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So-Called Knowledgeable & Friendly Salespeople

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 149 NO.6 November/December


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Many store owners claim that their sales teams are
knowledgeable and friendly, but it is probably wishful thinking!

Traveling and working at the Las Vegas Market is great! Along with all the new styles and innovative merchandise, I get to meet with old friends, make new friends, and celebrate an active day at a world-class restaurant. At one such dinner I was asked about how many retail storefronts I have visited in my career. After a few minutes of thought, I estimated that I’ve been in over 1000 furniture, mattress, appliance or flooring stores.

True FRIENDLY sales- people can turn a shopper into a friend by simply treating their store like a home and inviting guests to just visit.

When an opportunity presented itself during those numerous visits, I would ask store owners why their customers choose to shop at their store. They almost alway replied: Great Selection, Great Prices, Great Service, plus KNOWLEDGEABLE and FRIENDLY salespeople. Good reasons, for sure, but those terms are so broad that they don't differentiate any retailer.

Not Just Product Knowledge

KNOWLEDGEABLE may seem to imply knowledge of the inner workings or component parts of merchandise. Many factory reps and even more point-of-purchase material seem dedicated to preaching that information. It’s great information for TELLING, but in SELLING, people knowledge will out-perform product knowledge. If I had to choose between hiring two sales candidates, one with excellent product knowledge and another with good people knowledge, I would choose the latter every time.

People knowledge is a rare quality. It is the ability to engage shoppers in a conversation, dominated by the shopper, in which the sales person learns the shopper’s motivation for seeking and purchasing new products. A second step is to mold the sales presentation so that the store’s offerings meet or exceed each shopper’s expectations. It is this second step that requires an understanding of the construction and function of furnishings items (what it is) and using that information to solve the customer’s needs and wants (what it does).

In retail, there is more to understand and present than just product information. Many sales are closed (or lost) in the telling and selling of store operations and policies. The true knowledgeable salesperson can explain the value of using credit, why the delivery charge is an excellent value, and patience in waiting for a custom order.

Knowledgeable salespeople gain their information by investing 10 minutes talking with their shoppers before showing any merchandise. They believe that it’s foolish to show solutions before understanding the problem. Using the “Reporter’s Questions”- Who, What, Where, When, Why, How, and Tell Me, they can diagnose the needs and wants of the shopper and present a well-crafted presentation based on the shopper’s answers.

Friendly is an Attitude

FRIENDLY used to mean greeting every shopper with a smile and a handshake, but friendly is an attitude, not just forced actions. Being friendly means treating your store like it is your home (not a stretch, because you probably spend more hours there) and your shopper is a friend that just dropped by to say “hi”.

In the good old days before Facebook (even before My Space and Blackberries) people “just visited” friends, even without an appointment. They would knock on your door, and you would welcome them in. The first part of the visit would be catching up on news, discussing jobs, kids, mutual friends, vacations, and more. It was usually done over a cup of coffee or cold drink. Conversation flowed freely and before you knew it, you were caught up on what was on their mind. Chances are good that your friend stopped by because they knew you were a “good listener”.

Turn Shoppers Into Friends

True FRIENDLY salespeople can turn a shopper into a friend by simply treating their store like a home and inviting guests to just visit. Everyone knows someone is there to sell, and someone is there to buy, but are willing to put that goal on hold until they get to know each other.

Just like a true pal, the friendly salesperson will call (not text or email) after delivery just to make sure everything worked out well, and fix any problems that may have come up.

The friendship extends beyond the initial sale. Just like a true pal, the friendly salesperson will call (not text or email) after delivery just to make sure everything worked out well—and fix any problems that may have come up. They may call back after 60 or 90 days, just to say “hi”, and see if the customer has any friends who need furnishings products. They may even send a birthday or anniversary card. It’s easier to keep an old friend than try to make new ones.

Conclusion

Store owners and managers may claim that their sales teams are knowledgeable and friendly. But, unless they practice People Knowledge and a Welcoming Attitude, this claim is probably wishful thinking. The prescription for creating a truly welcoming and knowledgeable operation is using training and repetition to ensure that sales teams engage with the following four axioms of retail selling.

  1. People love to buy but hate to be sold.

  2. People will buy from a friend, but cannot be sold by a stranger.

  3. All things being equal, people will buy from a friend.

  4. All things being unequal, people will buy from a friend.


Gordon Hecht is Senior Manager-In Store Concepts for Serta Simmons Bedding Company, introducing and expanding bedding business in conventional and non-traditional venues. He started his 30+ years experience in the Home Furnishings industry in Las Vegas, NV as a delivery helper and driver and later served in sales, retail management and consulting roles.
Read other articles by Gordon Hecht