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Asking The Right Questions - Part 2

Furniture World Magazine


Find out what they really want instead of just what they need.


Note from Kathy Finney: I need a car to get from point A to point B. I really want a red Mercedes convertible (5 speed!) That's what I want! I really want!

Questions you ask your customer about product style, product kind and product labels such as Contemporary or Traditional are "computereze" to your customer. (see the October/November issue of FURNITURE WORLD). When all you do is focus on the product up front, you are being transformed (one more time) into that "Stepford Clerk."

You're asking your customer the same questions that every other "clerk" in town is asking her. And these are the very questions that she may not be able to answer.

Stand out from the crowd! Focus on what she wants. Let's work on building rapport with this frightened or defensive consumer who wants to be educated and informed... not sold a "green one"!

How can you "bond" with your customer quickly? By asking her questions she can answer! I call them... people questions. You will call them terrific! Just ask few of these questions and "Ethel" will think you're great!

She's announced that she's here to look for a sofa. Ask her what room she plans to use it in. "Where will you be using your new sofa?"
Do you need to know this answer? Yep! Does she know that answer? Oh, yea!

She replies, "It's for my family room." Wonderful! "Tell me all about your family. Who will be using the room?"

She knows these answers! One of the biggest secrets in sales and life: people love to talk about themselves! She'll tell you all about Billy, Bart, Buddy who was just made captain of Little League and Brenda the ballerina. Lest we not forget the two Irish setters, three cats, and the gerbil!
"How will you be using the room?" If her four offspring are going to be rollerblading through this space, you need to know.

"How do you picture your new room?" (she came in for a "sofa." You've "planted the seed" for the room! My, you are good!)
"What type of feeling do you want to create?" (now you're starting to get her emotions involved.) She'll give you answers that sound something like this: "I want it warm and cozy." "I want it sleek and sophisticated. Thank you very much."

Let's say that just the opposite happens. She doesn't know what she wants. That's okay. Ask her:

"What does your room look like now? Why are you changing the sofa?" That one she can answer. Either way you get her talking to you. Not just you talking at her.

Now you can really assist her in this decision. You have the answers you need to recommend the best decisions for her family and her lifestyle. You need to know these answers anyway. Ask them up front and get her talking.

Qualifying means to probe, question, interview. It does not mean to confuse them, confound them, frustrate them or overload them with information they do not need, want, or can't relate to. To avoid this, ask them questions they can answer.

If they can't tell you what they do like, ask them what they don't like. Everyone is more than delighted to share their list of things they don't like. You need to know this too. Either way you get them talking, and now you're on your way to building rapport.

People questions get them communicating with you every time. This is not a "product game," it's a "people game." Ask her these five words, "help me to help you." You need her help. You can't do your job without it.

While you're asking, there are three more questions you must ask everyone to really assist them with their decision.

  • "How long have you been shopping?" This question is wonderful. Not only do they tell you how long, they tell you where they've been. They don't mean to, it just comes out. It's their "lizard words!"

"We've been looking for this sofa for six weeks. We've been to "Rooms R Us," "Furniture Heaven," & "Sofa-Mania."

Do you need to know where they've been shopping? Oh, yes! Shopping experience tells you price range. Who and what are they comparing you to. If you ask where, it doesn't work. They think you're being nosy and pushy. "We'll be back. We just started looking." Is one of the biggest stall techniques out there. Find out the answer up front and diffuse that excuse for leaving.

  • "When was the last time you purchased furniture?" If it's been fifteen or twenty years, we're looking at sticker shock! If "Fred" is going to get catatonic on you, or need oxygen, let's find out now!

There's another big reason you need this answer. Fifteen or twenty years since their last purchase? Guess what? They need more than just a sofa. Lots more!

Everything in the room needs to be replaced. You see they haven't realized this yet. Their "mission" today is to buy a sofa. They think that's all they need. They have not taken into consideration that the moose "Harry" shot in Montana is still over the mantle!

  • "What is your time schedule for completing your new room?" Do not shorten this question to "what is your time frame," or "when do you need it?" It changes the meaning and you don't get the answers you need.

This third question is crucial. You cannot create a sense of urgency for them to get started if you do not know the answer to this question.
Without knowing their time schedule, it's like running a race and not knowing where the finish line is. You become like the Energizer Bunny. You keep going and going, but you're not getting anywhere!

You also need to know if this merchandise is special order. Fifteen years ago they bought a "green one" and put it on the back of a truck. So now they come in to see you after Thanksgiving and they tell you, "We're not in any hurry. We don't need it until Christmas!" Are they in a hurry now? Depending on your delivery time table, they may have to aim for Christmas of next year!

If you don't ask this third question you are going to constantly hear the biggest stall technique on the planet... "we're not ready!"
To ensure pain avoidance, ask this question up front, before you spend hours and days on this project!

If they tell you that they are not in a hurry, then ask them if there is a special event or holiday that they are planning, and would like to have their room complete? (When asked that question that way, most people will come up with an answer).

These three questions and the "people questions" we discussed show them your commitment to assist them. They will set you apart from everyone else in town. You will "outshine" all the other "Stepford Clerks" dwelling in "Clerkdom!" Here's to you!

Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates and "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 finney@furninfo.com.