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Next Level Training: Asking the Right Questions

Furniture World Magazine


Ten proven benefits that flow from asking shoppers the right questions to help them create the right feel for their rooms.

The greatest opportunity area every store has is simply to improve individual sales performance. This series of articles is designed to open your eyes to the need for the crucial next level of training. The industry mantra most of us are familiar with “you must keep turning the bottom,” must now be replaced with “train the bottom to succeed.”

Every store approaches training differently. However, there is one shortcoming that the entire industry seems to own. We simply train people during their orientation just well enough to become employed, but not well enough for the average person to succeed. The figures don’t lie. Ongoing sales turnover in our industry is horrendous. If you are experiencing a high turnover rate it’s costing you because:

  • The costs of having to continually hire, onboard, and train are significant.
  • True novices are serving a large percentage of your customers every day.


Calculating Lost Sales

The amount of total lost sales isn’t difficult to evaluate. The following is an exercise that will help you to estimate the sales volume you are probably losing.

First, rank your sales team, highest sales to lowest. Then choose the worst performer in the top third to be your benchmark. He or she is a solid performer. Calculate the difference in monthly sales for each salesperson in the bottom two thirds of your team against the benchmark sales amount. Then add up the resulting sales shortfalls for the bottom two thirds and you will have a pretty good idea of how much not providing them with advanced orientation training is costing you monthly.

Highly effective training programs enable average people to become solid performers. So, that leads us to the million dollar question. What kind of advanced training do you need to provide to capture these lost sales?

What I found is that most retailers can and need to enhance every aspect of their selling systems. The entire customer experience needs a complete overhaul in order to make the store experience much more meaningful for guests. That encompasses the following areas:

  • The way we greet customers
  • How we can ask more meaningful questions
  • The skill of presenting emotionally moving product demonstrations
  • Using closes that really inform customers, providing important insights to guide decision making and locking in customers for life!

The good news is that this is not exactly “rocket surgery,” as my good old Pappy used to say. Those areas will be addressed in future Furniture World articles. For now, let’s begin with a very simple question, What is the difference, within any given profession, between those who are average compared to those considered very professional? My view is that a true professional always asks better questions. Whether a person is a doctor, lawyer, teacher or interior designer, asking the right questions is always the first step that leads to superior performance.

The same is true for furniture salespeople. The problem in our industry is there is very little, if any, formal training given to sales associates concerning this all-important skill. Let’s do a quick reality check. I never received any such training in my four decades-long career selling furniture, did you? Probably not! But hey, thank goodness for mentors!

One Simple Question

I was well into my sales career when the store where I worked hired Lisa. Once I got to know Lisa a bit better I began to feel sorry for her. She spent substantial time and money to earn a degree in interior design but was just too shy to be an effective salesperson. I thought, “she’s a nice person, but this is not a good fit for her. Believe me I know the selling game, and you have to be able to talk with people. Lisa unfortunately just isn’t cut out to be a sales type. So sad!”

Lisa was just finishing orientation training when a customer I was working with asked for another person’s opinion on how items she was considering for purchase looked. I reluctantly asked Lisa as she was passing by, “Do these go well together?” I didn’t know what to expect. Would she even respond? What happened next was a turning point in my career. Lisa said, “How do you want to feel when you are in the room?” The customer thought for a bit, and then began talking effusively. Lisa got a much better response from the lady than I’d ever gotten. They bonded in a way I had never seen before. All this came from one simple question.

Lisa understood that what works the best depends on the customer’s emotional aims rather than just looking good or having certain colors be compatible.

Lisa didn’t like to talk much, but knew how to get her customers to do most of the talking. She taught me that every room has a personality and that when customers select items for their rooms they are constructing its personality. A key to making the sale is to help customers identify if the home furnishings items they are looking at are consistent with the emotional feel they want to create. It’s nice if items look good together, but Lisa understood that what works the best depends on customers’ emotional aims rather than just looking good or having certain colors be compatible.

Beyond Pitching Quality & Price

Until then, I was in the business of selling a commodity, usually just trying to justify quality or price. But furniture is just part of the total feel of a room. Identifying the “feel” a customer wants shines a guiding light on the sale.

So, how do you influence the feel of a room? There are several ways. Every color has a specific psychological effect. Asking your guest if they want to feel energized and upbeat (light colors), or calm and relaxed (dark colors) helps you lead them to select not only the colors, but the total effect of the room. Finding out if they prefer a minimalist or a decorator look, in addition to style preferences, allows salespeople to help shoppers achieve the overall tone and feel they desire.

Questions to Ask

There are a lot of other questions Lisa asked that most salespeople don’t think of. They were self-discovery types of questions. The reason she was able to bond so easily with guests is that she caused them to identify uniquely important things they hadn’t consciously thought about.

There are other great questions that should be part of any furniture salesperson’s working arsenal. Those can be categorized as follows:

Room questions: What will the focal point be?

Furniture questions: What “features” are most important to you?

Usage questions: Do you like to rearrange your furniture often?

Customer situation questions: How soon do you need it?

Opinion questions: Do you like that?

Confirmation questions: That’s really comfortable, isn’t it?

Trial closes: Would you like me to check stock?

Closes: Should I go ahead and reserve the last one for you?

Smoking out the objection: “Is there anything you’re concerned about?”

Questions should be asked in an effortless way so that guests feel comfortable. What can be achieved by skillfully posing the right questions? That is an excellent topic for discussion at one of your sales meetings. You might just find that the endless silence that seems to be the hallmark of novices waiting on customers might actually begin to disappear.

Proven Benefits

Here are ten proven benefits that flow from asking the right questions.

  • Open up the conversation.
  • Allow sales and design associates to be perceived as experts, beginning at the early stages of a sale.
  • Move the sale along the right path.
  • Increase the chance of closing the sale.
  • Help customers to make better decisions.
  • Make better use of everyone’s time.
  • Help salespeople to bond with their guests.
  • Cut down on delivery problems and customer dissatisfaction.
  • Increase the likelihood of repeat business by building rapport.
  • Increase the chance for current add-on sales!

All these make for some very happy owners, managers, salespeople, and customers. And there’s certainly no QUESTIONING that!

About Scott Morris

Scott Morris worked for the four largest furniture retail chains in America as a store manager and sales trainer. He is the owner of HSM Publishing. His mission is to stop the high sales associate turnover rate within the furniture industry. He has written and published six books on various topics, in addition to the “Sales Questions” laminate, and designed and produced the advanced level sales training course titled “The Best Furniture Sales Training Ever!!!” He also produced 12 insightful customer “handouts” designed to bring back the “75 percent who leave without buying.” Questions about this article or any aspect of sales education can be directed to him at hsm7777@att.net or visit TheBestFurnitureSalesEver.com.

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