An easy way to improve close rate, average sale and customer satisfaction.
Most retail furniture business are disconnected from the true, underlying needs of our customers. Sure, they need furniture, but beneath the obvious, are more fundamental, emotional needs that motivate our customers to buy or not to buy.
None of us want to over-psychoanalyze our customer interactions and not many retail salespeople have much training in this field beyond taking Psych 101. I’ve always thought much of the fanfare surrounding customer "types" and "buying styles" a waste of time. After all, how much time do you have to make such deep intellectual judgments when you first meet a customer? Assigning a "type" when you are dealing with a couple is even more complicated. So, I believe in using common sense and keeping it simple.
It has been said that common sense ain’t so common, but finding new ways to engage customers is really pretty easy. What’s in the way is your paradigm of what it takes to sell furniture. I define a paradigm as a "comfort zone" for people who have stopped learning.
If you’re an experienced salesperson and a successful one, all the sales you’ve ever made have been the result of dealing with people in a certain way. If you were to carefully and honestly measure all of your customer opportunities (meaning every single engagement you’ve had with a retail customer in a furniture store) and count all the sales you’ve made, you would find that your closing percentage is likely 20% to 25%. Real star performers can achieve 30% or higher, but some mediocre salespeople actually perform at around 15%.
Your old selling paradigms have made you some money, but probably kept you right where you are for a long period of time. You are well informed about the products you sell. You have good "people" skills and can speak with conviction about all the things in your store. You know how to use your store’s system to get what you need for your customers and you understand all the key vendor’s price lists and catalogs. You know your store’s inventory and what you can sell for immediate delivery. You may even know what’s going on with your competitors. All these things have made you a good retail furniture salesperson.
What you don’t know is how to break the chain and earn 20%, 30% or even 50% more money without working any harder or having to engage any more customers. And this is a reflection of what’s wrong with sticking to your old paradigms and staying in your comfort zone.
How To Break Out
What is the first piece of furniture a woman shops for when redecorating her living room or family room? When furniture salespeople are asked this question, their answer is always the same – a sofa!
Let’s think about these sofa customers and where salespeople miss a giant opportunity. Most salespeople do not think about offering to help customers develop a plan for finishing their project (now or in the future). They talk about the sofa, but they don’t even talk to her about her room! They fail to learn about problem elements – such as coordinating existing colors in rugs, carpeting or other upholstery. They don’t provide a professional’s view of how she can get the room she wants. They don’t sketch the room out to provide a common basis for discussion and decision making.
Most salespeople don’t keep a follow-up record for every sofa customer they’ve had in the past two years… or even the past few weeks. They fail to call customers immediately after delivery to take advantage of their "new-room feelings" and offer help selecting other new pieces. Salespeople who really do their job well, already know what those pieces are and have thoughts about ways to help their customers purchase them.
You don’t have to know anything about your customer’s psychological profile or mental health history. All you have to know is what hundreds of customers have told you about their furniture shopping experiences. That information can and must be used to improve your performance, income and customer satisfaction – three things you should always be looking to improve. If you could sell half of your customers 20% more furniture using these techniques, your income would go up around 5%.
Let’s find another area for improvement. There are two factors in the selling equation that you control. These are close rate (the percentage of customers that buy from you) and average sale (how much they buy on average). Close rates in our industry average 20% to 25%, so there is a lot of potential for improvement in this one factor.
How many customers tell you they’re just looking? Most salespeople say "all of them", but on closer examination most will agree that about 8 of 10 open their engagement with salespeople in this way. Why? The answer is simple. They don’t trust you.
Now, what don’t they trust and why? These people don’t even know you! If they’ve visited a few stores, they already know that retail furniture salespeople want to talk about furniture. Most salespeople ask some pretty stupid opening questions. They rarely ask about the decorating problems that are the reason why customers are out shopping for new furniture. In other words, salespeople care about selling furniture, not helping customers. So, what if you could start finding ways to provide help, before you start selling? Suppose you could find a way to greet your customers in a non-selling manner, just as a person and talk about other things than furniture for a minute or two? It’s called small talk, but it’s really big talk because it lets customers see you as a person first instead of a salesperson.
When the time is right ask "What brings you in today?" and when they tell you what they’re doing, you could say, "Why don’t you tell me about your room so I can help you better?"
Would more people let you help them than if you just asked them if they’re "looking for anything in particular"? We think so. This approach has the immediate effect of raising close rates and average sale. Do you realize that if your close ratio is 20% and you can do things to make just one more customer out of ten buy from you, your income will go up by 50% ! If you made $40,000 last year and you can change your approach to be more customer-driven and solution-driven, you can make as much as $60,000 and you don’t have to see any more customers than you’re seeing now! So, why wouldn’t you want to do this?
We know why. It’s because people don’t move easily from their comfort zone without a lot of support and coaching from management. You need to have a work plan in place and a performance plan that uses all of the necessary measurements you can gather about your past performance. Then you can introduce new ideas and coaching to bring sales to higher levels. And, it all starts with how you say hello to your customers, how you think about why they’re in your store, and how you can truly help them.
If you believe that customers want beautiful rooms and beautiful homes, you’ll move ahead and make a lot more money. If you think that customers want furniture, you’ll probably stay right where you are.
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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