Strategies that help customers make the best buying decision are the ones that are also the most effective.
The second part of this article (continued from the April/May issue of FURNITURE WORLD) rests on the principle that all buying is done by comparison. That being the case, it follows that only those salespeople who are side by side buyers can be consistently successful because only these buyers intuitively understand that the role of the salesperson is not to sell, but to help customers buy. There is a paradox in this, namely, that side by side buyers end up being the most effective salespeople. The explanation for this lies in the fact that customers are only comfortable with salespeople who from the outset communicate to their customers that they are there, as John F. Lawhon writes, to help the customers make the best buying decision. Of course, this rationale is based on the law of reciprocity, one of the most powerful laws of human psychology. Owing to the law of reciprocity, the vast majority of customers tend to respond best to those salespeople who are dedicated to helping customers make the best buying decision and not simply to make the sale. In other words, that magical thing called rapport automatically sets into motion when salespeople treat their customers as side by side buyers. We must keep in mind that rapport can only be bilateral. Not only that. Rapport is, as well, a highly volatile state that quickly erodes as soon as the process that established it is abandoned. One never owns rapport; one only leases it on condition that its creative process is continued. For such is the nature of rapport and other similar nouns like respect. Attempting to fake rapport is as futile as attempting to fake sincerity.
Nevertheless, as powerful as this psychological approach may be, it does not preclude the need for specialized product knowledge and selling skills. Therefore, this article will now focus on the skill of setting up an effective strategy for selling mattresses, a strategy based on comparison that holds that buyers will always choose better over good and best over better. It is a strategy that helps customers perceive which one of your mattresses best fulfills their needs, something most customers are not very likely to do without the assistance of a professional salesperson. It is with this in mind that I always began the training of an inexperienced mattress salesperson with these words: “Look about you at all these mattresses in your line up. Confusing aren’t they? Well, memorize what they look like to you now because that is the way they are going to appear to virtually every customer you work with. You will need to be prepared for that.”
Mattress salespeople need to be prepared for other pitfalls too. For example, they need to know that it is the rare customer who enters their store with the words, “I’d like to try your mattresses.” The customer is more likely to say, “I’d like to see your mattresses.” While I would not rule out the part a customer’s visual sense plays in selecting a mattress, the visual sense is not as important as the sense of feeling or the kinesthetic. For that reason, the mattress salesperson’s strategy must be to get customers to spend a considerable time on the mattresses. But how do you do that without the customer’s getting antsy and making a quick exit? The following role-play should prove helpful. Let us imagine that Salesperson Mary has greeted a couple, John and Susan, warmly, gone through the kind of small talk that Mary smoothly ushered into some qualifying probes that quickly revealed that these customers were looking for a queen mattress for themselves. She might then do the following:
Salesperson: I know my mattresses inside out, but I don’t know your comfort level. With your permission and your assistance, I’d like to show you how we can find that out in a hurry.” (Nod while you are saying this to get the customers to nod their approval.)
Customers: (Customers nod. You take them to two mattresses at the top of the line, one a plush pillow top, the other the kind most customers would find hard).
Salesperson: “Please keep in mind that this comfort test is solely intended to find the mattress that can give you the most comfortable sleep. I have no way of knowing at this point which one of these mattresses you will like best. Take your time. No matter the time you spend on these mattresses today, it won’t begin to be the amount of time you’ll end up sleeping on the one you purchase.” Mary gets the couple to try the plush mattress first, then the hard one, making sure they try the mattress for at least a minute on their backs and on their sides. Some salespeople prefer to reverse the process. Mary then waits for the couple to express their preferences. No matter which one they prefer, Mary makes sure that the next mattress she puts them on has somewhat the same comfort as the one they preferred. Let’s say the customers prefer the plush mattress. While they are still on it, she might say something like the following: “Keep in mind that both mattresses have the same number of coils and therefore the same coil support. The plush mattress you prefer is designed to relieve pressure points, especially on your shoulders and sides.” Then Mary adds: “I see we have found one mattress you prefer. Let’s have you try another one like it.” Mary then takes them to mattress number three. The couple tests that one the same way they tried the first two mattresses. The customer still likes plush mattress number one better. Mary then says: “Testing mattresses is a lot like testing eyes. The optometrist is not content just to fit you with a pair of better glasses than the ones you have. She uses a phoropter which she keeps on adjusting until she is sure the client has found the best possible lens. Allow me to play the optometrist. Let’s have you get on a third mattress to make sure you find the best mattress you’re looking for.” Mary then has the customers lie on plush mattress number three. The couple then goes back to plush mattress number one.
Susan: “I like this one, John. Which one do you like?”
John: “So do I. Mary, I’ve a feeling you knew all along we were going to like the most expensive one.”
Mary: “Just being a good optometrist.”
John: “How soon can you deliver this one so Susie here can start getting a good night’s sleep. Every time that “Roll Over Add” comes on TV she tells me we need a new mattress.”
Mary: Mary goes over the delivery terms, adds a frame with the carpet-saving casters and center support, and sets up a delivery.
John: Before the couple leaves, John says to Mary: “You sure we’re doing the right thing?”
Mary: “John, we spun that optometer around like the Wheel of Fortune and you won the grand prize. And besides, when you buy quality, you cry only once!”
Note: The analogy of the phoropter was created by salesperson Andy Peterson who sells mattresses in the Twin Cities.
Trainer, educator and group leader Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. He has deep experience with furniture retailers 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 and their related literatures. 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 care of FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.