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Sales Wit And Wisdom

Furniture World Magazine


Don't make 'em drink; make 'em thirsty... Don't sell 'em and empty box... Don't fight 'em; join 'em... Make 'em glad, not mad or scared.

Half a century has passed since Elmer Wheeler, called America's greatest salesman in his day, came up with what came to be known as the Wheeler Points of Selling. In this article I'd like to revisit four of those points and add a fifth from Michael Le Boeuf's book, "How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life."

The first of the Wheeler Points is "Don't make 'em drink; make 'em thirsty." The thinking behind that directive is that customers will "drink" only when they are thirsty enough.

There is an interesting analogy to this I'd like to offer based on the practice of some African tribesman whenever they first capture a monkey by an ingenious method. They place some nuts in the hollow of a tree to entice the monkey to reach in with its paw to extract the bait. The opening to the hollow is large enough for the monkey to insert its open paw but not large enough for the animal to extract its paw once it is clutching the nuts. The monkey could easily let go of the bait and pull its hand out, but its appetite for the nuts prevents it from doing so. That allows the tribesman to feed it a heavy dose of highly salted food. After several days of this they release the monkey whose avid thirst forces it to go in search of water. By following the monkey, the tribesmen find out where there is water. They don't make the monkey drink; they make it thirsty.

How can salespeople make their customers thirsty? By first finding out what their customers want by asking open ended questions like, "Mind telling me a little about the room you'll be putting your new sofa and love seat in?" or, "Mind telling me what's wrong with your mattress?" Second, by listening carefully without ever interrupting until you feel you have a clear understanding of the customer's concerns so that you can offer solutions or opportunities. Remember this truism: the more you listen and get your customers to talk, the smarter you'll appear to them. Third, when you listen to your customer's concerns, listen for their desires, a word sparks. No wonder some of those veteran salespeople were fond of the jingle, "Fan the fires of their desires and you'll not fail to make the sale." An excellent way to fan those fires is to demonstrate your products keeping in mind the principle of "Not shown when told remains unsold." Fourth, find out your customer's fears, then confirm those fears as needs with a closed probe. For example, if the customer expresses a fear about ending up with a fabric that won't wear adequately, you might say, "What I hear you saying is you insist on being sure that this fabric will last long before you invest in this sofa. Is that it?" As you probe for customer fears, keep in mind that the customers' fear of loss is greater than their desire for gain. You simply cannot get customers to act on their desire for gain until you have put to rest their fear about loss. Fifth, put your customer in the spotlight. Make 'em big; make yourself little. Customers do not care how much you care about them. Sixth, keep in mind the four basic human needs: the need to feel important, the need to feel appreciated, the need to feel liked, and the need to follow the path of the least resistance which Elmer Wheeler expressed as the need to save steps. The best, the easiest, and the surest way to honor your customer's four basic needs is by acknowledging what they tell you. You acknowledge by proper eye contact, by attentive listening, and by making acknowledging statements. These are psychological bridges you build between yourself and the customer, which are referred to as rapport, empathy, bonding, and relationships. Recently a salesperson shared with me an example of her acknowledging. She told me how her customer, while in her store, suddenly exclaimed; "Take a look at all this furniture. It just makes me drool!" The salesperson took full advantage of that statement by acknowledging it with a touch of humor: "It is great furniture, isn't it. What you just said about the furniture making you drool reminds me of why we all need to have our upholstery treated to protect against stains." Not only did she go on to sell the furniture; she also sold the fabric protection.

The second of the Wheeler Points of Selling is. "Don't sell'em an empty box." I'd like to apply this Wheeler Point to the technique of preventive selling. It is designed to help prevent overselling and underselling one's products, each of which cause customers to end up with an empty box. The way not to fall into either trap is to match product features and store services to customer needs. I call that BENEFEATURING, a term I coined to describe the supporting of customer needs with related benefits. Benefeaturing should be practiced not only during the sale but after it. Too often salespeople promise customers a delivery date their company can't possibly meet. As a result, customers end up feeling duped. The way to prevent that from happening is to under promise and over deliver.

The third Wheeler Point of Selling is "Get in step with 'em" or "Don't fight 'em; join 'em." This third point can be especially helpful in handling customer objections and not trying to overcome them. Too many selling systems continue to discuss "overcoming" objections. "Overcome" suggests an adversarial situation. How should salespeople handle objections? By looking upon all objections as implied needs. Whenever the customer says, "This is more than I wanted to spend," don't begin to argue with the customer with a 'but' statement. ("But it's well worth the price, Sir"). Instead, win agreement. You might say something like the following: "What I really hear you saying is that you have no intention of paying more than you have to." Nod as you tell the customer that. You'll find that your customer will generally nod along with you, a sign that you have won agreement. Then go on to review how your product's benefits provide your customer with a value that exceeds the price you are asking.

The fourth Wheeler Point of Selling is, "Make 'em part of the act." If Wheeler were alive today, he'd probably fit his fourth point into the idea of relationship selling. Relationship selling goes beyond the fuzzy cuddling up to customers and into involving them in the selling process. One example of this is a formula I developed for starting off a bedding sale. After the initial greeting, finding out who the sleepset is for and the size, the salesperson might say: "I know bedding inside out, but I don't know your comfort level. With your cooperation we'll find that out easily enough." One woman customer I told that to immediately answered: "I know what you mean. It's your knowledge and my back." The truth of what she said went further than she intended, for I believe all of selling involves "their backs" and our knowledge. "Their backs" symbolize their needs; our knowledge stands for whatever information they need from us to make the best buying decision, as John Lawhon puts it. We do this by involving customers in the selling process. One salesman I knew did that from the outset of the sale. Once he had greeted the customer, he didn't ask what they were looking for, instead he asked, "What are we looking for today?" nor did he ask the feeble "How can I help you?" He knew better. He'd let the customer know up front that it was he who needed their help. "Would you mind helping me out a little?" Then he'd ask an open probe or two to uncover their "secrets" as he called them, or "the need behind the need" as Learning International, Inc. refers to this. Little gets customers to reveal those secrets as much as involving them in the sale. Have them lie on your mattresses, sit in your chairs, feel the hand of a fabric, sketch the basic dimensions of a room, touch a smoothly finished surface, smell the fragrance of your tanned leathers, listen to the silence of a recliner's mechanism or to the marvelous sound of its ratchet system. Involve, involve, involve. That's how learning takes place and it's also how sales take place.

I'd like to add a fifth point of selling which I feel may well serve as a summary of Wheeler Points. It's the directive from Michael Le Boeuf's book, "How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life": "Make 'em glad, not mad, or scared. Le Boeuf's directive is a consummate formula for successful selling. Note the insets which list "Things that make 'em glad" and "Things that make 'em mad, sad, or scared:

Revisit with Elmer Wheeler as often as you can. His Wheeler Points can help you to consistently end up with satisfied customers,. That is... customers who are glad.

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.