Create urgency and they buy. Pressure them and they walk.
Recently I read a statement attesting to the conviction that salespeople who persistently ask for the order even rudely, will regularly close more sales than the courteous salesperson who habitually does not ask for the sale. While I share that conviction, I would not encourage my readers to conclude that what we need in our stores is a cadre of rude persistent closers. Rather I would encourage stores to hire courteous salespeople who persistently ask for the sale.
Is it realistic to look for salespeople who ask for the sale courteously and persistently? I believe it is, provided we truly understand the distinction between applying pressure and promoting urgency. Interestingly the Latin URGENS from which our word urgency derives was synonymous in classical Rome with our word pressure. Only in post classical Latin did the word urgency begin also to become synonymous with persuasion, another of our countless Latin derivatives. Persuasion in its root meaning contained the meaning of sweet, pleasant, agreeable, delightful and even grateful.
After much consideration regarding the distinction between pressure and urgency, and no significant help from any author on the subject, I have concluded the following. Customers react favorably to salespeople who promote urgency rather than to those who apply pressure, because urgency is felt by the customer from within; pressure from without. In terms meaningful to all those who believe in the validity of need satisfaction selling, customers look upon urgency as a felt need for buying, a need based on their own reasons and not those of another. They look upon pressure as a force applied to them from the outside, a force based on reasons put forth by the salesperson and (more often than not) not based on their reasons.
Whether the pressure felt by the customer comes from the salesperson, an ad, a manager, an owner or a manufacturer, it never per se grows out of the customer's reasons for buying, namely the customer's felt need. For that reason all the salesperson's attempts to pressure the customer usually fail to leave the customer feeling sweet, pleasant, agreeable, delightful and grateful.
Therein lies the inherent shortcoming of the buy now well known FAB approach to selling, the acronym of course standing for features, advantages and benefits. In this article I'd like to call particular attention to the word advantages.
The FAB approach was especially fond of pointing out the key advantages of features such as the greater density of oak over pine. Many salespeople, including this author, have been led down the crooked lane of selling because of that noting of oak's greater density. The conclusion should be that the feature of greater density is to be viewed as an advantage only when the customer is in need of the benefit of oak's greater density. Unless such a customer shows up, the feature of oak's greater density remains only an abstract advantage doomed never to rise to the level of a benefit. The word advantage, one of the toughest words I have ever had to analyze, denotes position as seen in the game of tennis where it points to one player's being closer to winning than his or her opponent.
Years ago when I was salesperson for a furniture store in Santa Clara, California, my failure to understand that advantages remain abstract unless the right customer shows up, cost me a sale. One day the owner of that store, as was his practice, went over the items in the ad. With the greatest of excitement he pointed out an oak Early American bedroom set in which he had made an especially good buy and had decided to sell at fifty percent off. His excitement became my excitement. That morning a woman came into the store looking for an Early American bedroom set. "Aha!" I thought, "This is my lucky day and hers. (Note how I thought of myself first). "Ma'am", I exclaimed enthusiastically, "I can't wait to show you the opportunity of a lifetime. Please follow me". With that I led her to that Early American marvel. When we arrived at the vignette in which it was displayed I trumpeted: "Violà! There it is". The woman with the greatest disdain, replied: "I hate oak. Pine is the wood I love." Several vignettes of pine Early American bedroom sets later, The woman failed to be impressed with any of them. "Can I get any of these at the same price as the oak set?" she inquired. Of course she couldn't and I fell, another victim of a drawback I might have prevented.
All of us have been repeatedly told that customers don't buy features, they buy benefits. We should also be told repeatedly that customers don't buy advantages in the abstract: double doweling, tempered steel, no interest payments, and on and on. If we want to be technical about it, customers do not buy abstract benefits as such either, that is what features can do for customers. Each one buys only what a feature can do for his or her felt need. It must be felt. You see, a car that can get fifty miles to a gallon, can get fifty miles to a gallon for any purchaser. But only the one who feels a need for a car that can deliver fifty miles to a gallon will appreciate that feature. Perhaps we should always insist that a benefit is not only a value for a customer, but a felt value. This is the reason why I am fond of the acronym WIIFM: What's in it for me?
All the pressure from the outside will ultimately prove non productive unless we set pressure aside and try instead to promote urgency. "You can lead a horse to a trough but you cannot force it to drink" is an old saying. The intent of that saying is not to give up on leading the horse to the trough but to make sure the horse is thirsty before we do so. Urgency does just that. It first finds out how thirsty our customers are for our features. That it does through probing. Then and only then it works on supporting a customer's specific needs.
Ironically we salespeople might learn something from the clerks at 31 Flavors. I've never heard any of them tell a customer to try a given flavor. Instead all of them ask, "Which flavor would you like?" Granted theirs is an infinitely easier job of selling than ours. Nevertheless, their approach to satisfying customer needs is consistently more successful than ours. Why? Because in their own unconscious way those clerks know that it is unwise to guess at what a customer's preference in taste is. DE GUSTIBUS NON EST DISPUTANDUM, now the Latin dictum: One must never argue about taste. The French in their normally brief manner, express the same thought. CHACUN A SON GOUT. The next time some manufacturer's rep brags about the advantages of his or her product, ask: "How do we know the customer will appreciate that advantage."
Earlier we pointed out that advantage is a term used in tennis to denote one player's being closer to winning a match. In the game of selling we'd all be well advised to get in the habit of saying, "advantage customer." We shall always work towards the advantage of our customers when we set aside the use of pressure and instead promote urgency.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.