Translated into ad talk, “All the ads, releases, referrals and promises can lead prospects into your store, but person-to-person conversations must complete the sale in order to make a buck.”
Each of you involved in the professional selling of custom products have had the following experience (not often, I hope): You’ve completed all the needed show and tell, back and forth. You and your client are finally discussing the sales details. Then, for some reason, the client decides to wait. She says, “I want to think about it, look around some more, talk to my spouse or a friend.” The end. All your worry and work in vain.
The sale is lost. Why? Lack of knowledge? Doubtful. Both parties knew what was wanted and needed. Price? Always important, but not necessarily the final factor for fashion products.
Was it an early attack of buyer’s remorse? Decisions can be difficult and lasting. Maybe the customer really will return after thinking and talking about it more. It happens.
Personality conflicts? Was the closing pitch too strong? Did it scare away the customer? Not convincing enough? Who knows? But, for some obscure reason the sale was lost. The horse wasn’t thirsty after all. So, it’s on to the next client.
Do we place too much value on the power of personality? Is a smiling, pleasing personality more important in our work and lives than education and training? Is it possible? We assume the answer to be yes.
So, we search for help to build the better image we want. We buy books and videos. We attend lectures, seminars, meetings and discussion groups. We look for ways to understand this “personality thing.”
I’ve been pondering this puzzle in recent articles. I wanted to know why we classify people so quickly in our minds (the 10-second image test or the gut-instinct test), why we have our own evaluation when judging a person’s pleasant or unpleasant personality, and why we value this changeable factor so highly in our own business.
HELP FROM THE PROS
I turned for other opinions of my colleagues who also write columns in home fashion. Here are some excerpts from the experts—experienced professionals in the design, sales and uses of window coverings. I have the highest regard for their remarks.
• No. 1 from Steve Bursten, retired founder of Decorating Den, author, consultant, super-salesman and president of his own consulting company. This comes from his article, “Hire New or Experienced Decorators?” in the August 2003 issue of D&WC (page 44).
“Hire the smile, train the skill. Nordstrom’s is famous for its policy to hire people with great attitudes and then train them for their jobs. Realistically, that is unrealistic for our industry. But, using that as a baseline, remember always to give preference to the person with personality over the person with design credentials.
“This is the age-old dilemma. Should you hire new or experienced decorating sales consultants? It seems you would have a clear choice. But you don’t. Why? Because 90 percent of decorators who tell you they are experienced, aren’t.
“Ours is a touchy-feely, human-interaction business. If the interview gives you a good feeling, find some way to attract the person to your business and help her to build better futures for you both.”
• No. 2 from an article in the September 1997 issue of PDR (Paint Decorating Retailer) from authors Don Taylor and Jeanne Archers’ book, Up Against the Wal Marts:
“Of all the decisions that a small business owner must make, the toughest is hiring the right person for the job. To distinguish yourself from the giant, you must have knowledgeable people devoted to providing superior service and helping customers solve problems, not make problems . . .
“You should seriously consider writing a job description for the open position. The best description goes beyond just a list of duties. It includes the desirable traits that the person should have. You’ll improve your chances of finding someone who will bring more to the job than just technical skills. You can train people, but you can’t change their personalities and general makeup.
“Attitude—it’s either there or it isn’t. Personality, politeness, thoroughness and accuracy—these traits together are more important than price.”
• No. 3 from Christopher Lowell, decorating guru on The Discovery Channel and an idol to his many homemaking friends. He specializes in helping viewers overcome their fear of decorating.
“Our homes are a reflection of who we are. It all ties into our self esteem.” Lowell’s mantra is, “U Can Do It.”
In his classes and show, he’s found that homemakers were stymied by fear from past decorating disasters.
“TV’s how-to heroes have made daunting tasks out of decorating as simple as hanging a curtain rod. Martha Stewart and Bob Villa were always as serious as a surgeon describing brain surgery. I feel that, if a woman can put on her makeup properly, she is overqualified to do much of her decorating.
“I help my viewers motivate themselves to get something done. So, I stress ideas and a lighter personality—even comedy and humor. If you can’t laugh, you don’t learn. So, lighten up, get over your fears and get some decorating done.”
• No. 4 from Karla Nielsen, Allied ASID, nationally known for her many columns and books on window and home fashions, professor of design at Brigham Young University and featured columnist for many years with D&WC. I think her article, “Proven Sales Techniques,” is one of the best ever. I still refer to this excerpt on custom selling from the August 1987 issue of D&WC:
“Two characteristics can help bring success for the selling personality: These are: 1. Enthusiasm; 2. I Am Sold Myself.
“Enthusiasm is perhaps the most important ingredient. It’s so basic that without it, most persons cannot sell. Enthusiasm in promoting product benefits includes emphasis on how these qualities will work better for the client.
“If lack of enthusiasm is a problem, try using Dale Carnegie’s credo—don’t criticize, don’t condemn, don’t complain. See what a difference it will make in your outlook, personally and in your sales career. The best sales people are usually those who appear happy and enthusiastic.
“‘I am sold myself’ is a second requirement. It is said that no one can sell something they do not own.
“When, for example, a client asks if you would recommend a certain covering or design, respond with, ‘Yes, I have that one and it is great for three reasons . . .’ Then you are doing more to sell that product than hundreds of pictures and samples.”
Karla lists other effective ways to transfer your enthusiasm. She notes, “Often the easiest sale closing is simply asking for the sale. Try subtle ways to do this, too, by asking:
• May I have your approval for this order?
• When would you like to have this delivered or installed?
• Would you like the green color or does the blue one suit your needs?”
Never use such turn-offs as, “May I have your signature?” or “Have I sold you yet?”
THINK LIKE A CUSTOMER
• No. 5 is a final note from Kay Pegram, president of Kaymar Communications, a marketing service firm. In her book, Marketing and Promotion From A to Z, Pegram sums up the selling process:
“Use showmanship in presenting products to a client/customer. Do not use a canned sales presentation. Instead, adapt your pitch to each customer’s needs.
“Be creative, be enthusiastic—make the product look as beautiful as possible, easy to use and desirable to own.
“Try to think like a customer might. Ask yourself, ‘If I were in her shoes, what would I like to see? What would impress me the most?’”
John L. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.