In my 23-year interior design career, I’ve read a lot of articles and attended many training seminars on how to sell a job. The suggestions ran the gamut from “mirroring the customer,” which seemed overly simplistic, to the sophisticated “profiling technique.” Mirroring involves using the same vocabulary and body language as your client. If the customer calls a sofa a davenport, you call it a davenport. If she is standing with her hand on her hip, you imitate her stance. The idea is to mimic both the client’s choice of words and gestures for bonding purposes. This made me think of every bad parrot joke I ever heard.
At the other end of the spectrum is profiling, which divides people
into personality subgroups with suggestions for closing each type
of buyer. For example, a status-seeker talks fast, likes to be in
control, uses recognizable brands and enjoys name-dropping. The
warm fuzzy customer just wants to be your new best friend. Analytical
clients like data and choices. According to this method, if you
use a status approach with a warm fuzzy person, or a warm fuzzy
style with an analytical client, you might as well be selling ice
cubes in Alaska. Although the FBI has a lot of success with this
technique, I don’t recommend it for amateurs.
Profiling and mirroring are like counting cards at a blackjack table.
It’s easy to lose your place and play the wrong card.
TAKE YOUR BEST ODDS
So what are the sure-fire ways to sell a job without relying on
formula sales presentations? Based on my experience with hundreds
of clients, it’s pretty simple stuff. Your best opportunity
to sell is during the initial contact with a prospect. If you don’t
close at the first meeting, the likelihood is you won’t because
statistics show that the first opportunity provides the best odds.
A gambler’s best chance to win is when he places his initial
Effort put into follow-up usually is not justified by the end result.
It’s more productive to use your time pursuing new leads. This
is why it is very important to be adequately prepared before going
on a sales appointment.
Evaluate each prospective client’s ability to appreciate and
pay for your efforts. Ask yourself if this client is worthy of your
experience and expertise. Is the client acting pleasant, interested
and making eye contact, or carrying a big chip on his shoulder while
asking for the cheapest price? Wasting time with a bad client keeps
you from having time to work with good clients. Price-driven people
make bad clients. They want unwarranted discounts, demand much more
service than they’re willing to pay for and are the most critical.
As if that wasn’t enough, bad clients refer other people to
you who are just like themselves.
To sell a job you must be believable. What is the perceived risk
in doing business with you? Clients spend money in proportion to
how secure they feel about you and your company. Will you do the
job right the first time, get it done on time with no excuses and
When a large commercial job goes out to bid, the lowest bidder is
not usually awarded the contract. It goes to the individual or company
with the best reputation, longevity and acceptable pricing—the
one who offers the lowest risk.
Clients want to do business with a solid citizen who is experienced,
courteous and professional. You need to work at being calm, focused
and responsive. Ask relevant questions, wait for answers and offer
effective solutions. Don’t forget about your grooming and appearance.
The old saying about the importance of a good haircut and a shine
on your shoes is still true. You also need to have your certifications,
licenses, diplomas and references available to review. Try to solicit
written comments from satisfied clients to keep in your portfolio.
Lastly, are you providing the client with perceived value? Starbucks
doesn’t just sell coffee, it markets 20 minutes of relaxation
and oral gratification to an over-committed, stressed-out population.
There wouldn’t be fur coats if all people wanted was to keep
warm. A Honda can take you anywhere a Jaguar can. To be effective
as a salesperson you need to romance the product. Window treatments
aren’t just something that hang on the wall. They represent
security, privacy and luxury. Attractive window coverings demonstrate
a client’s good taste and penchant for gracious living.
A LITTLE PIZZAZZ DOESN’T HURT
So let’s summarize the ways to be a winning salesperson. Put
your best effort into the initial contact and go for an on-the-spot
close. Be judicious with time spent on follow-ups. Decide quickly
if you have a good prospect who appreciates your skills and services
before putting in a lot of time and effort on a proposal. Spend
your time with good clients. They rarely challenge you on price
points and they recommend other good clients. Be the type of person
with whom clients want to do business. Look and act the part. Deliver
the right product, done to specification and on time. Solve problems
right away and show appreciation for your clients throughout the
entire process. Say “thank you” a lot. Lastly, if you’re
selling chopped liver, make it foie gras.
Now, go out and close that sale!
Ellen Milner is an experienced freelance interior designer and showroom.
She currently works at Valley Interiors Design Center, Phoenix,