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Combat Sales Reluctance

Furniture World Magazine
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Article Summary: Ninety percent of salespeople suffer from some form of sales reluctance. Cathy Finney looks at some of the common problems they face, and provides solutions that can make selling more fun and profitable.

View all articles by Cathy Finney


If you see your own behaviors in the “dirty dozen of sales reluctance”, don’t worry. Here are some ways to see yourself and your customers in a new light.

Warrior? Yep! You are the one on the front line each and every day. It takes a very special person to do what you do each time you go to “greet” a stranger. Is it hard? You bet. Intimidating? Um-hum. Scary? Oh, yeah. This could explain why so many consultants are reluctant to smile at “that new face.”

In his book, “The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance,” George Dudley, founder of Behavior Sciences Press, defines sales reluctance as, “all the thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns that conspire to limit what a sales consultant is able to do to move closer to his or her goals.” Dudley has been researching sales reluctance for over two decades as it applies to the initial customer contact. His findings? You better sit down. “90% of people in sales suffer from sales reluctance. He calculates that 50% suffer from toxic reluctance issues, and another 40% have chronic low level reluctance that affects their performance but does not overwhelm them.”

Dr. Jeff Tanner of Baylor University says that, “What is happening with reluctant sales consultants is that they would like to do their jobs, but they find themselves unable to. They cope with it in various ways. They do other tasks.” Is this you? Are you one of the 90%?

Dirty Dozen Of Sales Reluctance
Mr. Dudley created what he calls “The Dirty Dozen of Sales Reluctance.” Let's see if you make the list.

1. DOOMSAYER worries, will not take risks.
2. OVER-PREPARER over analyzes, under-acts.
3. HYPER-PRO is obsessed with image.
4. STAGE FRIGHT SUFFERER fears presenting themselves
5. ROLE REJECTOR is ashamed of sales career.
6. YIELDER fears intruding on others.
7. SOCIALLY SELF-CONSCIOUS is intimidated by up market clientele.
8. SEPERATIONIST fears loss of friendships (They won't want to BE his/her friend.)
9. EMOTIONALLY UNEMANCIPATED fears loss of family approval.
10. REFERRAL AVERSE fears disturbing existing clients.
11. TELEPHOBIC fears using the phone for prospecting or self promotion.
12. OPPOSITIONAL REFLEX TYPE rebuffs attempts to learn new things.

ROLE REJECTOR: Dr. Tanner says that sales reluctance may be related to a negative image of a sales career. They think that they want this job, but they quit before they even start. Tanner points out that, “They're just not willing to accept the role of a sales consultant. They see it as all bad adjectives and descriptors, and even though they may be good at it and have a lot of natural ability, they are not able to do the job.” They don't get that we're in the People Business. Selling is helping “Louise” and “Ralph” own what it is that they want to buy. Who would want to reject that role?

HYPER-PRO: Jennifer Lambert of the Terra Group in Seattle says many people in sales get enveloped in this phenomenon when dealing with the high-powered Dominant or Driver personalities. She calls it, “social self-consciousness.” “It is the belief that anyone they perceive to be up-market from them is somehow special.”

David Stein, author of “How People Sell,” points out that “some consultants felt uncomfortable meeting with high-power contacts. They felt that they would somehow get themselves in a situation that was uncomfortable, embarrassing or worse. So they felt reluctant to make contact.”
This type of procrastinator may also suffer from low self-esteem.

OVER-PREPARER: This is the person who is BUSY. Busy, straightening the fabric wall, pulling discontinued fabrics, cleaning, or organizing and re-organizing their files. They are SO busy that they are TOO busy. They hand off ALL their “ups” to anyone who will take them. ANYTHING to avoid confronting “the door!”

TELEPHOBIC: For those who suffer from this disease the telephone becomes their version of “the door.” Yes, they are much too busy. They have too many things going to ever get within ten feet of the dreaded invention of Alexander Graham Bell!

The Reluctant Warrior can go on the march anytime during the selling process.

Are there times when you are reluctant to go “meet and greet?” Of course! But reluctant, or not, you are a warrior. Daniel defines a warrior as, “someone experienced in fighting.” My definition is a person on a mission with a definite purpose. It's a person dedicated and determined to help “Ethel” find a solution for her home. But, for many of us, the job can become frustrating. That's when otherwise good salespeople become reluctant and apprehensive.

If you find yourself in this situation, your thought processes will go something like this…

•“Great, just great. I finally GET my “up,” and I KNOW that they are just not OUR type of customer. Great!!”

•“Hey, what are they doing here NOW? It's 5:55! Don't they know that we close at 6:00? Oh, brother!”

•“It's my turn again? I'm so busy. I don't have time for THIS?”

•“I wait three hours for a new “up” and I have to go wait on THEM? I can read people. I KNOW that they will be a waste of my time.”

