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Great Salespeople Wash Their Cottage Cheese - Part 2

Furniture World Magazine


Part 2: Theory and practice of
transcending the curse of ordinary competence.

Editor’s Note: The August/September issue of FURNITURE WORLD (posted to the sales skills index on www.furninfo.com) contained the first part of this article that discussed how retail salespeople can move from being merely good to becoming great. Discipline, differentiation, seeking continuous improvement and developing a firm persuasion were some of the techniques discussed that are employed by “great” salespeople. This article will continue this discussion. The phrase “Washing Cottage Cheese” refers to the taking of one more step... above and beyond the ordinary steps competent retail salespeople take... to ensure greatness.


The practical art of listening is aptly described by Judy McHenry, from Norwalk Furniture in Tucson Arizona who recently closed a “home plan presentation” for $49,000 She explains that, “Listening is under-rated. It is critical to success and really helps define our professionalism.” Listening demonstrates to Judy’s customers that she wants to learn about them and their environment. After all, how many people have ever “listened” themselves out of a sale!

To take it one step further, Dr. Theodore Zeldin author of “Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives,” believes that “when two people are engaged in conversation they don’t just reshuffle the cards, they create new cards.” To Zeldin, “a sales conversation is about opening minds so ideas and feelings can flow freely.”

What’s that old saying? “Your mind is like an umbrella or a parachute. It doesn’t work unless it’s open!” Dr. Zeldin totally agrees, “A sales consultant is not someone who sells - it’s someone who opens up new worlds, new possibilities to clients… It’s like a spark that two minds create.”

“How we talk together definitely determines our effectiveness,” says Dr. William Issacs, author of “Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together: A Pioneering Approach to Communication in Business and in Life.” He states that to “listen is to develop an inner silence… The practice is not familiar to us humans. Listening enables us to see others as legitimate. We accept that they have things to teach us. When we’re listening and suspending our thoughts and our views we can create a tremendous amount of creative energy.”

The great entrepreneurs also agree with Dr. Zeldin when he says, “Listening is the way to establish trust and create relationships in which people reciprocally reveal something of themselves, not with the purpose of selling, but with the purpose of seeing if they can each be useful to each other. I like to look at selling as a meeting of two people rather than a meeting of two commercial entities.”

The good news is that, “Listening isn’t a matter of intellect or genius… it’s a habit we can all improve.” Listening skills are put into practice by the “great ones” through the practice of active listening and reflective listening.

Active listening is hearing with your eyes. You are watching for “signs” that you and “Ethel” are singing the same song off the same sheet. Body language, mannerisms, and emotional reactions to what’s being discussed and displayed are all being analyzed so that true communication can take place.


•Defer their judgement, they listen for feelings and facts.

•Pay attention to content (also for what customers are REALLY saying!)

•Listen so completely that the place could burn down!

•Trained listeners are focused like a laser on customers so that they will feel truly valued, and special.

•Realize that listening is a full time job.

Listen To customers. they should be...

•Maintaining good eye contact.


•Nodding in agreement to what’s being said.

•Leaning forward into the conversation and the presentation of information.

•Exhibiting an open posture in which arms are not folded, nor body language closed and defensive.

•Being open with mannerisms, gesturing and being animated with total body involvement.

•Talking faster.

•Getting excited.

•Visualizing the picture that you are creating.

•Having fun! This is a great experience!

•Touching fabrics, feeling tables, taking ownership! Touching is possessing. When your customer starts touching, you need to consider that you should stop talking, and start writing!

Reflective listening is a technique that consists of skillfully “parroting” back what your customer says, so you can make sure you are “hearing” her correctly. It allows you to confirm your understanding as well as helping you to extract additional useful information. There are a number of ways to lead such a conversation including:

• “So what you’re telling me is . . .”

• “To make sure I understand exactly what you’re looking for . . .”

• “Based on what you’re saying, for that reason I would recommend, or for that reason I have selected. . . .”

• “There are so many choices today in a room designed in a contemporary feeling. Tell me exactly what you’re picturing.” (Don’t ASSUME her definition is the same as yours!)

• “A room created around “earth tones” is a terrific idea. Please help me out and explain to me how you see your new room using the particular colors you have in mind.” (Let’s find out exactly what she really means by “earth tones!” so you can help her.)

