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Fine Art Of The Retail Sales Presentation

Furniture World Magazine


A tale of four customers and four presentations.

Sales Education by Cathy Finney

“All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts...” For all of you who live in the World of Home Furnishings, William Shakespeare’s words should have special meaning. The showroom floor is your stage. When you are with a customer, it is your time to shine, to find your voice and star in your own production. Your performance is what sets you apart from lesser salespeople and from the clerks sitting in other furniture stores up and down the block. Lewis Carbone, CEO of Experience Engineering, nails it when he points out, “We need a huge shift from ‘make and sell’ to creating powerful experiences. Creating experiences is fun. The hard stuff of satisfying customers isn’t.”

When we first started in this business, most of us were taught one way of presenting products to our customers. One way, the same way, all the time, to each and every UP that walked through our door.

Fast forward to NOW. As Margi Kyle pointed out in her article in the August/September 2006 issue of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine (posted to the article archives on www.furninfo.com). “People don’t want product. They want personality.” Personality with an attitude! They want to be delighted and excited about their choices. They’ve spent the price of admission (their valuable time) to attend your performance with the hope of finding a solution. But, they also want to be entertained in the process. They want to be delighted and excited about their choices. They want to be involved emotionally. They want to feel that they are listened to, and that their concerns, hopes and dreams are valued.

Your performance needs to be about feelings and fun! Playing to your customers’ emotions should be customized for maximum appeal. That is why today, presentations are about product, personality, psychology, and (for some) pizazz!
Chris Denove co-author of “Satisfaction: How Every Great Company Listens to the Voice of the Customer,” says that, “there is a direct correlation between how well you listen to your clients and how well you are ultimately able to satisfy those clients. You need to analyze VOC (Voice of the Customer.)”

Jeanne Bliss, author of “Chief Customer Officer,” puts it this way, “You’ve got to do reliability first. Then, you’ve earned the right to do more.” The “Doing more” part takes the form of partnering with customers as their personal consultant. It is what sets you apart as a professional.

Danny Meyer runs four of the most popular restaurants in New York City. He has spent more than 20 years mastering what it takes to deliver a first-class customer experience. In his new book, “Setting the Table: The Power of Hospitality in Restaurants, Business, and Life,” he writes, “One of the real keys for success is understanding the difference between service and hospitality. Service is how well something is done technically; hospitality is how well something feels emotionally. We’re at the dawn of the ‘hospitality economy,’ and the companies that are going to prevail realize it’s the quality of the emotional experience that sets them apart. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any transaction.”

In “Think Like Your Customer,” Bill Stinnett emphasizes the importance of knowing, “What goals are your clients trying to establish? What are some of the client’s major obstacles in achieving these goals? What sort of urgency is there for your client? Instead of selling a product or a service, sales consultants should be selling a business result. They need to recognize that customers buy products and services to accomplish a goal or objective.”

So, given the overwhelming evidence that every customer is different, why were many of us taught to present in a standard way? That’s because professional salespeople must learn everything about their products, the fundamentals of interior design and all the services and benefits that their company brings to the marketplace. The process of learning all of this information is the same for the sales associate as it is for an actor learning his or her lines. The difference between a professional actor and an amateur is in the quality of the performance and in the rapport that is established with the audience. The same is true for those of us who sell home furnishings.

The four sample customer interactions described below, follow a fictional sales associate “Amanda” as she gives prepared “board” presentations to four different types of customers on a typical Thursday.

It was all Greek to them

Amanda had trouble with her first presentation. Empty-nesters, George and Martha recently downsized from a four-bedroom home to a condominium. They were overwhelmed, overwrought, and their brains were overloaded. They were living in the “land of the lost.”

After her first meeting with them, Amanda prepared a “board”. You know, a presentation board on which every detail was displayed and mounted brilliantly. She fussed, fixed every fabric and every picture so that George and Martha’s new room would come to life on her canvas. She made sure that the colors popped. The mixture of fabrics, patterns and textures flowed. She created a palette that was truly a work of art! Yes, it looked great. Everything was included down to the last lamp, and leaf of greenery. How could they not love everything that she had worked so hard to create? After all, she spent hours making her selections “based on what they told her.”

But as George and Martha took in her creation, their eyes glazed over, and they took on the appearance of deer in the headlights. They were scared. Martha’s thoughts were all running together:

“What is ALL this? What goes where? It’s too much blue. I thought I wanted blue! How many fabrics are up there? What is going on? Is my room that bad that we need ALL this? It’s too much. I don’t think I like it.”

George looked like he was going to need oxygen . He was thinking one thought over and over again: “How much is all this going to cost?”

