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Better Bedding & Mattress Series: The Selection Step

Furniture World Magazine


If not executed properly, the selection step can wind up badly for both RSA and the customer. Here’s how to do it right!

In previous issues, we discussed the Greeting and Qualifying steps of the sale. This time we address the next step, Selection.

Simply stated, the Selection Step of the sale is: Find the product your customer will buy.

For any product category, but especially bedding, finding the right products to show is critical. So, how do you decide which ones to show? Let’s say, for example, that your store displays forty-two floor models. Do you show them all? Let’s hope not. RSAs, ideally, limit showings to three products. If you show more than five, the customer may get confused and impatient. So, all you have to do is decide which three (out of forty-two) to show, right?

On paper, this may sound easy, but in practice, it is a lot harder than it sounds. John F. Lawhon believed that success in the Selection Step was all accomplished in the Qualifying Step (if you qualified the way he suggested). In his book ‘Selling Retail’, Mr. Lawhon suggested that if a customer is 100% qualified, then finding the right item is just a matter of first showing two beds that don’t quite measure up, then showing the third bed, already picked out by the RSA, which is perfect in every way. Mr. Lawhon’s statement is based, however, on what I think is a flawed premise. That premise presumes that the Up knows exactly what he wants, every time, when he walks in the door. As any experienced salesperson knows, shoppers may only have a vague idea of what they need or want. The Up’s thoughts can evolve and change as he is given new information by a skilled RSA. Haven’t we all seen customers buy something quite different than what they originally intended? Therefore, it can often take more than just qualifying before the Selection step.

The Selection Step can be quite complicated. If not executed properly, it can wind up badly for both RSA and the customer.

Please note: The RSA still must thoroughly qualify the Up. Do not shortchange qualifying just because the customer’s goals may evolve.

Seek And Ye Shall Find

How easy is it to find something if you don’t know where to look? The customer does not know where to look. That is why she needs an RSA to help her. If that RSA is to be successful, he or she must know ALL the beds and products on the floor and have Qualified the Up BEFORE showing any beds. Only then will it be clear where to look. The good RSA will then lead the customer through a process of showing, comparing and eliminating to find the bed or product the customer will buy.

The unfortunate RSA who fails to do this will be like the blindfolded child trying to pin the tail on the donkey.

The Goals Of The Selection Step

While the ultimate goal is to find a product that the customer will buy, there are at least four sub-goals or parameters that need to be satisfied in the RSA’s search.

1. Try to sell the best quality bed that the customer is willing and able to buy. This opens up the discussion of Starting-At-The-Top, which so many manufacturer reps recommend. Why do reps recommend this? For starters, maybe the Up will be so impressed with the most expensive bed that he will actually buy it. (If you don’t show it, they won’t buy it). But the real reason is that the “top” or “umbrella” bed will be so expensive that all the lesser, cheaper beds will look like bargains in comparison; the result being, it is to be hoped, the customer will buy the best quality (and most expensive) bed that satisfies his needs, and not some cheaper model. Remember, some cheaper models may feel good on the floor, but the customer may not get the same support, comfort and long-term value the better bed will give.

2. Find the bed that the customer likes better than anything else they’ve tried, either at our store, or at a competitor’s store. No matter what the RSA, or the store, or the manufacturer thinks about the bed, the customer still has to like it. It’s sort of like the old dog food story; the manufacturer loads up the product with vitamins, healthy ingredients, fancy packaging, a high-powered marketing program and a high price tag, only to find out the dog won’t eat it. And, I have seen a lot of really spec-heavy beds with big price tags that customers just didn’t like when they stretched out for a comfort test.

How does the RSA know if the customer likes the bed? Remember, although a dog will let you know if he likes his dog food, your customer may not be so forthcoming. So, how does the RSA know? Ask! “How does that feel?” “How do you like that one?” “Which one do you like best?” “Do you like this one better than anything else you’ve seen?”

3. Try to find a bed that satisfies their needs. The qualifying step should have determined what these needs are. In the Qualifying step, the RSA should have learned a lot about what the customer does not like about their old bed and what needs to be done to correct the problem. Make sure the new bed answers the problems and concerns of the customer. I understand that this is very much like finding out which bed the customer likes best, but it adds an extra dimension to the goal of satisfying the customer’s needs and wants.