These are just some of the ways to get feedback, to give feedback, and to ask for confirmation. Listening is an “art” to be developed that establishes you as the professional, and sets you apart from all the other “clerks” out there. It shows them that your main objective is to be “in-ter-est-ed” instead of “in-ter-est-ing!” Think about that. It shows that for you it is all about “Ethel.” You are interested in her and finding out what her needs are. You are in the “people” business, not, the product business.

To really hear, you need to practice the art of listening. Only then can you start to see, based on careful observations, what your customers really want.


Once they hear what their customers really need and want, great salespeople go into action. They are proactive vs. reactive. They know that their job starts when the customer signs on the dotted line. After all, they’re not interested in selling someone just once. They want to turn this customer into their client!

When Sherry Phillips, at Miller Brothers in Punxsutawney, Pa., was asked to relate the secret of her sales success, she explained that it all comes down to three things… “Follow-up, follow-up and follow-up!”

“I never give up. I keep in touch on a regular basis, so that I am available to help them WHEN they’re ready to start their rooms.”

Continual follow-up and follow through allows great salespeople to “build opportunities,” instead of just “managing problems.” When they’re the ones to solve any “glitches” that develop, they set themselves apart from everyone else who is running and hiding from problems and not returning phone calls. This “hardiness factor” helps to make them more professional and stronger. It really sets great salespeople apart in their customer’s eyes. Intrinsically motivated to keep fine-tuning their performance and fulfill their commitment to build long-term relationships, great salespeople never wait for traffic to come through the front door. They are constantly “mining for gold” so that they are creating their own traffic, their own business!


In addition to being proactive, great salespeople are also realists. They are not “pie-in-the-sky optimists.” They subscribe to what Mr. Collins calls, “The Stockdale Paradox.”

Admiral Jim Stockdale was a POW in Vietnam for eight years. The optimists kept saying, “We’ll be out by Christmas.” When Christmas came and went they’d say, “We’ll be out by Easter.” When THAT didn’t happen, many men just gave up and died. The “Stockdale Paradox” combines faith that we will prevail with the discipline to confront the brutal facts of reality. To quote Admiral Stockdale, “We are getting out of here. But it won’t be by this Christmas, deal with it.”

“What separates people,” Stockdale taught, “is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how we deal with the inevitable difficulties of life… it’s about the lessons we’ve learned and how we come to apply them.”

Ask yourself what you learned from each day’s experience and how you might use this information to keep growing. Instead of getting through the day, you will get from the day.


The book, “Good to Great,” is based on three circles of the “Hedgehog Concept.” The famous essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” by Isaiah Berlin, divides the world into hedgehogs and foxes based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedegehog knows one big thing… Foxes pursue many ends at the same time… They are scattered and never integrate their thinking into one overall vision. Hedgehogs simplify a complex world into a single basic principle that unifies and guides everything. Hedgehogs see what is essential and ignore the rest.”

What do good to great companies have to do with hedgehogs? Great companies didn’t confuse a simple concept with the right concept. Hedgehogs know what they are good at… their purpose. Mr. Collins and his team suggested that companies ask themselves the following questions.

•What can you be the best in the world at?

•What drives your economic engine?

•What are you deeply passionate about?

Having asked these questions, “Good to Great,” suggests that readers construct a work life that meets the following three tests (three circles):

• “I feel I was born to be doing this!”

• “I get paid to do this? Am I dreaming?”

• “I look forward to getting up and throwing myself into my daily work, and I really believe in what I’m doing!”

The book suggests that, “To have a fully developed Hedgehog Concept, you need all three circles.”

•Discover your Passion! What makes you passionate?

•What can you be the Best at?

•What do you want to be the best at?

To quote Warren Buffet, the “great” company owners, “stick with what they understand and let their abilities, not their egos, determine what they attempt.”

Jim Smith agrees with David Whyte when he sums it all up and points out that, “It’s impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it’s very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work… because now you know that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution.”

So how can good salespeople become great salespeople? How can retail managers help their sales staff to achieve this end? On a personal level, goals must be set from an understanding of who you are, and what you want to become. If you want to become the best at retail, you can!

Turn “Me, Inc.” into a “great” company. Always work at being the best. Constantly learn, and continually grow. “Sharpen” your tools on a regular basis.... You “Hedgehog,” you!

Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates \"T 'N T." She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Her latest audio tape series on follow-up is called "The Marketing of "Me, Inc." -Taking Your Company Into the Next Millennium--10 audio tapes plus a comprehensive "how-to" manual that helps your people turn all the customers into "clients!" Questions can be addressed to her care of FURNITURE WORLD fax: (800) 784-8488; E-mail: russ@furninfo.com