Whether or not you agree that we’ve entered a new retail paradigm, it’s time
to double down on proven sales practices.
We seem to be living in strange, troubled times. There is persistent
pessimism among businesses and consumers alike. Inflation remains high by
historical standards and there are lingering supply chain worries made worse
by concern about dependence on foreign essential goods. Politicians are
calling for re-shoring critical industries to bolster “Made in America,” but
with low unemployment, numerous job openings and few takers for many jobs,
where are we going to find qualified American workers who are willing to
make things? And as usual, there is no consensus from the experts and
politicians as to how to fix any of it.
A New Retail Paradigm?
Do we have a new retail paradigm? Maybe, but it may take a while to be
certain. In my opinion, until we have absolute evidence, retailers would be
wise to examine their current sales practices against the proven, successful
sales practices of previous decades.
I have never known anyone to fail that employed proven and boldly applied
sales practices, enforced by serious training and performance, no matter how
the world has turned.
Recent articles in Furniture World have advocated for retailers to get back
to basics in a number of areas, including sales skills training.
During the past couple of years, when demand was high, many salespeople
became order writers. Now that we’ve transitioned to the next phase, a
rigorous review of what you are doing now can reveal organizational
weaknesses that should not have been allowed to happen in the first place.
Sometimes, it is easier for store owners and managers to blame ‘the times’
than to frankly address what should be obvious problems in your company’s
“The salesperson’s function is to help, not greet then wander off and leave
the customer to browse or leave.”
Proven Sales Habits?
As strange as it seems for somebody (like me) who started in retail sales
nearly thirty years ago, there are a lot of people now working in retail
showrooms that have had little or no introduction to serious retail sales
training. With no anchor in sales theory or practice, the world starts over
for them with every new customer. It is no wonder that so many newly hired
retail salespeople quit in failure and disgust; after disdaining what could
have been a meaningful and financially rewarding career.
Whether you are trying to address the needs of a rookie confronted with a
bewildering array of products, policies and inventory; or a seasoned
professional who hit a career roadblock, sound sales training will benefit
Where do you start? A good place is with a review of product knowledge and
the steps of the sale. There are a number of inexpensive, effective mattress
and furniture sales books. Some I’ve mentioned in previous articles are my
book “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales; the Bed Seller’s Manual” and
“The Selling Bible” by John F. Lawhon; plus, “Spring Training” and “Sell
More Beds” by Gerry Morris. More resources will be listed later in this
“When qualifying customers who are shopping for bedding, questions fall into
four major categories. These include...”
The Four Groups of Knowledge
Whether your store has a 40-odd SKU mattress display, or a showroom measured
by the acre with thousands of furniture and mattress SKUs, your salespeople
must know about ALL of them. There is no better confidence-builder for a new
salesperson than to be thoroughly up to date on all of your products—their
names, specs, prices, manufacturers, warranties and the mechanics of how
products such as motion furniture, extendable tabletops and adjustable beds
work. It’s usually an impressive list of features and benefits that
salespeople need to learn. Regardless of one’s sales experience or perceived
sales ability, you cannot sell if you don’t know your products. No paradigm
shift in marketing, sales or consumer demand will ever change that reality.
In addition to product knowledge, salespeople must master store policies,
advertising, inventory and financing. It’s especially important right now to
have a plan in place to double down on their study of these subjects. Their
success as salespeople depends on it.
Steps Of The Sale
When was the last time you and your staff reviewed the Steps of the Sale?
These steps are guidelines they should keep in mind every time a new
customer walks through the door.
It’s my experience that repetition is necessary because professional
salespeople sometimes get sloppy in their habits. It’s been said that
Broadway actors repeat the same lines night after night, year after year,
but their audiences hear those lines for the first time. That’s why actors
cannot afford to get sloppy. They must continually study and refine their
performances to keep them fresh. The same is true for retail salespeople.
Not every sales trainer agrees on the definition or sequence of the Steps of
the Sale, but for the most part, here are the definitions of each step most
of you are no doubt familiar with.
“Now that we’ve transitioned to the next phase, rigorous review of what you
are doing now can reveal organizational weaknesses that should not have been
allowed to happen in the first place.”