Amanda began to realize that something had gone terribly wrong. Her flawless presentation of “Medea” in the original Greek was playing poorly to an unsophisticated audience. Amanda was the center of attention, but she could feel George and Martha inching toward the exit.

A much “safer” approach for this type of consumer would have been to skip the fancy presentation and show them each one of her ideas, furniture and fabrics, one sample at a time. She could have explained why she selected what she selected, “based on what they told her,” and then asked for their opinion and how they felt about it.

This format is a win-win for everyone.

  •  It gets them involved immediately.
  • Amanda would learn how they “felt” about what they were being shown.
  • It would have enabled her to address any objections right there on the spot.
  • It would have been easier for her to justify her selections and control the presentation.
  • George and Martha would have been able to touch and handle those fabrics. They probably wanted to know just what they were getting.

This is the “Hold their hand approach.” It is what this type of customer needs and wants.

They were looking for security, and wanted to know that their selection was safe. They needed lots of reassurance. Amanda needed to let them know, “I’ll be with you every step of the way.” THAT is what they want to hear.

Center Stage

Heather and Justin had a better experience. Heather was a Director of Public Relations and Justin was vice president of sales for a publishing house. They told Amanda that they enjoyed entertaining friends and associates in their home.
They were obviously interested in creating a room that would convey status and they wanted the design process to be entertaining.

Amanda prepared a “board” for them as well. They loved what she created “just for them” for the whole world to see. They were in their element. They were center stage!
The presentation board included all the elements of design and brought their room to life.

Heather and Justin wanted to touch the fabrics. Even carry them around the showroom. This was their moment to shine. Amanda was the stage manager, who presented her audience with script and stage. They basked in the power of their own performance. They felt it, touched it and then owned it.

No Time For a curtain call

Amanda’s third customer presentation to Carter and Constance went smoothly as well. He was the CEO of a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical company. She was a high-powered attorney. Time was their enemy. Amanda knew this from their first rushed meeting and had everything set-up, on display, and ready to go.

This was the only presentation of the day in which she did not “romance” anything. They just didn’t have time to hear it, and could have cared less. Amanda told them what she prepared by showing them the display board, quickly.

She remembered her A-B-C’s and kept her presentation Abridged, Brief, & Concise. She bottom-lined it, gave them the “net, net.” They don’t have the time, the patience or the inclination to hear about anything else.

Amanda also used some hot button words, such as great investment, save time, accrue/amortize and authorize. She played to their egos by saying, “I know how valuable your time is, so let’s get started. Everything is ready for you to see. Let’s go.”

The critical review

Before Amanda went home for the day, she met with Evan and Catherine. He was an architectural engineer for city planning in Seattle. She was a chemist for Drugs R Us, Inc.

Amanda soon found out that with this couple, the board she prepared became theirs. Evan and Catherine needed to examine each fabric, fiber, filament and photo with a magnifying glass.

They asked her to explain when microfibre was developed and to define its longevity. They wanted to know why so many fabrics were used in one room. They had to touch every fabric and each wood sample twice.

Amanda used an entire table to lay out her presentation board, fabrics and anything else that was not nailed down. They literally pulled her presentation board apart.

Amanda knew that it was important to use the hot button words, logic, accuracy and value with this couple. She added the phrases, “This is the most logical choice for you,” and “The most accurate way for you to go is . . .”

Customers like Evan and Catherine can make any sales associate feel like they are ready for early retirement, because they always have trouble making a decision.

This type of customer will “shop you” everywhere... other furniture stores, other distribution channels, and on the internet because they are afraid they will miss something. Their disease is known as “Paralysis by Over Analysis.”

Past experience told Amanda that she needed to pin this couple down to a decision, to get their room started. She knew that once she started their room, she was likely to be the person who would finish it for them. So she told them, ”Your time is much too valuable to keep looking. You know this is a good quality sofa at a great value. Let’s go. Let’s get your new room started.”


Each time you take center stage, your performance should be unique. It should be your own, your voice, your “script” based on who “Ethel” is and what she wants to create.

Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates\”T ‘N T.” She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Questions on any aspect of sales training or sales management can be sent to Cathy care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at finney@furninfo.com . You can also post a message to any FURNITURE WORLD contributing editor on the www.furninfo.com Trade Message Board.

See all of Cathy Finney’s articles on www.furninfo.com in the Sales Skills Index. Call 877-235-3095 for more information on her audio learning courses: “Pass the Power, Please!” on retail management; “House Calls” on how to do more and more profitable house calls; and “The Marketing of Me Inc.” on how to follow-up to turn retail customers into clients for life.