If you do, you will show you are listening, and that you care.
Winning Bragging Rights by Dr. Peter A. Marino
Many years ago when I first began to teach English composition, the students’ assigned text, the Fourth Edition of Writing with a Purpose, commented on the distinction between the words imply and infer, a distinction that some dictionaries even then did not recognize. That edition had the following to say about the two words: “The difference between the two words is that imply refers to what a statement means, usually to a meaning not specifically stated but included in the original statement, whereas infer is used for a listener’s or reader’s judgment or inference based on the statement.” The text then gives the following example, in the form of a scenario.
Reporter: Senator, you have stated that you are opposed to the present policy of maintaining large concentrations of American troops in Europe. Does that imply that you favor a significant reduction of our NATO forces?
Senator: Yes, my criticism of the present policy implies that I would like to see a reduction of our NATO troops in Europe.
Reporter: May we infer, Senator, that you think NATO is no longer necessary?
Senator: No, that inference goes too far. I would like to see NATO continue, and I think we should support it with men and material, but not to the extent that we are now doing.
About twenty years ago I arrived at the conclusion that every customer objection is an implied need. The corollary I drew from that conclusion is that every time a customer brings up an objection, the salesperson should infer a need, just as the reporter did in the above example. He or she should then use a closed probe to confirm the customers implication as an implied need. If the customer agrees with the salesperson’s inference, the salesperson should follow that agreement with an acknowledgment. Acknowledging at this point in the sales process makes a lot of sense, since it helps to create greater rapport between the salesperson and the customer. The next logical step in the selling sequence calls for supporting the customer’s confirmed need with personalized features and benefits. Rapport is essential in this phase, because it is important that the customer listens attentively to those personalized features and benefits. Since, to quote owner and consultant Harvey Mackay, “People don’t care how much you care until they know how much you care,” the salesperson should use an acknowledging statement that shows that he or she cares for the customer, instead of merely dumping features and benefits indiscriminately.
Let’s apply the principle that every customer objection is an implied need to a specific objection. In the following sales scenario, we will assume that an objection arises when a customer is asked to consider a lesser-known mattress brand.
For years, the reps of those less recognized mattresses have, in my opinion, not been giving the best advice about handling customer statements like the following: “I never heard of (brand X) .” The first scenario, in which the salesperson uses the approach more often than not taught by reps, is followed by a more effective method of handling this objection by treating it as an implied need.
Mattress Sales Scenario #1
REPLY WITHOUT ESTABLISHING NEED
Customer: I never heard of Sleepy Hollow Mattress.
Salesperson: You never heard of Sleepy Hollow Mattress? Why, Sleepy Hollow Mattress has been around since 1905, it’s won Consumer Digest’s Best Buy Award three times. Sleepy Hollow Mattress has factories in the United States and Canada.
Experienced salespeople continue to use this approach with limited success. Upon close analysis, one can see why this is the case. For one thing, the salesperson’s reply implies that the customer should know about this mattress company. The reply is also interpreted by some customers as condescending in tone or even as a rebuke for offering the objection. For another thing, the salesperson’s reply fails to infer what the customer intended by his or her statement. Finally, the reply is an un-personalized feature statement, given before the salesperson has established any customer needs. Nor, under those circumstances, would it help to include benefits along with the un-personalized feature statement. That’s because none of the customer’s personalized needs had been established.
Sales Scenario #2
ESTABLISH An IMPLIED NEED, THEN REPLY
Customer: I never heard of Sleepy Hollow Mattress.
Salesperson: I often hear that from my customers. I imagine what you’re implying is what other customers have shared with me. (The salesperson nods as he says the following.) Whenever they’re shopping for a product that costs as much as a mattress, they want to make sure of two things. One, that the product has the quality they’re looking for, and two, that the manufacturer will be there to back up that quality in case it fails to perform as required.
Customer: (Most customers merely nod at this point. Remember, a nod should be inferred as agreement.)
Salesperson: (Acknowledging statement) I’m the same way. Before I make a major purchase, I always make sure I can trust the product’s quality and rely on its being serviced, if that should be required. (At this point the salesperson sounds off the very features stated above, and then adds the following.) As for making sure you can rely on proper service, should that be required, keep in mind that you would be coming to us for service. We’ve been carrying this mattress for 20 years. Surely, we wouldn’t be carrying a mattress that had been plagued all those years with problems. Does that make sense?
Of course, this step has to be followed with other proven steps to insure a mutually successful sale. Apply the principle that every customer objection is an implied need. It’s a principle every professional salesperson should buy into because customers respond positively to it.
Trainer, educator and group leader Dr. Peter A. Marino writes extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. He has deep experience as a top salesman, sales manager, corporate trainer and consultant. Dr. Marino has undergraduate degrees in English and philosophy and a Ph. D. in ancient Greek and Latin. His books include “The Golden Rules of Selling Bedding”, “Stop Losing Those Bedding Sales” and “It’s Buying, Silly!” available through FURNITURE WORLD. Questions can be sent to Peter Marino at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read all of Dr. Marino’s articles on www.furninfo.com in the Sales Skill article archives.