4. Find a bed that is priced at a point the customer is willing to pay. When the customer first walks in and is greeted, there is no telling what the customer is thinking when it comes to price. Who knows what he was told at “Opaque-Window Furniture and Beds” over in another part of town? Maybe your Up saw your ad and thinks that Easy Rest queen set for $249 sounds just right for him. A big part of the Selection Step is educating customers about the real value of a mattress purchase.

Why Is The Selection Step So Important?

Selecting the right beds to show isn’t easy. What if the RSA picks out the wrong three beds?

1. Let’s assume an RSA is afraid to show expensive beds, and the customer finds a cheaper bed that feels good at the moment. The result is that both the store and RSA lose sales volume and profit, the RSA loses commission, and the customer may lose the long term comfort and support that comes from buying a high quality bed. If the new bed under-performs after a few months, the customer will remind the RSA of what a nice job he did in helping him find his new mattress.

2. If the RSA only shows expensive beds, (which starting at the top can sometimes lead to), the customer probably will leave without buying. Don’t forget, the customer may love the $2999 queen set you’ve picked out for him; it may meet his needs and wants perfectly; but he may tell you he “needs to think about it” because there is no way he’s popping $3K for a mattress set. Besides, he found a bed he liked okay down the street for $499. It’s not great, but it will do. Ask yourself, does your store carry $499 beds? Yes? Would you rather have the $499 sale than no sale at all? Never let a customer walk on a high dollar bed, without showing cheaper beds before he leaves. If he doesn’t like the cheaper beds, he’ll let you know. If he walks, you have to assume he WILL NOT BE BACK.

3. Only show spiffed beds if they fall into the three bed selection that meets the criteria we discussed above. Pushing a spiffed bed because it pays a few extra dollars is usually a mistake.

Keep Control Of The Sale

I wrote an entire article on the subject of Controlling the Sale in the March/April 2014 issue of Furniture World. It can be found in the archives of Furniture World’s website at (www.furninfo.com/Authors/DavidBenbow/37). You must control the sales process, and this is especially important in the Selection Step. The RSA who allows her customer to wander around the store, pushing on mattresses indiscriminately, will lose the sale, and she should. If you are unclear as to what controlling the sale means, I suggest you take a quick break and read the above-mentioned article. You can bring it up on your smart phone.

How To Show Products

Keep several things in mind when showing products. Explain to the customer that you will ask him to try out several beds (hopefully, no more than three.) He will need to lie on the beds and tell you how he likes each one.

As you show each bed, tell the customer the price and little else. Don’t give your opinion of the bed. Don’t say how comfortable it is. Don’t recommend a bed. The customer must make the decision on FEEL, but he should probably also know the price. Do NOT pitch any bed (features and benefits) until the customer shows buying signals. Do not try to influence the customer’s decision until he shows a buying signal. Let him make it based on his pure reaction to the feel of the product.

Note: Some will argue that price should not be mentioned, either, when showing. I suggest that the RSA follow store policy in this matter.

As you are showing beds, also mention and show pillows and mattress protectors. I would like to see all stores provide temporary pillow cases to customers so that various pillows can also be shown while the mattress selection is proceeding. Most customers do not like to place their head on a soiled pillow floor model. Regarding mattress protectors, emphasize the importance of keeping the new bed clean and fresh. (Manufacturers will not warranty a dirty, soiled and stained mattress.)

Here are questions you may be asking

If you have read this far, you may be asking some of the following questions.

  1. How do I determine which bed to start with?
  2. How many beds can I show?  Is there a limit?
  3. At what point should I stop  showing beds?
  4. How do I know when I’ve found the right bed for the customer?
  5. What if I never get any  buying signals?
  6. What if the customer found a bed somewhere else he likes better?
  7. How do I know if I am in the  right price range?

Let’s take each question one at a time.

