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The Threefold Selling Process - Part 3

Furniture World Magazine


After probing and qualifying... stratagize!

Strategizing, a word I coined, consists of selling according to a plan arrived at through probing and qualifying. It is to selling what a map is to getting to a destination. Like a map, the salesperson's plan should be carefully followed, but not rigidly or inflexibly so. No plan is an end in itself; it is only a means to an end and should be modified as the situation warrants. The plan I like most is the principle of three. Customers most often buy only what they feel is "best." The word best is a superlative. Its comparative form is "better". Its positive form is "good". Customers buy what they perceive to be good or better only when they are given no choice between products. We've all had the following type of experience as salespeople: A family moves to town. They absolutely have to have a refrigerator. Your store is about to close. All the others have. You don't quite have what that family wants, but it's 110 degrees outside. The family makes the purchase. In this case, the customers look at what they already have... no refrigerator. That is not good. The refrigerator they buy is both good and better. Good because it can basically do what a refrigerator should do. Better because something is better than nothing.

Customers who buy what is better rather than best are rarely satisfied for long. They are compelled to buy within a drawback. What is a drawback? It is a condition attached to a purchase which both the buyer and the seller wish were not present. For example, a customer just loves a dining room. They must have it in time for Thanksgiving. The need, although an emotional one, outweighs all the other benefits the customer would get were he to wait. Remember that the emotions are the mainsprings of conduct. That was the flaw in Learning International Inc.'s method of handling the drawback. They thought that the proper way to handle the drawback was to remind the customer of the available benefits he did like in the product. I pointed out that the draw-back, a much weightier emotional need, outweighed the available benefits the customer had accepted. Learning International Inc. has since made the necessary changes in its system.

John Lawhon is certainly correct when he states two things: customers buy what is "best"; customers buy when the benefits exceed the price. Notice he did not write that customers buy when the benefits equal the price. We might consider the analogy of placing our money in the bank. We do so only when we can draw interest on our money. The end result must exceed what we place in the bank. A second analogy is that of farming. No farmer plants an ear of corn to get another ear of corn. The harvest must always exceed the value of the seeds planted. Buyers operate under the same philosophy. They will not ordinarily part with their money to get what equals their money. Implicit in every customer's expression "It's worth the price," is "It's a bargain." Every sale takes place only when the customer thinks he's getting a bargain. There are, of course, degrees of bargains.

It stands to reason that if the idea of "best" is the superlative based on three (good, better, best), then buyers tend to buy only when they believe they have found the best. Not only must it be better than what they now have; it must be better than anything else they have seen in one store, two stores, or more. That is the meaning of comparison shopping. The principle of three should be the natural outgrowth of putting together a selling strategy that must by necessity grow out of probing and qualifying.

I am firmly convinced that rarely does the salesperson get enough information at the entrance of the store to determine, even after his initial probing and qualifying, just what strategy based on the principle of three to follow. Only after the customer has looked around a bit, always under the unobtrusive guidance of the salesperson, should the salesperson begin to probe and qualify further so as to plan his strategy of three so that only one of three items will stand out as best. Unless the salesperson's best is better than what the customer has seen elsewhere, the customer will go on shopping. Anytime a salesperson hears the words, "I'm sure I'll be back; this is the first store I've been to," he should be convinced that the customer does not intend to be back. It would be like a man telling his fiancee, "I'm sure I'm going to marry, but I'd like to shop around."

The strategy based on the principle of three is the surest way to successful selling, despite the variables in the degree of difficulty in applying that strategy to areas like bedding versus upholstered and case goods where style and color play much more significant roles.

The three-fold selling process we discussed in the November (Maslow), December (Probing) and January (Qualifying) should be mastered by every salesperson. The alternative to mastering this process is blind selling that relies on unfounded assumptions about customers and what causes them to buy. This process calls for repeated hard work or practice. Indeed what has been said of managing may apply to selling too: Neither one calls for study and practice until you are asked to do them professionally.

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.