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Customers don't care how much you know until they know how much you care!


Recently a gentlemen in his eighties walked into one of the Twin Cities sleep shops in which I do my weekly coaching of bedding salespeople. Each one of these shops is managed by one salesperson at a time.

This customer was wearing a much more troubled look than most worn by bedding shoppers. The young salesperson, Paul, new to selling mattresses but already showing the signs of a skilled salesperson, quickly obtained the following information. A few weeks earlier this customer had purchased a queen set of bedding from a competitor. It turned out to be too hard. After waking up with severe backaches he decided to return the set. That afternoon he was supposed to attend the graduation of his grandson. He was not too keen on making that graduation, but felt he had to at least put in an appearance. He added that it was his stepson and stepdaughter who had purchased the queen set he returned. This gentleman had seen a much more expensive pillow top he really liked at that other store and admitted that he should have bought that set instead of the less expensive one which cost about five hundred dollars. He now wanted to see if he could find a set he really liked in our store for more than five hundred dollars, but less than the price of the one he had really liked at our competitor's.

As a coach, I generally prefer to listen and observe the sale in progress, but I'll interject a comment or two when I feel it is appropriate to do so. I asked the man if his backaches persisted throughout the day. He replied they did not. I then shared with him what scores of chiropractors I interviewed throughout Wisconsin some years back had shared with me. If morning backaches persist throughout the day, that is usually a sign that the aches are caused by something other than one's mattress. Otherwise, if the backaches tend to go away as the day progresses, that is usually a sign that one needs a new and better mattress. He admitted that his backaches tended to go away as the day progressed.

At this point this gentleman shared an interesting story with us. Years ago, he said, his sister-in-law and her husband had bought a bed that they raved about. As a result, his wife convinced him to try that same kind of bed. "That was the sorriest darn thing she ever got us to do", he sighed. "They could have laid that thing in with the concrete on a road. Well, just before my wife passed away three weeks ago in a nursing home, those same in-laws come to visit her. My wife commented on how comfortable the nursing home bed was in contrast to the bed that same sister had recommended to them years ago. "Oh, that bed?" her sister remarked, "we got rid of that thing shortly after we recommended it to you. It was just too hard!"

The customer continued; "funny thing", I should have listened to what an old timer told me when I was just a young whipper snapper (his eyes suddenly took on a faraway wistful look). He paused a few seconds, then continued: "young man", that old timer told me, "make sure you have two things, a good bed and a good pair of shoes, because you are going to be on one or the other all your life."

Isn't it amazing how much customers will tell you once they sense you care enough to listen. Customers do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Nothing lets them know how much you care as much as genuine listening. If you are genuinely listening, you are receiving information while remaining non-judgmental and empathic. You acknowledge the customer in a way that invites the communication to continue and provide limited but encouraging input while helping to carry the customer's information forward one step at a time (to paraphrase Madelyn Burley-Allen's deformation of listening).

Meanwhile, our young salesperson, Paul, showed a savvy beyond his years. He seemed to grasp the fact that the elderly are not to be rushed. They tend to live by the emperor Augustus' motto: Festina Lente - Hurry up slowly. If salespeople are to have any chance of speeding up the elderly, they must first slow down themselves. Older people are not as anxious "to get there" as younger people are. Most of them have already been there... more than once!

With the help of a little comfort selling by Paul, our customer found a sleepset he really liked at a price significantly more than five hundred dollars but also significantly less than the price of our competitor's more expensive model.

"Do you have the same comfort guarantee?" The customer asked.

"Yes, we do, sir, but we want you to make sure as much as you can while you are here that this is the set you really find comfortable."

Then Paul added the following; "take as much time as you like while you're here. No matter how much time you take today to make sure this is the right bed for you, it'll only be a fraction of the time you'll be on it at home."

The customer next asked about the warranty. Paul told him how long the warranty was and what it covered. Then be added: "The best thing about this warranty is that you are not likely to use it."

Too few salespeople know what Paul already does. Customers do not relish the thought of having to make use of a warranty.

That evening when I got home, I sat down on my sofa and began to review the literary quotations about bedding I had in my files. Some of which I'd like to share with you in this article:

  • When one begins to turn in bed, it is time to turn out. -First Duke of Wellington.
  • There is no economy in going to bed early if the result is turns. -Chinese Proverb.
  • Blessed are the sleepy, for they shall soon drop off. -Nietzsche.
  • The worst thing... to be in bed and sleep not. -Proverb.
  • What a delightful thing rest is. The bed has become a place of luxury to me. I would not exchange it for all the thrones in the world. -Napoleon The First.
  • Oh, sleep is a gentle thing. Beloved from pole to pole. -Coleridge "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."
  • Now blessings light on him who first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold and coolness for the heat. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheaply; the scale that makes equal the shepherd, the fool, and the wise man. -Cervantes, "Don Quixote."
  • The electric light lowers the birthrate and should not be permitted in peasant homes. -Mussolini (Commenting on how electric lights in so many poorer homes were causing too may Italian spouses to spend less time in bed!)


Some closing thoughts: There are salespeople who find the selling of sleepsets dull, tedious, and uninteresting. They feel that sleepsets lack the sophistication of quality dining rooms, bedrooms, and upholstered furniture. Instead, I consider the selling of sleepsets exciting, interesting, and challenging because of the people who shop for bedding. No other household item is as personal, nor as conducive to one's health and peace of mind. Finally, we spend more than our sleeping hours on our bedding. Some of our most peaceful moments are the conscious ones during which we simply rest on our beds and drink in that delightful rest and luxury mentioned in Napoleon quotation.

Speaking of luxurious sleep, I am reminded of what I heard one salesperson say in answer to a customer who exclaimed that he could sleep on anything. "Sir," he answered in a voice teaming with respect, "Both of us could probably sleep on the fenders of our cars, but would we really want to?" That answer implies the plethora of benefits contained in the premium sleepsets sold in our stores.

Meanwhile, that octogenarian's words keep ringing in my ears; "Get yourself a good bed and a good pair of shoes because you are in one or the other all your life." Let the seller of shoes see to it that their customers get on a good pair of shoes and let us see to it that ours get on a good bed.

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at pmarino@furninfo.com.