What can salespeople do and say during the selling sequence to maintain the trust of their customers?
People who teach public speaking know the importance of ethos. The word ethos in this context stands for character, especially with those elements of character having to do with credibility and trust. It stands to reason that in order to gain the credibility and trust of their audience, public speakers must come off as credible and trustworthy.
Although salespeople are not public speakers, their job requires a lot of speaking. So what can salespeople do and say during the selling sequence – on the phone, on the floor, and for some salespeople, in the customer’s home – to win the customer’s credibility and trust?
IMPORTANCE OF PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE
To start with, let’s talk about product knowledge. This article won’t attempt to improve on what John F. Lawhon has done par excellence in his book, Selling Retail. I’ll simply give the essence of his “Five Groups of Knowledge” without listing each one of the groups. Suffice it to say that the salesperson should have specialized knowledge about such things as a store’s products. Salespeople need to understand that the words, “You can learn a lot from a dummy” are only true when applied to the dummies used in the automobile industries’ crash-test programs. And while the words, “You can never know too much about your products, but you can talk too much about them,” make a lot of sense, those words were never meant to keep lazy salespeople from learning all they can about their products. After all, product knowledge is a lot like the tools in an expert’s tool box. The expert uses some of those tools every day; others he uses once or twice a month; still others once a year. But when a customer needs tool “Z”, on a given occasion, tool “Z” becomes the most important tool in the box. Tools “A” to “Y” won’t do the job. This happens to fit in perfectly with the following saying: “It is better to be prepared for something to happen and not have it happen, than not to be prepared for something to happen and then have it happen.” (Those of you who are interested in finding some excellent tools for learning general furniture product knowledge should refer to the listing of product knowledge guides and books published by FURNITURE WORLD Magazine in this issue.)
The same hold true for the remaining groups of knowledge. Without specialized knowledge, from time to time the salesperson is bound to lose both credibility and trust.
What else can cause the salesperson to lose credibility and trust? Lots of things. Let’s talk about a few of them.
OVER-PROMISE AND UNDER-DELIVER
One way to lose credibility and trust is to over-promise and under-deliver. Let’s say that within two weeks a customer needs a sofa she has seen, whatever her reason. The salesperson knows he cannot deliver the sofa in less than six weeks. Poorly trained in handling a drawback, he decides to lie. He tells the customer he can surely meet that due date. He has over-promised, and in virtually every case like this one, he will under-deliver. As a result, the salesperson’s credibility and the trust fly right out the window.
NOT DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
Another thing that often loses credibility and trust is poor attire, especially since most customers end up being stuck with the salesperson they chance to get. Let’s say a customer enters the store and gets a salesperson whose attire matches the fabric of a soiled mattress left in an alley on skid row. This customer is looking for a salesperson that truly understands which colors blend and which don’t. What are the chances that this customer will believe the salesperson when he or she says anything resembling the following? “Lady, that sofa is going to be a knockout in your living room. You’re going to love it” Yeah. Sure.
TELLING YOUR CUSTOMER WHAT MATTERS
Let’s take one final example. An engineer comes into the sleep shop looking for a mattress. She quickly finds the mattress she likes, but when she asks the salesperson for some specs about the mattress, the salesperson sarcastically replies, “Customers don’t buy specs. Only one thing matters: Is the mattress comfortable?”
Well, this particular salesperson, besides being rude, made the capital sin of selling – telling the customer what matters. That’s not the salesperson’s role; that’s the customer’s role.
By the way, should someone find these examples farfetched, let me assure you that these situations and much worse happen every day in the world of retail furniture sales. And these behaviors translate directly into sub-par closing percentages.
So what can sales managers do to help their salespeople improve their ethos? They can be active coaches. By that I mean that they should continuously point out selling behaviors that do not encourage sales. They should also provide constructive advice and make tools available to help salespeople to build sales skills, general and specific product knowledge. That, my friends, will surely enhance their credibility, build trust in their abilities and positively impact your bottom line.
Trainer, educator and group leader Dr. Peter A. Marino writes extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. He has deep experience as a top salesman, sales manager, corporate trainer and consultant. Dr. Marino has undergraduate degrees in English and philosophy and a Ph. D. in ancient Greek and Latin. His books include “The Golden Rules of Selling Bedding”, “Stop Losing Those Bedding Sales” and “It’s Buying, Silly!” available through FURNITURE WORLD. Questions can be sent to Peter Marino at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read all of Dr. Marino’s articles on furninfo.com in the Sales Skill article archive.