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Next Level Training: Heart of the Sale

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Master the Heart of the Sale!

Part 5 — by Scott Morris

Engaging product demonstrations build value, enlighten customers, and convinces them through comparison.

When I was 20-years old, I interviewed with Wickes Furniture for a sales position and thought I stood a good chance of getting hired. However, about a week later, the sales manager informed me that he had decided to hire someone with furniture sales experience instead. I thanked him for calling, and asked if he was sure he wanted me to be working for his competition? Luckily, he called back one week later and offered me the job.

The company’s orientation training proved to be technically informative, but memorably boring. After some initial success, my sales numbers declined and I was “in trouble” at the end of the required 90-day probationary period for new hires. Fortunately, John intervened on my behalf.

John was by far the best among the 40 full-time salespeople in the store. Nobody had ever outsold him in any given month. He took me aside and said, “The sales manager told me that he is going to have to let you go. Instead, I suggested he let you ‘shadow me’ for about a week, because I believe you are coachable.”

Because John took the lead in speaking up on my behalf and mentored me, you are now reading this article. Thank goodness for mentors! Every salesperson should have at least one. Based on John’s tutelage my sales career took off and by the age of 25 I had become the company’s youngest store manager. His personal mentoring made up for what was lacking in the industry’s best orientation sales training at that time. Forty years later, and after talking with hundreds of salespeople, I feel that the same problem exists today. There always seems to be a lot of training “knowledge” passed out, but very little in the way of actual “know-how!”

Let me begin by telling you a bit about John. He was a retired steel company executive who took early retirement because his wife was tired of moving constantly, and wanted to be close to her family. John moved back to the Chicago area, and chose to work for Wickes Furniture, the second-largest furniture chain in America at the time. He said the idea of selling furniture had always seemed “appealing.”

John looked exactly like Ted Knight, who played the comically insecure news anchor on the Mary Tyler Moore show. But his personality was quite the opposite. He always projected an air of confidence. When the sales team went to local restaurants for our occasional sales meetings, the waitress never failed to go up to John first, regardless of his position at the table!

One of the first things I asked John was why he was able to sell so much more than the rest of us mere mortals. His unexpected reply was, “You should be able to talk about a bean bag for 10 minutes!” “Are you kidding me?” I inquired. “Absolutely not,” he confirmed. “You should be able to talk about anything in the store in a very informative and engaging way, for the entire length of time it takes a shopper to make up their mind.”

He then advised me to do what he had done during his first six months in the business. That was to come to work 20 minutes early every day and use that time to learn everything about a given item or group. Then, use every spare minute during the day to practice my “presentation.” “If you do exactly what I suggest,” he said, “you’ll become a true selling champion within just a few months!” I did precisely that, and within two years, I was being sent to Wickes stores around the country to turn under-performing stores around.

His advice worked for me, and it certainly works for today’s new sales hires. If you think that retail has changed quite a bit over the past 30-plus years, you would be correct. Today, product information is accessible to salespeople via iPads and in-store kiosks. And, shoppers can access troves of information online before they ever walk into a store. But the reality is that there is a wide gulf between today’s newly hired salespeople, who are in danger of failing after going through orientation, and million-dollar writers. The truth is that a lot of that difference is due to persistent preparation and the “presentation,” which were elements of the sales charisma my mentor John had.

Here’s just one last, quick story about John that will illustrate how effective giving a great product presentation can be. I recall a Monday evening when John was on duty. He was working with a young couple, showing them a living room set he thought they’d like. He proceeded with his usual and then famous “Oh Wow” pitch, that never failed to mesmerize customers.

John proceeded to explain the important features of the living room group, comparing it directly to the less expensive set they had just seen. As always, he got both customers physically involved at every step. He demonstrated each major feature, with its comparative advantage, and confirmed it by the customer’s physical involvement, and solidifying questions: For example: “This is what you really need to have in YOUR sofa, right?” and “Can you believe how heavy this cushion is?”

Just how effective was his “Oh Wow” presentation on that night? Four more couples stepped up to listen to him as he demonstrated. They were all captivated by his demonstration

The other salespeople were going a little “meshuga,” as prime-time store traffic piled up to listen to John’s presentation. Once John was finished, he asked the couple sitting on the sofa, “So what do you think?” They talked briefly and replied, “We’ll take it!” Then John asked each of the other four customer pairs, in turn. His one presentation alone produced five identical sales! None of the standing customers even looked at anything else in the store. The most interesting thing was that John hadn’t spoken directly to the four other couples standing off to the side. In other words, the extra sales had nothing to do with establishing rapport, qualifying, or even closing in the traditional sense. Instead, making an engaging product demonstration that builds value, enlightens customers, and overwhelmingly convinces is what got the job done!

Whenever I walk into a furniture store, I am reminded of John’s example. It seems that there is very little energy given to crafting good product presentations anymore. Even some million-dollar writers don’t seem to be practicing this lost art. One wonders what they could sell if they added this to their sales skill repertoire! If you agree that this represents a missed opportunity, it could take your sales training to the next level.

Begin by utilizing sales meetings to showcase presentations made by your top salespeople. Make it a game of trying to develop interesting and innovative new ways to present certain items. Frequently emphasize John’s advice, which is sound doctrine for new hires and polished veterans alike. It all truly begins with your commitment to improving everyone’s performance by mastering “the heart of the sale.” This bit of education and mentoring will certainly “Present” better results to your bottom line too!


About Scott Morris

Scott Morris worked for the four largest furniture retail chains in America as a store manager and sales trainer. He is the owner of HSM Publishing. His mission is to stop the high sales associate turnover rate within the furniture industry. He has written and published six books on various topics, in addition to the “Sales Questions” laminate, and designed and produced the advanced level sales training course titled “The Best Furniture Sales Training Ever!!!” He also produced 12 insightful customer “handouts” designed to bring back the “75 percent who leave without buying.” Questions about this article or any aspect of sales education can be directed to him at hsm7777@att.net or visit TheBestFurnitureSalesEver.com.