The Approach and Greet Step is one of the most
overlooked and misused steps. Its purpose is to attract and command the
customer’s attention. A weak, whimpering “Welcome to Our Store” may not
be that riveting.
The Qualifying Step is another that’s badly misused and
needs to be periodically reviewed. It is the conversation between the
salesperson and the customer, by which the salesperson gets to know the
customer’s needs and wants, budget, room to be furnished, how they plan
to use items, ability to pay, urgency, where they’ve shopped previously,
etc. These questions are best done diplomatically, asking a series of
questions; then waiting for, listening to and interpreting the
When qualifying customers shopping for bedding, questions fall into four
major categories. These include health- and medical-related questions,
sleep and comfort questions, selection and presentation questions, and
problem and situation analysis questions.
The whole point of qualifying is to gather enough information so that
the salesperson can solve the customer’s problem or achieve their goal.
The salesperson’s function is to help, not greet then wander off and
leave the customer to browse or leave.
One more thing. Salespeople who really dig down to uncover the
customer’s motives and plans often find that some have more on their
minds than what they initially asked for. They may have come in to buy a
twin mattress, for example, but are also thinking about redecorating two
The Selection Step.Helping customers find what they are
looking for requires a deep understanding of product knowledge. It does
no good to learn what a customer wants without knowing every SKU and
where to find it.
Once a shopper has been led to product or products that seem to solve
the shopper’s problem and have their attention and interest, that
shopper has “landed.” Only then is it time for salespeople to present
this product as a prospective solution. This includes giving a product
demonstration. During the qualifying step, the salesperson should have
already learned all the “hot” points likely to impress a particular
customer. Now is the time for them to confirm all these salient points
and emphasize how the product satisfies those needs and wants. Only then
is it wise or permissible to proceed to the next step.
Closing the Sale. It is rare for a sale to be closed
without encountering a few customer objections. Customers often display
a natural reluctance to part with their hard-earned money. It is
important for salespeople to understand this and respect why customers
are hesitant. The Furniture World archives include several articles on
handling objections. John F. Lawhon, the author of “Selling Retail,”
said that closing should be as easy as “writing it up” if you know the
five groups of knowledge. Of course, it’s easier to write about closing
the sale than it is to actually do it in real time.
Only when a solution to the customer’s problem has been found, has a
salesperson EARNED the right to ‘Ask for the Sale,’ often by asking some
version of the big closing question: “Would you like to go ahead and get
this now?” It’s amazing how many sales are lost because salespeople
simply don’t ask.
Additional Bedding Resources
In addition to the books mentioned previously, Furniture World makes
available a large collection of archived sales education articles. To access
them, click on the ‘Articles’ option in the top menu at
https://www.furninfo.com, then select Furniture World Sales Education
Articles. If you are specifically looking for information on bedding sales,
Listed below are articles at
with more information to help train bedding product knowledge and review the
steps of the sale.
Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Everything RSAs Need to Know About
- Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: The Approach & Greet
Better Bedding & Mattress Series: Qualifying Questions Methodology
Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Selection & Presentation
Better Bedding & Mattress Sales Series: More Qualifying Questions
- Better Bedding & Mattress Sales Series: The Selection Step
- Retail Bedding & Mattress Sales: The Presentation
- Better Bedding & Mattress Sales:
- I Object Again!
- Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Introduction to Closing
Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Making a Great Closing Argument
Wrapping It Up
Finally, it is important to wrap up the sale correctly. Besides the obvious
chores of setting delivery, completing paperwork, including financing
details, etc., salespeople should also be planning for the next sale. And
not just for their current customer but also for any referrals they receive
from that customer. Remember, at the closing stage, a salesperson’s
relationship with a customer is at its apex. That’s why every customer
should be asked to tell their friends, neighbors and co-workers about the
great experience they just had at your store.
We started this discussion by asking the question, “Is there a new Retail
Paradigm?” I will now give a more definitive answer which is, “who cares?”
The more important lesson, in my opinion, is not to be overly worried by
slower traffic or other current factors mentioned at the start of this
article. Instead, get back to the basics of selling and make the most of