In the February/March issue we examined four major sales mistakes. This feature looks at ways to avoid ethical problems that occur in sales situations. Should you share information that may “kill” a sale? Should you blindly believe everything customers tell you about their needs? Is “nice” always the most professional attitude?
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What if complete disclosure may kill the sale? Should you believe what customers say they need? Is being nice the best rofessional attitude?
Editor’s note: The first part of this article in the February/March issue of FURNITURE WORLD (posted to www.furninfo.com in the Sales Skills Index), discussed the first four major sales mistakes: buying into negative mindsets and habits; using closed probes and lizard words; writing nasty customers off instead of writing them up; handing customers a brochure at the start of a sales presentation. This installment looks at ways to avoid ethical problems that occur in selling situations. Should you share information that may “kill” a sale? Should you blindly believe everything customers tell you about their needs? Is being “nice” always the most professional attitude?
Sometimes situations in sales will challenge your integrity. You may feel like telling “Ethel” what she wants to hear instead of what you should be telling her to keep her as a long-term client. You may let a little white lie pass or subtly stretch the truth.
Yes, the news media says that the economy is down and that our troubles may multiply. You could use the extra sale now. Who knows what may happen tomorrow? So you might start to think, “what is it going to take to sell this thing?” You want to assure your customers that the leather sofa they are looking at isn’t made of cow hide, it is made of full indestructible armor. It is an industrial strength, bullet-proof Sherman tank. Cotton fabrics no longer fade. They won’t tear, fray, stretch, shrink, or wrinkle, either. Sun, pets and children with scissors are no longer their enemy. Cherries no longer have pits so you won’t see any markings in your solid wood dining room table, and all knots from pine trees are perfectly symmetrical and uniform. Aren’t all trees the same?
Integrity goes “south” as salespeople s-t-r-e-t-c-h the truth. For this reason we don’t tell them about fabric protection for their upholstery, or how tablepads will protect their new dining room. Why would we do that? We just tell them all of these things are “indestructible and teflon-like!” Hey, remember, we’re talking furniture here, not pots and pans! OOPS! Wow, our halos are slipping. When this happens we really “trip” and meet up with . . .
OOPS #5 - Fear Of Offering Information
Maybe you aren’t tempted to exaggerate product features and benefits… but have you ever been afraid to offer information that might kill a sale?
It is the dilemma of to “spill or not to spill.” You can’t decide whether to “spray and pray” (tell them everything you’ve ever seen, heard, read, or dreamt about construction) or bob and weave so that you avoid really answering their questions.
Recently the manager of several La-Z-Boy stores asked FURNITURE WORLD’s editors to comment on a dilemma that his salespeople often face. He said that one of his salespeople (let’s call him Rob) was working with a family that included three young “active” children. The family was thinking of purchasing a leather Nu-Buck sofa. The sales consultant knew that this leather might not be the best choice for the family. He assumed that if his customers found out that the sofa would not survive rough use and spills, they would likely walk away and he would lose the sale. So he decided not to tell them.
This manager knew that there are problems associated with not divulging this type of information. These do not directly affect today’s sale, but do result in extra customer service calls, dissatisfied customers, loss of repeat sales and lower profits.
The sales manager had spoken with his friend at another large chain about this problem. This chain, it seems, had instituted a formal program to encourage their people to share more information with customers. The result was a reduction in service calls. That’s a great idea, but it doesn’t really address the primary problem.
There is an old proverb that instructs someone (anyone) who falls down, to look for the cause of the fall in the place where they slipped, not where they actually landed. Bob need not have put himself in a position where he had to guess that sharing information would kill the sale. Had he known more about what his customers really wanted, then assumptions would be unnecessary. Bob fell down when he assumed. He slipped earlier when he forgot to collect basic information.
Had Bob known that this family really wanted a sofa that would “wear like iron” then not sharing this information would have been an ethical lapse and poor business judgment. With better information, Bob could be confident enough to share needed information and present a sensible alternative. In another scenario, the family might be more concerned about creating a specific look or comfort level. They might not care that much about durability.