•“Oh, this is rich. THEY walk through the door when I want to go to lunch!”
Does any of this ring a bell? Are too many bells ringing?

The next battle to be waged (after greeting) can take place during what is known as the qualifying process.

This step can be lots of fun. To win this battle and eliminate the “reluctant force” marching in your head, some re-wiring of your brainwaves may be required. Instead of thinking “qualifying,” or “probing,” plug in some key words. “Tell Me!” (Talk to me, Louise). “Help Me Out!” Both of you are now on a level playing field, the same level, the same field! Now you're having a conversation... creating dialogue. You no longer feel like you're conducting an interrogation! Now you are on your way to really becoming a Peak Performer!

In his book, “Stop Whining - and Start Winning,” Frank Pacetta says to, “Make it personal. Practice people-ology. It offers the only genuine competitive advantage. Caring is the secret to building a care-full relationship. Eliminate the question marks.”

To really knock out any of your “furniture foes,” the final weapon in your arsenal at this stage and every stage of building rapport and establishing a relationship is to listen. Do not just hear what they are telling you. Listen, really listen to what they are saying. Don't tune out. Tune in!

Michael Weissman and David Mosby emphasize the same point in their book, “The Paradox of Excellence.” They believe that, “the solution for managing ever- escalating expectations is all about communications - constantly reinforcing to customers what it is that distinguishes you as valuable.”
As a sales associate, you can set yourself apart as an “excellent professional” with the questions you ask, and the empathy you display. In “What Color is Your Slipcover,” Denny Daikeler writes about the importance of communication. He says, “I would explain that knowing them (the customer) first was paramount before I addressed the creation (the room plan). We really needed to talk first... enjoying a time of talking and questioning would be so beneficial to successful interior design.”

Communication is what sets you apart. As a Peak Performer, your skill at communicating reminds the customer of the value you bring to the sales process. When you display empathy and listen, you distinguish yourself as a true professional who is passionate about your profession.

In talking with his clients, Daikeler takes it one step further, when he asks them to create two lists:

1. What Brings You Happiness - (List 40 things that make you happy)

2. How Your Environment can Support It - (Where can you put these “happy things?”)

Creating these lists really gets everyone thinking, communicating, and sharing ideas. By asking questions, and getting “Ethel “ to talk,” you set-up the arena of “living possibilities.” You get her talking, thinking, & feeling!
Tom Peters, the guru of management gurus, talks of “dream fulfillment - the inevitable next rung on the quality-service-experience-ladder. Fulfilling dreams requires a sophisticated understanding of your customer.”

Aren't we in the “dream business?” Isn't that what we do and who we are? Fulfilling dreams makes us “Peak Performers.”

In the latest issue of “Fast Company,” we hear from a design firm in Pittsburgh, Olson Zaltman Associates. Timothy Powers, Senior VP of architecture, & design, says that, “To really deliver good architecture, and design, you have to have a very clear understanding of what your client is thinking, and you can't get that from a surface conversation. You have to get the client to say those things in order to act on them.” There are similar information requirements in our end of the furniture business. The goal is to get the client talking so it is possible to know her feelings. Only then can we make ourselves truly useful to her.

Lindsey Zaltman gets the whole information collection process going by asking, “How does sunlight make you feel? Why is that color important to you?” I used to ask my clients, “What colors make you smile?” Just asking “Ethel” this question caused her to smile.

Are You a PUSHY SALESPERSON?
Let's now return to our discussion of transforming the “Reluctant Warrior” in you, into a peak performer. If you are a “Yielder”, you may often say to yourself, “I don't have to ask them to buy. If they like it, they'll tell me. I don't want to be pushy.” It is true that you should not want to be pushy, and there is no need for you to be pushy if you listened to their concerns. Tell your customers that, “Based on what you told me, here are the solutions that I created just for you.” What is pushy about that? That's why all you have to say is, “Let's do it! Let's get your new room/s started!”

NEVER SAY:

• “What do I have to do to get you to buy this today?” (“Not a thing. I'm out of here!”)

• “Do you want this?” (“No.”)

• “Do you want to order this, or not?” (“NO, NO, & NO!”)

• “If I can do this, this, this and this this will you buy this today?” (“E-x-c-u-s-e Me! You don't have to Do-o-o a thing. I'm leaving!”)

All of the above lines no longer have a place in professional selling. As the younger generation would say, “That's s-o-o yesterday!”

If you use any of the four lines listed above, you are being pushy! You are also out of fashion and out of touch.

The Reluctant Warrior is not only marching in your arm, he has recruited “Ethel!” She turns into that customer who “just can't make up her mind.” You know, that customer!

