This article, which illustrates the "thinking process" established by the Simmons "Mattress Business Academy" is the first in a series of articles by Ron Wolinski, Manager of Simmons Education.
The way business is conducted today, has changed dramatically from just a few years ago. Whether we are working in a wholesale or retail environment, doesn't matter. Expectations of our customers have been raised significantly. We all must be more knowledgeable, better prepared and understand the dynamics of communication and the interaction between people. We all must be counselors, consultants and partners rather than sales people or "pitchmen."
The philosophies that the Simmons "Academy" endorses and preaches to our marketing representatives to work with our dealers, are the exact same principles that can help the retail consultant be successful with the consumer. We must understand the role of the customer and the role of the professional home furnishings consultant. "I've been in the furniture industry since 1975 and the role and attitude of the consumer hasn't changed. If we are going to be successful we must clearly understand their role and attitudes so we know what we are dealing with." Research through focus groups administered by the Market Research Bureau, American Furniture Manufacturer's Association and the NHFA haven't changed over the years. The retail customer doesn't enjoy shopping for home furnishings. The store intimidates them. They're afraid of making an expensive mistake. Choosing a product is too confusing. everything is over-priced. They don't trust the retail salesperson. They can't tell quality construction. We have a challenging opportunity to show how good we can be.
The first principle we need to remember is that we are in a "people business" and that the customer is a human being with values, feelings, experiences, needs and problems. The customer enters the store with objectives they need to accomplish as well as all those attitudes and mind-sets. Once we understand these customer issues, we must clearly understand our role as a professional home furnishings consultant. Our role is to eliminate all these negative attitudes through our approach and performance. We must establish a different relationship. We must establish an attitude of trust, empathy and rapport with our customer. We don't want a sales personcustomer relationship. We must be providers of answers and solutions to the customer's needs. We must be problem solvers and advisors, not "pitchmen" trying to make a sale. We must be "customer focused," and concentrate on what's important to the customer and not what is important to us. Remember, the customer buys for their reasons, not ours. Our goal should be to help our "client" make an informed "investment" decision based on solid information. Research has indicated that buying home furnishings, whether it's bedding, case goods or upholstery, is confusing, difficult and not enjoyable. We must make the investment process easy, simple and enjoyable. We can accomplish this by understanding the "Communication Cycle."
If we are to be "communicators," it's important to understand that there is, in my opinion, a communication cycle, and know where we are at in this cycle at all times. We need to be organized, clear in our approach and know what we need to accomplish, so we don't confuse our customer. This cycle is not static, it is dynamic. it is always in process no matter who we are having a dialogue with. Where am I in this process? Do I know where to go next?
The first part, which deals with gathering information through proper probing is critical to being a successful consultant. This is the "needs analysis" that all consultants complete in order to provide an answer or solution to the need or problem. It also illustrates your care and concern for the customer. This is where you establish a dialogue with your customer. Communication is a "two-way street."
If you're doing all of the talking, communication is not happening, and you may not find out what's important to the customer.
The second step is building empathy and rapport with your customer. Once you understand your customer's goals, objectives, needs and/or problems, you'll want to establish a comfortable working relationship. Using support statements is a good way to establish that you not only understand their needs or problems, but you can appreciate their feelings because you've experienced those things yourself, and/or many people have echoed those same thoughts. You should agree with their need, then provide a benefit of your product that solves that specific need. You are now counseling, not "pitching."
The third phase of our "cycle" is to identify your customer's attitudes. This is extremely important since there is a different approach for each attitude. By the way, these attitudes can change throughout your dialogue with your "client." If the customer accepts a benefit that you provide, you continue to probe for more needs and offer additional specific benefits that solve those needs. If the customer is indifferent, he/she may see no need for your product due to a lack of understanding. You then probe to uncover unrealized needs. If you encounter skepticism, in other words, the customer doesn't accept the benefit of your product as you have explained, offer a proof source to establish your credibility as a professional. "Talk is cheap," take your dialogue into the "world of fact." It will set you apart from your competition. if the customer objects to your benefit, such as price objection, minimize the objection by illustrating "price equals value." You accomplish this by introducing additional benefits that together outweigh the one objection. This is the total offer concept of selling price.
The cycle is completed when you've found the correct product for your customer. You've provided the "solution" to their needs or problem. You've helped them accomplish their goals. This can be called the close. Here you should summarize only the important benefits to the customer and make their decision easier. Remember, they don't know the product as you do. You then ask for the order based on all of these accepted benefits.
Now you truly have been a consultant and counselor. you understand the role of the customer, your role, and the communication process that you've completed. Don't forget, probe, don't pitch.
Ron Wolinski is Manager of Simmons Education. Questions can be sent to Ron care of FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.