Connect With Customers
Furniture World Magazine
By Cathy Finney
Getting your customers to commit to you and your products often depends on how well you listen.
If you are not communicating… you are not connecting. If you are not conne cting… you are not getting a commitment. Without commitment, she will not become your client. Your career, therefore, depends upon how well you do or do not communicate.
For those of us who make a living in home furnishings sales, effective communication is our most important skill. It is a skill that can and must be developed. If you think that better communication means developing a way to talk longer, more persuasively and more eloquently, you are mistaken. It is not about “talking.” To quote Jon Wilson, publisher of “Hope” Magazine, “Maybe our fundamental problem is we’re all too busy to be heard. Maybe if we just practiced listening more, we’d better understand what a profound and empowering gift this simple act can be.” We have all been given this gift. We ALL have the tools to “connect.” Yes, we humans all share “toolboxes” that have been created equal! No more “shutting down,” “shutting out,” or “shutting the lids” on our toolboxes. Pat Boyd, in “The Million Dollar Toolbox,” says, “If all you have is a hammer, then all your problems look like nails!” So, if you want to be successful, these excuses no longer apply:
•“I’m only comfortable with people like me.”
•“Talking to anyone, and everyone just doesn’t feel natural.”
•“This is who I am. Take it or leave it.”
•“I’m doing just fine, just the way I am. Thank you .
Anyone can build rapport and feel naturally at ease with people who are like themselves. People who feel this way should probably not choose sales as a profession! It’s also a boring one-way ticket to living a xenophobic life that isn’t much fun. We have more in common with our neighbors… the worst and best of them, than many of us would like to admit. We are trained to notice the differences, but great salespeople (and sages) have the capacity to see that everyone was born with the same basic “tools”. For those of us who can’t get to that level… it is still possible to enjoy, learn from and work with the differences.
If you take a love me or leave me attitude with your customers, they will leave you and it will be your loss, not theirs. If you are fine the way you are, you either have a giant ego or have learned to settle. Even the best people and the most successful salespeople know that there is room for improvement.
Communication isn’t about how natural you feel, or how comfortable you are. It’s about how comfortable the listener is and how effective the sender (a.k.a. YOU) is.
That’s why listening is an art. Selling is an art as well and you are the artist. How you communicate is your palette. What are you painting on your canvas each and everyday to create the total picture for “Louise?” How are you helping her to “capture” what she wants by listening to her, understanding what is said and unsaid, and helping her own what she really has to own. That’s why the “art” of communication is all about using the tools in your toolbox so that you can connect with your audience.
Okay, let’s take a look at your equipment. Let’s sharpen the ones that are rusty, and polish those that are dull.
TIME TO TAKE INVENTORY
What tools are in there? All toolboxes are created equal, yet every human being is unique. You tend to use some of the tools in your toolbox more often then others. The tools that are used often become power tools. Those that are never used, get rusty. Let’s check out your toolbox to see which of the tools you really need have been left out in the rain on the back porch of your brain. Let’s reclaim these tools to help you communicate more effectively.
To be an effective communicator, you must be an effective performer. “Performing” is not phony, nor is it acting. It is about you being a professional. To quote Mr. Boyd in “The Million Dollar Toolbox,” “Performance is about conveying authentic expression.” You are letting them know that you genuinely care. You are not a robot regurgitating a script. You know that one size does not fit all. That is the reason that professionals constantly polish their performance. They know that they have to find a way to connect to every customer.
You need to stand out. You need to shine, so you need your tools to shine. And yes, you need passion, because when you glow, they know!
Body Language communicates with your customers at the speed of light. Impatience, over-eagerness and annoyance are telegraphed immediately. You want to appear to be open and friendly. Your whole being should be saying, “Hi,” “Welcome,” “Wow! I want to meet you! I am so glad that you’re here!”
While they are watching you, notice their body language as well. Don’t prejudge and don’t let your observations go in one eye and out the other!
Gen Xers call this aspect of body language, “the importance of face!” Let your face glow instead of presenting a neutral mask. A mask that says, “I am efficient” or “I’m just doing my job” won’t cut it. Let your face become a reflection of what you’re seeing and feeling, but make sure that you are feeling upbeat, open and receptive.
Your Smile doesn’t need to be the broad grin or the toothy projection of a “snake oil” salesman. Let out a genuine smile that says to your customer, “This is my special smile. It’s there simply because I like the way you look and enjoy working with you.” Don’t play Mona Lisa. Your smile has to let her know exactly what you’re thinking!
THE “EYES” HAVE IT!
One of the most important elements of communication is eye contact. The most successful consultants focus only on the customer with whom they are working. The store could burn down or the roof cave in and they would never lose that focus, that connection. Their concentration is that intense! Their eye contact says, “I care about you. Your needs are most important to me.”
Don’t stare, don’t glare, just focus. Make your customer feel he or she is the most important person in the world. Karen Kinnison, an assistant vice president with Bank of America, defines the importance of eye contact this way, “I’ve found that if you don’t look into others’ eyes and allow them to look into yours, your message and presence are somewhat ‘soulless’.” As Ty Boyd points out, “Eye contact is powerful transformation. It creates intimacy and connectedness. It is the highway on which communications travel.”
