Handling skepticism, misunderstandings, and drawbacks are some of the most challenging tasks facing the retail salesperson. The first step in successfully handling these objections is to consider them as customer concerns... as either expressed or implied needs.
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Skepticism, misunderstanding and drawbacks: are they stumbling blocks or stepping stones?
In its final unit of Professional Selling Skills, Learning International discusses the handling of what it calls three "concerns":
To start with I'd like to explain why Learning International calls those three objections concerns. The answer lies, I believe, in the fact that the handling of the three concerns immediately follows the handling of indifference. Indifference is not a concern on the part of the customer; the word concern here denoting interest. Instead, the indifferent customer is disinterested in the sense of not being interested in the salesperson's proposed benefits.
However, the customer who expresses skepticism or a misunderstanding or a drawback is concerned. The skeptic, by way of doubting the product's or service's benefits is expressing an interest in those very benefits, provided the salesperson can prove that the benefits are genuine. The customer who expresses a misunderstanding about the salesperson's features and/or benefits implies an interest in them. All the salesperson has to do is to confirm the implied need in the customer's misunderstanding. The customer who expresses a drawback, needs to be led to perceive that the salesperson's obtainable benefits outweigh those of the drawback.
All three concerns need to be perceived by the salesperson as either expressed or implied needs. Let's take skepticism first. Those who sell any mattress set other than those of the top three venders frequently hear customers express their doubts with the words, "I've never heard of '_____' brand. Most reps I've listened to who work for bedding manufacturers with little brand name recognition, continue to train retail salespeople to handle the customer's doubts with what I consider a feeble strategy. They coach the salespeople to say something like the following: "You never heard of '____' brand? They've been around for six decades, they own twenty five factories. Why they've even won the Best Buy Award from Consumer's Digest."
What these reps don't understand - in fact I don't know of any sales system that does - is that such a reply is tantamount to shooting the customer with the proof statement. It is better to confirm the skeptic's doubt about the unknown brand by inferring the need in the skeptic's doubt. What need? The need to be assured that the unrecognized brand can deliver two things: a reliable quality product and a manufacturer that will be around long enough to service any potential problem. Customers are generally smart enough to know that even those written warranties that are longer than those of the three leading bedding manufacturers won't amount to a hill of beans if the manufacturer should go out of business. Here's how to confirm the need implied in the skeptic's doubt:
Customer: I've never heard of "blank" brand."
Salesperson: I imagine what you mean by that is that you want two things in a sleepset: reliable quality and a reliable written warranty. Let me point out why with "blank" brand, you'll satisfy both of those needs. (The salesperson then offers a proof statement).
The trouble with offering a proof statement before you have won an agreement on needs is that your proof statement - however solid - tends to put the customer down. That sets up an adversarial situation.
Next, let's take a close look at what Learning International calls a misunderstanding. Let's say the customer misunderstands what true veneers are and says something like, "I don't want any cheap veneers." The way to capitalize on the customer's misunderstanding about veneers is to first confirm what he has implied in the stated misunderstanding. You might say, "Correct me please if you feel I haven't been following you, but are you saying that what you're really looking for is a product that'll withstand the test of time?" Let's say the customer replies: "You're darn right. Furniture is expensive. It's got to last." You answer by acknowledging the need. "You're right. Furniture is an expensive investment. Would you mind if I would point out why today's veneering can in fact assure you of a product that'll last and hold up to daily use?" If the customer agrees to that, go on to make your presentation on veneers at the end of which you should always ask for feedback: "Are those the qualities you are looking for?"
Finally, let's discuss the drawback: A customer, say, just loves your dining room set, but has to have it in two weeks. The soonest you can deliver it is eight weeks. You are facing a drawback because the very need the customer has now expressed ("I have to have it in two weeks") is the very need you cannot support. How might you handle this dilemma? First, acknowledge the need: "Were I in your present situation, I'd certainly want it in two weeks as well." By acknowledging the customer's need to have the merchandise in two weeks, you avoid putting down or belittling the customer. A word of caution. Because the drawback is often grounded on some highly emotional need, you might go on to suggest that your customer take a look at the purchase long term. I have found it productive to say: "Given how strongly you feel about having this delivered in two weeks - and rightly so -- I'm not asking you to make your decision right now. Do keep in mind (avoid all use of the words "but" and "however") that the other needs you also expressed will still be there after the two weeks. Please give this the thought it deserves."
We've come to the end of this seven-part series. We've covered a lot of territory since we first met our professional photographer and her professional guide working together to produce the finest film on the wonders of wild life on the Serengeti. I hope you have enjoyed this series. Master the various skills and you'll be the on your way to becoming one of the very best in the profession of selling home furnishings.
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Scores of his articles are posted to the "Sales Skill Index" on furninfo.com. He is available for in-store training, and speaking.
View all articles by Peter A. Marino