What bed do I start with?
Your customer may often walk in with an ad in hand, point to the $249 Easy Rest queen set, and say, “I want to see this bed.” Do you respond, “Oh, no! Our sales manager says we’ve got to Start-At-The-Top every time. Follow me over there to the Summa Cum Laude Awe-Pedic. You will love it.”? Now, don’t get me wrong. I think every customer should be shown premium bedding, and maybe even the most premium. (Unshown is unsold, as the old saying goes.) I think, however, that a certain ethical principle might suggest that it is better to walk the customer, straightaway, to the advertised bed he asks about. Let him see it. When he is disappointed, THEN show him premium beds, or even start at the top. Let me mention one thing at this point. Starting the show at the top, correctly and effectively, requires a high level of skill and practiced techniques. Just barging headlong into the top bed with every customer can yield some very unpleasant results. Mr. Lawhon believed, and he’s hard to argue with, that the Qualify step should reveal the price point the customer feels comfortable with. Can customers be stepped up? Of course they can, it happens all the time. If your store does not mandate Starting-At-The-Top every time, find out what kind of price is on the customer’s mind. (See my articles on qualifying in the Furniture World Online Archives.)

Show how many beds?
In a perfect world, the RSA would show three beds. The customer would then pick the last one, it would be written up and everybody would live happily ever-after. But, what if you pick out three beds, show them, and the customer hates them all? What do you do, take out a card and tell her to ask for you when she comes back? Of course, if you show three beds the customer does not like, you may not have qualified him very well. I would recommend at this point one of two things. Either start over with smarter qualifying, or turn the customer over to another salesperson or to a sales manager, if one is available.
Let me be clear on one point. If your store is merchandised professionally, a product will be located somewhere on your floor that the customer will be willing to buy. Keep showing beds until you find it. It is a very clumsy technique and confusing to the customer, but it is better than letting the customer walk.
(For more on merchandising, consult my Furniture World on-line article “What’s On Your Floor?”)

When to stop showing beds?
Stop showing beds when your customer shows unmistakable buying signals. I use a term called “Landing on the Bed” to describe that moment when a customer finds the one that feels the best.

There are two other situations where the RSA might stop showing beds. These are if a customer bolts and walks out, or if the RSA turns the sale over to another RSA or Sales Manager.

How do I know when I’ve found the right bed?
Normally, customers will let you know when the right bed has been found. If you ask, “How does that one feel?” every time every time a new bed is shown, the customer usually will answer. It’s not hard to perceive when the customer suddenly becomes enthusiastic. There are those cagey customers, usually men, who curb their enthusiasm, but give themselves away when they start talking terms, such as “What kind of a deal will you make me on this one?” That statement, or some derivative thereof, is usually a pretty strong indicator of landing the tough customer.

No buying signals?
There may be several possibilities here. The most common is that the RSA just didn’t qualify the customer well enough to find out what he wanted. The second possibility is that the customer, not wanting to be perceived as a cheapskate, didn’t tell the RSA the truth about his budget. The third, and this is a very important one, is that the customer found a better deal at another store. One thing all RSAs and Sales Managers should remember; many of the beds on your floor can be found in other stores, in your town, with different covers and different names, but otherwise, exactly the same. The other store may have offered a better deal on the very same bed you are showing.

What if the customer found a bed somewhere else?
One extremely important question that must be asked when the RSA isn’t reading any buying signals is this; “Have you shopped anywhere else?” The customer says “Yes,” the RSA must then ask; “What is the best deal you’ve found before you came in our store?” If the customer answers honestly, continue this line of questioning until he has found out exactly what the customer likes in the competitor’s store. A good RSA follow-up question is; “Did the salesperson give you a card with the description of the bed?” The more the RSA finds out, the better chance he has of making the sale.

How do I know if I’m in the right price range?
Again, buying signals will tell you quickly. If you get no buying signals, something is wrong. You may very well be in the wrong price range if the customer shows no enthusiasm.

Buying Signals

I’ve talked a lot about buying signals. Just what are buying signals, anyway? They are various statements, body language, eye movement and facial expressions that give strong hints as to the customer’s thinking. When couples are the customers, they often make exchanges, either verbally or nonverbally, with each other that indicate some sort of agreement has been reached. These signals are not hard to spot, especially if the RSA is alert and is watching for them. Often, the customer will just say, “I like this one,” or, “when can this be delivered?” When buying signals are detected on the RSA’s radar, it is time to STOP showing and START presenting features and benefits. And that will be the next installment of our discourse on the Steps of the Sale.


About David Benbow: David Benbow, a veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company offering mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) He has many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas.

He is the author of  “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual” that systematically presents a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It can be purchased at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.
Questions an comments can be directed to him at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or 361-648-3775.

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