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How To Make the 'Platinum Rule' A Reality

Furniture World Magazine


Treating customers like they actually want to be treated.

"How to make the 'platinum rule' a reality" is the title of an article by Kim Shaver in the August 24th issue of Furniture Today (pg. 8 ). In the article, she attributes the platinum rule, "Treat customers like they actually want to be treated", to sales trainer Tony Alessandra. The platinum rule requires salespeople to find out how customers really want to be treated, where the golden rule just assumes salespeople should treat customers the way that the salespeople themselves like to be treated as shoppers. New consumer research by HFC and Hearst Magazines shows that the platinum rule will earn store owners more gold than its golden predecessor.

Important benefits result when switching from gold to platinum. Bob Nightengale of HFC was quoted in Shaver's article, "Knowledge about consumer preferences can make the sales interaction better for both salespeople and the customer." Understanding the role of store, brand, salesperson, and price in the buying decision for a given consumer provide the sales staff with what they need to meet the shopper's needs. Catalogues, style sheets, price lists, and product specifications may close one sale but are just "blah, blah, blah" to the next customer who relies on point of sale or television and radio.

HFC research identified six key consumer groups, their demographic characteristics, their shopping habits and their information requirements and preferences. Common sense dictates that knowing what your shopper needs to buy today will make salespeople significantly more effective. All they have to do is know the group to which the next shopper in the door belongs.

This article is about how to make the platinum rule a reality. We not only need to understand the six consumer groups, but we also need strategies that turn this understanding into real gold. We have HFC and Kim Shaver to thank for publicizing this theory. The following strategies about how to implement this theory come from the experiences of UpFront software users. The software supports several different sales management, contact management, and ups rotation management functions. Additionally, one key features is the ability of the software to track and analyze buyer and non-buyers' preferences and objections.

Monthly Drawings: One typical approach is to register shoppers for a monthly drawing. They provide name, address, what brought them to the store and what they are looking for. Cards are filled out by the consumer or the sales person. Using colored cards for each salesperson lets management know who is the most effective information collector and readily identifies to whom the card belongs. For the consumer who does not want to provide their name to the sales person, a blank card can be used. This is less intimidating and increases the chance that they will register for the prize. The unique color will allow the sales staff to separate cards and put a name with the information they already know latter. To gain more insight into your customer have monthly drawings but run six at once, one for each of the six consumer groups. You do not have to give away six prizes per month. Have one or two drawings each month so the consumer groups go in cycles. The consumer identifies themselves by their choice of raffle items or by answering a few key questions. Gift certificates for restaurants, movie theaters, bookstores, malls, groceries and your own store provide a wide range of choices. Consider changing the question that is asked on the card. Instead of what brought you to the store, you might ask: "What question do you have for us?" or "What information can we provide?" ( These are key ways to identify a consumer group )

Give aways: Many local attractions and special events offer discount coupons, buy one, get one free deals, or other promotions. Team up with a non-competing business and promote the fact that you are distributing these coupons in a joint advertising campaign. Use the coupons to have the entry cards filled out.

Training: Train the sales staff in the characteristics of the six key consumer groups and the appropriate approaches to each group. Provide the staff with a "question flowchart" illustrating which questions to ask to classify a shopper into one of the six categories. Train salespeople to engage in conversations that build long term relationships. Have them find out how many apartments or homes the customer has had, what magazines he or she read and used to get ideas, what else the prospect needs before they will make their purchase. Remember that women are relational, while men tend to be transactional. Train salespeople on how to break the ice and build relationships with both groups.

Survey: Survey customers listed in your customer data base. This process can be very elaborate and expensive with business reply envelopes and forms designed to be scanned OR very simple. Drop the survey at the store and pick up a small promotional prize. Ask customers to verify their name and phone and add a couple simple questions designed to classify their attitudes about their last purchase. Summarizing the results provides a profile of your customers that can be easily compared to the profiles of the six key consumer groups.

Automate: There is little point in collecting this information for one time use when the information can be used in so many other effective ways if it is available. UpFront users that have applied these systematic information collection and analysis techniques to their operations have increased sales revenues 25% or more annually. Automation alone did not cause these results but these results were not possible without automation.

No general formula works for every store. However, if we accept the premise that knowing more about our customers will let us serve them better, then we must understand how to find out more about our customers and how to use the information we gather. To take advantage of the platinum rule, stores must know about the six key consumer groups and have a plan to capitalize on that knowledge. Sales training, promotions and give-aways coupled with a disciplined information collection system can turn gold into platinum.

Bill Anderson is President of AAAA Development, LLC.. He holds an MBA from the Dartmouth School of Business and is a Professor of Business Administration at Saint Michael's College in Vermont, where he has taught business and computer science for the last twenty four years. Questions can be addressed to him care of FURNITURE WORLD MAGAZINE at editor@furninfo.com.