These are powerful statements. They show how much power, and influence is created when you look somebody directly in the eye.
What about people who won’t look at you? These people normally fall into one of two categories. They are either rude or browsers.
When you encounter a rude customer, you may be thinking, “Great, just what I need… another rude one. I’ve had enough rejection today. If they won’t look at me, I won’t talk to them!” This is a normal reaction, but it won’t help your store or your sales career. Remember, this rude person is your “Up.” Find out why they are being so defensive, and what brought them through your front door.
Other times if they won’t look at you, you say to yourself, “ that means they just want to look. Terrific, I waited three hours for this “Up,” and I get another ‘lookey loo’. This is really swell!”
When people don’t look you directly in the eye, it’s uncomfortable and unsettling. Go on a mission. Look at these people. Really SEE them and make a connection. Make a visual commitment to them. Eyes are called “the windows to the soul” for a very good reason.
I’m sure your voice is perfectly wonderful, but communicating is about dialog, not monologue. Make sure you are talking with someone not to or at someone!
Don’t tell your customer everything you know. You may think your story about proper frame construction is brilliant and you want to share. You studied hard, very hard to learn all this. So, they’re going to hear it! Soooo…. you keep talking, because when you stop your monologue it gets quiet. It gets too quiet! So you keep “spilling!” Hey, you know this stuff. You believe that you are being brilliant, buy really, all you are doing is “spraying & praying.” One way to avoid this communication error is to slow down, pay attention and b-r-e-a-t-h-e.
THE POWER OF PAUSE
So come on, slow down take a breath. When you do, you: look more confident; you feel more self-assured; you take on more authority; your sense of personal power intensifies; you establish your credibility as a professional; it gives you time to “listen” to their body language (what they are really saying).
The “Pause” gives “Louise” time to: take in what you are saying; how you are saying it; decide if she believes you and if she is “buying” what you are selling; think of more questions she needs answered.
Silence is not only golden, it’s crucial. Silence is one of your most valuable tools. It gives the other person the space and encouragement to open up. Selling isn’t telling! Sales is about solutions!
Listening is job #1 so you can find out what the problem is and solve it! To solve her concerns you must connect.
The average listener retains only about 25% of what he or she hears. The reason that three quarters of spoken words are lost is that most people listen at 130-190 wpm, but speak at 450 wpm.
Effective listening can be practiced and learned, but first poor listeners need to knock down barriers to effective listening.
Effective listeners don’t shut down. They don’t say, “I’m tired. I haven’t had a day off in eight days!” Neither do they tune out, or think, “Those leftovers will taste great tonight… I hope my car passes inspection… how could my mother say that to me!”
Effective listeners don’t get distracted. When it starts to look like their current Up is really just browsing, they don’t start thinking about all the other Ups they are missing.
They turn off of the endless stream of repetitive and preemptive thoughts. Salespeople can’t listen effectively if, while their customers are speaking, they are planning their next statements, interruptions or questions.
Effective listeners never multi-task! They just pay attention to their customers. Poor listeners may appear to be listening. Every now and then they say, “M-hm.” They try to act like they are hanging on every word, but in reality, their attention is elsewhere.
Effective listeners don’t let their emotions get in the way, become defensive or start to plan a verbal counterattack. They never interrupt their customers.
The best communicators use a tool called Reflective Listening. This is the practice of “parroting back,” or clarifying what was just said. It accomplishes several objectives:
•The Person talking knows that you CARE about WHAT they’re saying.
•They know that you GOT IT.
•You are both “on the same page.”
•By clarifying, and getting them talking, it shows that you value not only their opinions, you also value them as a PERSON.
Larry King is terrific at this. He takes notes when his guests are speaking. This shows them that what they are saying is important. Writing it down, ensures that he won’t forget. He gets his guests talking and KEEPS them talking by using several different phrases:
•“So what you’re telling me is...”
•“This means that . . .”
Some other phrases to keep the dialogue going and to make “Ethel” feel more comfortable include:
•“Tell me . . .”
•“Based on what you told me, for that reason . . .”
•“Help me out . . .” (This is an instant bonding phrase. Everyone wants to help. Now you’re equals. Now you are “buds!”)
Great communicators tend to use all the open-ended questions. You already have them in your toolbox, so dig them out of the bottom, and dust them off. They include: who, what, when where, why, how and which. Also add: explain, elaborate, define, describe and discuss.
Use these tools to get customers talking. Now, just sit back, listen, and turn this customer into your client!
To quote Jon Wilson again, “All any of us wants is to feel truly and deeply heard, seen, and acknowledged… We all send out messages trying to get somebody to listen.
Maybe that’s our fundamental problem: we’re all too busy trying to be heard. Maybe, if we just practiced listening more, we’d better understand what a profound and empowering gift this simple act can be.”
If you listen to your customers… they will listen to you! That’s communicating and connecting… you, master communicator, you!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read other articles by Cathy Finney