recliner; or something like that.
– In the internet age brochures may seem to be a bit out of date. Not everybody, however, will visit your internet site. Some people actually prefer to read print material, rather than staring at a screen for hours on end.
– Of course, this is the big one. The retail establishment’s web-site should be its University of All Knowledge. There’s really no limit to what can go on a web-site. Your site needs to have excellent graphic content, superb copyrighting and the flexibility to change content easily and frequently. It has to be mobile optimized and if you are considering e-commerce, you will need to take a deep dive into integrating your website with your POS/ Inventory systems.
Your website has the potential to make the RSA’s job of educating and selling a lot easier by providing informative articles, blogs, style information, video and much more. A well designed, informative web-site can become a useful training tool for Retail Sales Associates; yours and your competitors'. So remember, don’t give your snooping competitors any confidential, proprietary information such as the coil count on every one of your mattresses.
I, personally, like web-sites that give me a lot of product information, such as:
- What to look for in a sofa, or a recliner, or a dinette set or a mattress with an adjustable base.
- The pros and cons of various features, with benefits detailed and illustrated.
- Information on how and where various products are constructed; along with the kinds of materials used in construction.
- Define what is so-so, what is good, what is better and what is best. This kind of information builds value in the products that your store carries.
Supplying this information also gives your store more credibility. It can be used to refute spurious and misleading claims that might be made by other less credible sources.
How about listing prices on your web-site? Is it a good idea? I would have to argue that it is a bad idea, unless you have a fixed, unalterable, “that’s the price, take it or leave it” policy. If your competitors know your prices they WILL try to beat them. Unless you have, inarguably, the best prices in the universe, OR, you have a product NOBODY else carries, I’d think twice before publishing prices on the ‘net.
– There’s not much space on a business card, but they are cheap to produce and there’s room for quite a bit of basic information. At minimum, store location, phone number, and web-site address should be included. They do have a flip side, as well, and I’ve seen some cards that have a very educational back-side.
– This is one of the most poorly used instruments, in my experience. Every RSA should be subjected to strict training on how to project useful information over the phone. You can’t really sell over the phone, but you can educate.
FACE TO FACE
– this is where the sales staff steps in; where the rubber meets the road.
Education – Face To Face
In a conversation, both parties talk and exchange thoughts. If only one person speaks, it is not a conversation, it’s a speech. In a speech, very little thought exchange takes place, which isn’t optimal in sales situations. It is, therefore, prudent for RSAs to be on the alert. When they find themselves giving speeches, take a step back and encourage conversations; with both sides speaking freely.
In an article from Furniture World, “Social Media,” January/February 2014, Volume 144 No.1, page 75, Larry Mullins made the statement, “The power of the one-on-one conversation remains the most effective method of selling on earth.” In the same article, he also said, “Few sales of significant size and importance are made without memorable, game-changing conversations.” I agree, and I would add; the one-on-one conversation also is presently the best method of educating that there is.
The Future of Face-To-Face
I went to college a long time before Al Gore invented the internet. All of my courses required attendance in a classroom. In our present day and age, a student can get a degree without ever attending a class in person, or ever meeting an instructor or professor. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. But, it does remove the “conversation” from education to a certain extent. And, I personally think that education has suffered to some degree from this loss of direct conversation and student-teacher, student-student interaction.
There is no doubt that the would-be buyer can gain a lot of information by researching the internet. We should also be aware that some buyers feel more comfortable with web interactions and texts than phone calls or face-to-face conversations. But to me, there is still nothing that can take the place of direct face-to-face verbal interaction, with questions, answers and comments. That’s where the sales staff comes in.
As was mentioned before, education requires a teacher and at least one student. The teacher is the guide and director. The student is the follower and responder. The RSA should CONTROL the conversation and the sales narrative. (For more information, see the Furniture World article, “Control Every Mattress Sale”, March/April 2014 found at www.furninfo.com/Authors/DavidBenbow/37.
As we said earlier, education is PART of selling; it’s not ALL of selling. The RSA must also “Qualify” to find out what the customer needs and wants. The RSA/educator learns, as well, but we should not forget that the RSA is the primary educator.
So, where does the education of the prospective buyer start? The RSA can begin at the Meet and Greet. Want to hear an example of a “memorable and game-changing” greeting? “Good evening, folks! Did you know that we are offering Free Delivery and Setup and Dinner for Two at Burger Cathedral on ANY purchase you make before we close tonight at 9 PM?” Did this get the customer’s attention? Did the customer learn something from this greeting? Was it educational? On the other hand, does the customer learn anything from “May I help you?” Which approach do you think has a better chance to jump-start the sale?
