The art of asking customers for their opinions.
I recently discussed the virtues of trial closing with an associate and right off the bat he said that he doesn’t believe in trial closing. “Either you close or you don’t.” he argued.
Further discussion revealed that his understanding of trial closing differed from mine in significant ways. Truth is I don’t like the term. It’s a true misnomer – wrongly named. Instead, trial closing should be thought of as the art of getting to yes.
The context of our discussion centered on a training course we reviewed that taught that when you’re selling a product, you should also “mention” the related add-on products such as fabric protection, warranties, or accessory items that are natural to be purchased with the main item. I disagree completely, and here’s why:
Trial closing questions ask for an opinion. Closing questions ask for a decision.
Getting Small Yesses
You can get to the YES at the end, by getting a lot of small yeses along the way, plus you can check on the customer’s level of approval of the things you’re showing which are based, of course, on your thorough analysis and understanding of the customer’s needs and wants. Unlike needs analysis questions which should be “open questions” that begin with the words who, what, when, where, how, and why and cannot be answered with “yes” or “no”, or requests like “Tell me about…”, trial closing questions sound like this:
- “Can you see this sofa in your living room?”
- “Can you see this chair working with the rest of your furniture?”
- “I think this color will work in your room, do you agree?”
- “Can’t you see your family around this table for the holidays?”
- “How does this recliner feel to you?” (This is an open question, but you need to know the answer.)
- “What do you think about this table?”
- “The price of this bedroom group is right within your comfort zone, don’t you agree?”
As you receive answers to these “opinion” questions in the form of “yes” or “no” answers, or more expansive opinions, you can adjust your approach, explain options, move to another product, ask additional questions for clarification, and become a partner and advisor. This approach is what consumers really want from a salesperson in our business. There is a school of thought in selling that defines adjusting sales efforts in this way as “overcoming objections.”
Again, I disagree with the terminology. You don’t overcome objections; you deal with customer feedback, opinions, information, and try to better understand their perspectives. These customer comments, which in many sales situations uncover the real reasons customers don’t buy, are golden opportunities to shine as a salesperson. When you don’t use trial closing questions to check on your suggestions and your customer’s perspective, many of them will find reasons to go home and “think about it.”
You cannot “overcome” or even deal with customer opinions you don’t know about.
All of this leaves another sales question to be asked by salespeople. “How can I know exactly the right thing to show a customer?” Nothing is more difficult for a salesperson than to try to connect all their customers to the exactly right item or group every time based on needs analysis questions. But customers don’t need a salesperson to show them every sofa, or bedroom, recliner, dining room, or desk in the store. They can do that on their own – and, often they want to (“I’m just looking”). Of course, I have a suggestion.
Every store or company has best-sellers in each category or sub-category they sell. In fact, there is a number one, number two, number three, and so on. The 80/20 principle is in force in our business kind of like gravity. This is really the principle of imbalance which states that a high percentage of outcomes (sales) will be provided by a small number of causes (items).
Salespeople should always know what the best-sellers are in each category and sub-category they sell. This is very simple: When a bedroom customer is uncertain about what she wants it’s great to be able to ask some needs analysis questions that are relevant to bedroom purchases, then say: “Based on what you’ve told me, I have three bedroom groups I want to show you.” Then, go right to the best seller, then number two, and so on.
This simple sales approach coupled with the effective use of trial closing questions can be a powerful set of tools in any salesperson’s toolbox. When it comes time to ask for the order, salespeople will have a lot of small agreements regarding the customer’s feelings and thoughts about the products, and closing will become the natural result of reviewing all the agreements.
“Well, you agree that this sofa style in the coffee color will work great in your room, you like the comfort, and the quality is really great. The sale price is a benefit right now, and you can have it in your room right when you want it. Let’s get your order placed, OK?”
Joe Capillo is a 41 year career veteran, experienced in managing and consulting with furniture retail operations. He is also a contributing editor for Furniture World Magazine. He is a contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD and a frequent speaker at industry functions. See all of Joe’s articles on the furninfo.com website.
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