Do You Have Clients That Procrastinate?
Dr. David Burns, author of, “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” says, “Procrastinating clients don't need to drive you crazy.” He points out that some key mind-sets are involved on your part: “Try to pinpoint why the client procrastinates. It's not easy. Don't get judgmental but try to see the problem through the client's eyes. Your own attitude toward the client who procrastinates is crucial. Don't get demanding, coercive, defensive or hostile.
One comfort trap to look out for is perfectionism. Clients aren't totally certain that they should buy your product. They think they should always be right and they are afraid of making a mistake.

Another trap is sensitivity to coercion. They may sense your eagerness and feel pushed. Then they decide to resist you and stay in control.

Your best approach is to balance empathy with firmness. Dealing with procrastinators also calls for managing your own negative thoughts and feelings.”

Let her know, “You have made such a beautiful decision. Give yourself permission to own what it is that you really love. “Ethel,” now it's your turn.”
Dr. Burns offers these guidelines for handling a client who “just can't make up their mind:”

  • Before you ever place the call, prepare yourself for a possible delaying maneuver.
  • Pinpoint the reasons for the delay, and show your openness, empathy, and understanding (don't judge - observe).
  • Manage your self-talk. Don't put the client down. Don't put yourself down.
  • Help clients realistically appraise the reasons for and against buying now.”

Don't Let The Reluctant Warrior Win
Don't let the Reluctant Warrior win this battle. Peak Performers know that all their moods are created by their own thoughts, not by how other people are treating them.

Charles Garfield points out in his book, “Peak Performers,” that real peak performers know a lot of other things. He writes that, “Extraordinary achievers are ordinary people who have found ways to make a major impact.”

“They are always willing to evolve and grow, to constantly be learning, to “be better than I ever was.”

“Peak performers possess an overall pattern of attributes:

  • Motivated by results toward a personal mission.
  • Possess the twin capacities of self-management and
    self-mastery.
  • Have the ability to correct course and manage change.”
  • “They're much more intent on creating than on
    collecting.”

Yes, you must identify your own personal mission. “Mission is the source of peak performance. It determines behavior and fuels motivation,” according to Mr. Garfield.

The Reluctant “foe” inside you may try to stop your progress, but even if you make a mistake or get off track, remember the battle cry of the Foreign Legion, “When in doubt, gallop!” It is time to take action… purposeful action. Frank Pacetta labels it TAN. “Take Action Now! Work on your TAN!”
The action you take is fueled by your emotion and passion. Mr. Pacetta points out that, “emotion is the price you pay for going from good to great. Without emotion there can be no bond or connection forged with others.”

Don't Forget To Laugh!
Nothing bonds humans like laughter! With your passion and your professionalism at center stage, make sure that HSC (Humor, Surprise & Confusion!) make its entrance. In the latest edition of “Selling Power” magazine, Dr. Donald J. Moine talks about the advantages of “making them smile!” ”Humor, Surprise & Confusion have one common denominator: They move things off dead center.”

It is your job to keep this whole process in its proper perspective for your own benefit as well as for the benefit of your customers. You may need to remind your clients that the fate of the entire world does not rest on their purchase decision. It is, after all, just a sofa! There are many ways to lighten up the sales process… and move it off dead center. Libby Nutting, a designer from Denver, informs husbands when they come in for the presentation, “You do realize that money is involved.” I love this. By using HSC she:

  • Disarms “Ralph” because he doesn't expect money to be the first issue discussed.
  • She takes the FEAR out of talking about the dollars and cents.
  • She “lightens up” the presentation process right at the beginning! She is signaling that it is OK to play and to have fun!
  • He now has a better chance of having a good time!
    All Peak Performers know that fun and laughter are a big part of any salesperson's arsenal to fight off the “Reluctant Warrior!”

Send Sales Tips To Cathy Finney
How do you defend against your own “Reluctant WARRIOR”? What do you say to lighten up the sales process? What tips an techniques do you use to overcome any of the sales reluctance issues listed at the beginning of this article? To share you ideas with other FURNITURE WORLD readers, just email them to finney@furninfo.com or fax them toll free to 877-235-3278.


Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates \"T 'N T." She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Questions can be addressed to her care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at finney@furninfo.com.


Cathy Finney, effervescent sales educator, motivator and  management consultant was a longtime contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD Magazine. Cathy helped retail furniture store sales and design associates to turn customers (she called them Fred and Ethel) into clients. An enthusiastic mentor and friend to up-and-coming salespeople, she told them to remember that they are skilled professionals and that “Ethel” needs them to get the best possible result for her room or project. 

Finney got her start in the furniture business with Ethan Allen where she worked closely with Furniture Hall of Fame member Nathan Ancell. Her company, Ancell Affiliates \"T 'N T" resulted from that close relationship. She passed away at 59 years of age after a long struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. For more information about Cathy and here work email editor@furninfo.com. 




View all articles by Cathy Finney

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