The "real" concessions and the "real" bargains customers need are the benefits that lie within their products and services.
In their 1981 national best seller, "Getting to the Yes - Negotiating Without Giving In," authors Roger Fisher and William Ury discuss the concept of side-by-side negotiating. Side-by-side negotiating is literally just that: two parties negotiating side-by- side instead of "facing off" like adversaries in competitive sports or at war. Side- by- side negotiating tends to ward off the stalemates that leave neither side winning. This situation occurs when both sides go at each other tooth and nail in what these same authors call positional bargaining. In positional bargaining, both sides hold fast to their positions without budging. Such negotiating is slanted toward an "I win, you lose" conclusion. Seasoned negotiators know that "I win, you lose" ultimately leads to "We both lose."
Side-by-side negotiating, instead, directs the two parties to conduct their discussions as friends, despite serious differences in points of view. From the outset the two parties work to establish trust and agreement within mutually arrived at concessions as the goal of their negotiating. Their negotiating is designed to leave both sides feeling they have won [win-win] instead of both sides feeling they have lost [lose-lose] or one side feeling it has won while the other side feels it has lost [win-lose].
Negotiating and selling, while they share some things in common, are far from identical activities. Among the elements they share in common are the need for mutual trust and the goal of mutual agreement based on a quid pro quo. Also, selling always involves a seller and a buyer. Negotiating need not involve a buyer and a seller, and even when it does, the ones doing the negotiating are more often than not professional negotiators hired to represent their clients. In most retail furniture stores, there is one more serious difference between selling and negotiating, and that is that salespeople are not generally allowed to negotiate price with their customers. It is especially with these stores in mind that I decided to write this article.
Like side-by-side negotiating, side-by-side selling requires mutual trust on the part of buyer and seller if both sides are to agree on a mutually beneficial agreement. It also requires that both parties carry out the transaction as friends. We use the word friend here because I am not acquainted with any other word that carries with it the feeling of trust to the same degree. Understandably, the kind of trust customers yearn for is one that lasts beyond the time it takes the salesman to make the sale. Customers know that products can fail. When they do, they logically look to their salesperson for satisfaction. It is especially in those times that they need a salesperson who is their friend.
Side-by-side selling does not hold that the salesperson should engage the customer in a contest of wills, the ultimate aim of which is to set up the customer to yield to the pressure of trickery, threats, and clever closes. One such closing strategy advises that the salesperson remain silent while the customer "sweats it out" until he or she gives in.
Is there some way in which salespeople who are not allowed to make concessions on price can nevertheless make concessions of a different kind to their customers? Can salespeople offer their customers the kind of "bargains" that do not violate the store's policy in these matters? I believe there are such concessions and such bargains provided salespeople perceive that the "real" concessions and the "real" bargains customers need are the benefits that lie within their products and services. What got me thinking along these lines is something I heard Zig Ziglar say to one of his customers who had just made a purchase from him. The gist of what he told the customer is as follows: "Mr. Customer, both of us are going to benefit from this sale, I from my commission and you from your purchase. As you can easily imagine, you'll continue to enjoy the benefits of your purchase long after I'll have spent my commission. In that regard yours is the greater benefit, and that's proper."
The essence of Zig Ziglar's reasoning carries within it an insight that far transcends the often-stated fact that customers buy benefits rather than features. It carries within it the insight that the degree to which a customer is able to enjoy the benefits of his or her purchase depends mainly on how thoroughly the salesperson knows his or her products. This knowledge can only be used if the salesperson is able to qualify both what the customer needs and would like to have in order to enjoy the purchase fully. Not surprisingly, therefore, some consumer research conducted recently by Thomasville in the Twin Cities revealed that what customers wanted most from salespeople was that they possess thorough and reliable product knowledge.
Admittedly nothing astonishing occurs in our stores whenever our customers are deprived of the true value of their purchases because salespeople fail to present the benefits that lie within their products and services. Nevertheless, both customers who decide not to buy as well as those who do are unjustifiably shortchanged. True, our customers may still go on to enjoy their purchases to some degree. Yet, because of their deprivation they can never enjoy many of the benefits. For if what those salespeople of yesteryear used to say is true that "Not shown when told remains unsold," it is equally true to that "Knowledge denied lessens the customer's pride." That is really the justifiable lament of John F. Lawhon who has so poignantly written about the pride of ownership.
With all due respect I have for the saying, "It's nice to be important, but it's even more important to be nice," I feel it imperative to add that being nice to customers falls tragically short when not accompanied by thorough and accurate product knowledge.
Because most retail furniture salespeople, in my experience, are not allowed to lower their prices, and rightfully so, I would like to offer the following suggestion to those salespeople who work under that restriction. Whenever they are confronted with a customer who asks for a discount, let the salesperson imagine herself standing side-by-side with that customer in front of two old fashioned scales (like the one that depicts Lady Justice rendering a verdict). Whenever the customer asks for a reduction in price, let them point out the relevant benefits of their product. Mentally place that benefit on the scale opposite to the one that holds price. Only when their customer perceives that the benefits of their product outweigh its price can the customer agree to buy. I like what Andy Peterson, a salesperson at Mattress Liquidators [they ceased being liquidators years ago] in the Twin Cities often tells his customers who ask for a discount. "I'm one of those frugal Scandinavians," he tells them, "who believes that the only store where I can be assured of the best price, is the store that gives the same price to every customer." A short time ago I listened as Andy repeated those very words to one of his customers, a Russian immigrant who had been living in the Twin Cities for seven years. That customer answered Andy as follows: "I believe in what you have just told me. I trust you because that is exactly the way I feel." He went on to purchase one of Andy' premium sleep sets. What I found especially interesting is the fact that an earlier store he had been to had desperately tried to win his commitment by lowering the price twice. The salesperson even followed him to his car in a last ditch effort to make the sale by offering him one further discount. I'd like to add that Andy is the finest bedding salesperson I have ever had the pleasure to coach.
Andy typifies side-by-side selling. Practice that kind of selling and you too will consistently tip the scale in your favor, for that is what really happens in every sale that is win-win.
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.