Don’t Surprise Your Customers
Remember the Law - no surprises! People don’t like to be surprised with problems, or worse, things that they didn’t expect or anticipate! UH-OH!
Before relaying any message, giving any information, or delivering any benefits, find out what the customer’s real needs are. This way you don’t have to “weave any webs” or s-t-r-e-t-c-h any truths. All you have to do is ask a few pertinent questions to get them talking.
Start by using the two most powerful words in the selling process - “TELL ME.”
•“TELL ME about your room.”
•“TELL ME about your family.”
•“HOW will you be using your new room?”
Then listen, and answer their questions so that their needs can be fulfilled. Get them talking. People love to talk about themselves. You’ll become their friend. They will understand that you care enough to ask about them and what they want to buy… not what you want to sell them! Don’t “spray and pray.” Make certain your message will hit the mark for “Ethel” and her family. Eliminate the “UH-OH’s.” You worked too hard before the sale. Don’t lose it after because you didn’t ask the right questions or because you didn’t listen. When they’re surprised, and disappointed, they will not want to ever do business with you again! Avoid another OOPS! Lose the UH-OH’s! It is after all up to you to help them.
OOPS #6 - We Buy Into Their Delusion
When your customer says, “all I need is a sofa,” they may think that they only need a sofa, but chances are that they really need much, much more. If they purchased their last sofa fifteen years ago, you can bet that many of their other furnishings are celebrating the same birthday!
They may just need one small piece, but it is more than likely that they are hoping that upon the purchase of a new sofa, their room will be totally transformed! UH-OH! They will not only be surprised, they’ll be totally disappointed! OOPS! They have fallen into the exact trap that they were trying to avoid!
This happens everyday. Our customers may come to us with a problem, but don’t always know what they really need. When we accept at face value what they tell us; when we solve their current problem but don’t meet their underlying needs, we run the risk of letting them down.
A terrific illustration of this is presented by Kip Tendell, co-founder, CEO, and president of the Container Store. In the June issue of Fast Company, he tells the story of serving “The man in the desert.”
“A man who’s been lost in the desert for three weeks stumbles into an oasis, and the first person he meets gives him a glass of water and sends him on his way. That’s how most retail organizations operate -- and they pat themselves on the back for providing adequate service. But the selling philosophy that we try to teach is to give that man in the desert some water, some food, some shade, maybe some aloe for his sunburn. In other words, give him solutions to ALL his problems. The same goes for customers: If you wimp out and let the customer go home with just a shoe rack -- the equivalent of a glass of water - and she still has a mess of a closet that’s driving her nuts, then you really haven’t solved her problem. If you’re not offering her the opportunity to buy more of what she really needs, you’re cheating the customer.
Selling and service are the same thing. If the customer walks out of the store empty handed, he’s not happy. If he walks out knowing he got exactly what he needs, you’ve helped him in the truest sense of the word.”
Isn’t that why we’re here? To offer a service and fulfill all their needs? If you are falling down by selling one piece instead of an entire room or set of rooms, then again, you need to look where you slipped, not where you’ve fallen.
OOPS #7 - Always Being Nice
Remember that when a customer says, “I’m just browsing,” or “All I need is a sofa,” that they may be scared of making a mistake, confused about their needs or how to fulfill them. It is up to you to find out why they came through the door, and what they really need so you can help them. But sometimes salespeople “trip up.” They feel the “need to be nice” in the “name of nice!” You don’t want to be pushy. So then you end up selling yourself and “Ethel” short. Being professional is not about being nice. It is about creating relationships and helping people to achieve their goals. Make a commitment to help them live up to it. Don’t let your customer’s down.
Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates \"T 'N T." She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Her latest audio tape series on follow-up is called "The Marketing of "Me, Inc." -Taking Your Company Into the Next Millennium--10 audio tapes plus a comprehensive "how-to" manual that helps your people turn all the customers into "clients!" Questions can be addressed to her care of FURNITURE WORLD at email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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