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Using Bon Mots

Furniture World Magazine


Use bon mots. Those clever or witty responses that are thought provoking without being caustic or hurtful.

Amidst the sound advice on selling which abounds in Brian Tracy's books and tapes are his "silver bullets," as he terms them. Tracy describes "silver bullets" as those well-timed and appropriate replies that salespeople come up with during the moments of truth all salespeople face with customers in the form of objections or other things customers do or say that often stall the progress of the sale. At other times these "silver bullets" are excellent statements to help spice up the selling sequence to add a little seasoning to an otherwise insipid presentation. Brian Tracy believes that salespeople should be armed with "silver bullets" for all of these moments of truth.

Silver bullets, at least as Brian Tracy sees them, are in no way to be understood as the kind of remarks customers find offensive. Rather, silver bullets are to be understood as witty without being caustic. I prefer to call them bon mots, a phrase our language has borrowed from French to denote well chosen witty statements. The following are some of the bon mots I've either used myself or heard other salespeople use during my years of selling furniture on sales floors in Texas, California, Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota. Most of these bon mots are effective with every category of furniture; some of them are effective only with specific categories, like mattresses. I say mattresses instead of sleepsets because I no longer use the latter term with customers. After years of trying to undo what the manufacturers and our ads have understandably done to fix the word mattresses in the minds of our customers, I have given up using the word sleepset on the sales floor. Customers just don't seem comfortable with the word sleepset, probably because the manufacturing plants themselves are called mattress factories and our ads proclaim it mattress sales." Besides, I've yet to hear a customer ask to see our sleepsets even when I've sold in so-called "sleep centers." Therefore, like the Greek gods, I too am resigned not to fight against necessity. After that lengthy digression, here is my list of bon mots.


Whenever the customer says something like, "I'd just like to look, if you don't mind," or "I'm just looking," you might reply with, "Thank you for choosing our store. Mind If I check back later to answer any questions you might have?" That's a lot better than the "lead bullet," "We don't charge for that!" Also, in getting permission to check back, it's better, I believe, not to say "a little later," since the addition of "a little" might suggest that you are anxious to pounce on the customer the first chance you get. Requesting permission to check back makes a lot better sense than assuming such permission. By the way, the salespeople we've taught to ask for the customer's permission report that customers rarely refuse that permission.


Some of our stores are in malls or shopping centers. There, salespeople often hear customers say things like the following: "I was doing my laundry next door and thought I'd kill some time." Despite the impulse to express your own thoughts about homicide, say the following instead: "I really appreciate your letting me know that. As long as you're here, would you mind if I showed up later to answer any of your questions?"


Sometimes the best silver bullets are the ones customers use. When that happens, give them a gracious smile and show you're a good sport.

For example, at times when I tell my customers that the mattress they're about to buy will only cost them about a dime a night, they reply: "And can I pay for it that way?" Whenever I hear that reply, I simply smile and say, "You got me there." Customers appreciate a good sport.


Here's a good one to use especially in stores with a very wide selection. Early in the sale, point out your store's wide selection (if they don't point it out first) and say: "We give you all these choices, but you do the choosing." Remember, America was built on freedom of choice.


Especially when you are selling mattresses, turn to your customers and say, "We want you to take your time in our store. No matter how long you take to make your choice here, it is only a fraction of the time you'll end up sleeping on your mattress." By the way, this is also an excellent assumed close.


Ask first. Then talk specs. Not too long ago, a successful mattress salesman shared something that should have been obvious to me. He said: "Peter, guess what I discovered?" When I asked what that was, he replied: "For some time now I've talked specs with my customers without knowing if they really cared. Now I ask them first if they want to hear those specs."

"How do you ask about that?" I said. He answered: "I look them straight in the eye and tell them I know everything about my mattresses inside and out." "Then what do you say?" I asked. "Well, I tell them that if they think it's important, I'll go over anything they'd like to know about the mattress or the boxspring. You'd be surprised how often that has helped me avoid talking about features they couldn't care less about!" A wise consultant once wrote that you can never know too much about your product but you can certainly tell too much about what you know.


I have found the following to be a wonderful bon mot to jump-start comfort selling: "I know my mattresses; you know your comfort level. With your cooperation we can find your comfort level right away. Would you please get on these two mattresses to see which one you find more comfortable? Thank you."


Whenever a customer tells you that he has bought from your store before, acknowledge that admission with something like the following: "Thank you for letting me know that. It's nice to know I'm working with a friend. I'll do my best to make you a happy customer one more time."


A favorite bon mot of mine was taught me by one of my customers. When you are working with a customer who seems to really like one of your products but appears hesitant because of price, you might want to use the following statement: "When you buy quality you cry only once." When you say that, observe the customer's expression as the wisdom of that statement hits home. With most customers it hits home quickly; with others it takes only several seconds longer. But once it does hit home, observe how their eyes light up, and even twinkle.

Another version of the bon mot we just mentioned is as follows: "The bitterness of price is soon forgotten while the sweetness of a good purchase lingers on and on."

A corollary of this is the following: "The sweetness of a good price often turns into the bitterness of a poor purchase."


The sharpest bon mot is the one I heard my friend Sean use with a customer who asked him if he matched prices. With a great smile and a twinkle in his eyes, he replied: "Only if they're higher."

Look for other bon mots in books by such authors as Friedman, Lawhon, and Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and others, and in the timely sayings of other salespeople with whom you work. Remember, they are only bon mots when they are clever or witty or thought provoking without being caustic or hurtful. Such bon mots can be especially useful on those days when you are challenged to walk on water, for as author Herb Cohen wrote, "The secret of walking on water is knowing where the stones are." For while there is no script for being a salesperson, the best salespeople seem to have an uncanny ability for coming up with the right script. Work hard at it so that you too can learn to say it right.

Trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at finney@furninfo.com.