What Else Can The RSA Do?
Education should not be a recitation of everything the RSA knows. The reason to educate is to reinforce the basic idea that it is a wise decision to buy from your store. Work education into the conversation as needed. Don’t overdo it. Don’t bore them to death. Remember, the goal is to produce a buying customer, not to grant a degree in the Philosophy of Furniture.
Most customers like to know something about the following subjects. We’ll give a few examples to illustrate.
– An RSA should be able to answer any questions the customer might raise about product construction, warranty, etc. The Presentation step is where most of the specific product knowledge should be imparted. For example, the RSA might say, to reinforce his point about a supportive mattress, “Did you know that this particular set (that you like the feel of) is built with the manufacturer’s patented enhanced lumbar support?” Just this information alone might persuade the customer to buy. So, we see that educating the customer can often be the difference between making a sale and not making a sale. If you don’t tell him about the enhanced lumbar support, he won’t find out until the RSA down the street educates him.
– This information is often detailed on-line or in the store’s advertising, but that does not mean the customer understands it. RSAs should discover how customers want to pay, and if they want financing, the RSA should be able to explain every facet of it, including the complete explanation of the phrase, “Same as Cash.”
– Customers may want to get some information on the store’s policies, such as:
- How much is delivery?
- Do you do comfort exchanges?
- How secure is their financial data?
- What about meeting or beating competition’s price?
- Layaway plan; and so on.
– This is a subject rarely discussed in most sales books and articles. One of the RSA’s solemn responsibilities is to moderate customer expectations. Exalted expectations are probably the biggest cause of later customer disappointment. “You said I could bring it back, even if my kids tore it to pieces!!” Moderating expectations is an important part of customer education.
– One of the charms of owning new furniture is the enhanced lifestyle that new furniture brings. The RSA, while not promising the moon, is smart to educate the customer on how much better his or her life will be with the new mattress set, or the snazzy new dinette set. In the last issue of Furniture World, I discussed how the RSA can use Sleep Science to educate the customer on the life value of better sleep.
Stimulate The Conversation
Reciting specs and benefits can get pretty boring if they are not placed in some context. Here is a way to keep customers engaged and spur their interest in their newly found education. The RSA can use “prompt” questions to bring up a subject on which the customer could probably use some education. The answers and discussions can also advance the cause of the sale. Some examples of prompt questions to ask are;
- “Do you know the difference between solid wood and veneered construction?”
- “Do you know the difference between sinuous wire and 8-way hand tie?”
- “Have you ever used a remote controlled adjustable base?”
- “Do you know what a prorated warranty means?”
- “Do you know what top grain leather is?”
- “Do you know the difference between all leather and leather match?”
- “Are you familiar with powder coat paint technology and how it is used in metal furniture?”
- “Has anyone ever explained to you how ‘ninety days, same as cash’ works?”
There are thousands more where these came from. All of these questions, which are designed to elicit a response from the customer, are also devices to enhance the conversation. They help make the RSA look like an expert in the mind of the customer. They also supply the customer with more quality information to help him make a wiser buying decision.
Note that these questions are prefaced with a “did you know?” or a “were you aware?” phrase. Phrasing the discussion as a question is much more apt to keep the customer involved.
By the way, I would like to suggest that the RSA know the answers to these queries before asking them!
Frequently Asked Questions
The more the RSA teaches, the more questions the customer will probably think of. Here are a few RSA’s frequently hear on the showroom floor, or over the phone. It would be a good idea to be prepared to answer them.
- “What is the difference between a firm mattress and a hard mattress?”
- “What do you mean by support in a mattress?”
- “Does this come in a different color?”
- “Is solid wood furniture better than engineered wood?”
- “How long is the warranty and what does it mean?”
- “Why is this item cheaper (or more expensive) than that item?”
- “Which of these items do you recommend?”
- “When is this item going on sale?”
- “Which one is your best sofa, mattress, etc.?”
- “Why are your models different from the ones I saw down the street?”
Again, there are a million of them. If you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. Tell the customer that you do not know, but that you WILL FIND OUT, and get back to them. This is a good device and excuse for getting phone number, e-mail and then following up. No teacher knows everything. Make it a learning experience for you, too.
Why Bother With All This?
Only bother with it if you want to make sales and keep your job. John F. Lawhon wisely reminded us, “The customer is not a professional buyer.” He needs information and that means educating him. The RSA should be a professional seller. That means knowing your business and imparting enough of your knowledge to the customer so he can accomplish what he came into your store for; to make a smart buying decision.