Did you know that only 20 percent of the world’s population can actually visualize intangible design concepts? That means, at best, only one out of five of the shoppers in your store has the ability to picture their home adorned with the beautiful new floor coverings you are showing them. This is a huge challenge to those of you who work a retail showroom. It is left up to you to creatively build a visual, using only the elements at hand in your showroom. And remember, your success (or failure) in building that visual greatly determines whether (or not) you will close the sale, and if that sale will include upgraded products.
Designers have long used their skills to visually “build a design” that appeals to customers on an emotional level. This is how they sell high-quality goods. So, what’s stopping you? While doing research for a new sales training course for designers, I realized that many of the same principles in their curriculum would also work for flooring retailers. These ideas may require changing how you present product and how you approach your customers, but if you’re willing to make some adjustments, they can spark a passion in your customers that keeps them focused on the beauty of the product-not discounts, incentives, delivery schedules or any ancillary matters. It’s all about making their home beautiful because that is where you have placed the focus.
Before we get to the specifics, let’s go back for a moment to the most basic principle in relating to new customers. The most important concept to keep in mind when a customer walks in is this: You are selling trust. Not products. Trust. And that “trust-building” involves three distinct areas: trust in your knowledge to specify appropriate products; trust in your creative ability to put together a stunning floor design (enter the power of the visual presentation); and trust in your integrity as a businessperson, including fair pricing, professional installations, and willingness to address customer dissatisfaction.
So how do you build customer trust and earn the opportunity to show them what you can do? Here are some specific designer “tricks of the trade” that may help get you to that goal:
Speak Their Language.
No, that doesn’t mean you have to be bilingual (although that would certainly help in many regions). It means you gather enough information about the customer to speak the language of their life. Are they newlyweds? Retired seniors? Young parents? Yuppies? Maybe a divorced single parent…You get the idea. Remember to gear your presentation and product selections to their particular situation. This will enable you to establish rapport. More importantly, this is the first step in meeting their specific decorating needs.
Once you’ve established their wish list and color preferences, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to ask for a few minutes to gather carpet, wood, tile and other product samples. That’s a good time to offer them water or coffee so you can work the floor and get creative. Do you have a photo album of completed installations? This would be the time to let them browse through it. If not, get to work. Put together an album with photos of installations that make you proud. You can also include letters of recognition from former customers and names of referrals you have gotten along the way. This goes a long way in building that trust and gives the customer something tangible to see while you are working up their design master plan.
Let The Products Be The Star.
We are blessed to work in an industry that produces some truly eye-catching products-products that the consumer may have never seen before. Let the products you are showing take center stage. You are just the host, introducing key decorating elements to your customers. When you hit on the right combination of products, you can see the excitement immediately. At that moment, they are emotionally involved.
Pick Your Products Well.
Lay out each selection, piece by piece, building a design that coordinates, harmonizes and creates excitement. Include ideas they may not have even considered; such as a creative tile medallion for their foyer, or decorative listellos to create unique borders. Add a complementary carpet color and style. If your store offers granite countertops-go for it. Show them a counter sample that coordinates to your selections. You will see the trust level escalate as the customer realizes your ability to pull together an entire design before their eyes. The result: You have built a master plan that entices them. They have fallen in love and they want it all. Their only question: How soon can they get it?
Sell Benefits, Not Features.
It is always important to know the actual technical features of what you are selling, but it is the benefits that appeal to emotions. That’s where you want to focus. Explain exactly how each product will benefit the homeowner. For example, upgraded carpet provides warmth, comfort underfoot, safety against slips and falls, acoustic advantages - the benefits that mean something in the real world. The technical features would be that it is stain resistant, or a 60 oz. face weight product, or made using 100 percent branded nylon content. All of that is listed on the back of the carpet. See the difference?
Stress The Value of Upgrades.
Upgrades can be a tricky business. Customers don’t like it when they fall in love with something and you try to sell them something else. But upgrades have an investment value attached to them that offer short-term and long-term benefits. Short-term: the customer gets what s/he really wants and enjoys living with it. Long-term: upgraded products look good for a longer period of time (compared to base-grade products) and will not need to be replaced quite as soon. In addition, if resale value is important to them, upgraded products always add greater value to the home.
Know When to Listen, When to Talk.
Don’t be so captivated by your own considerable knowledge that you forget to listen. If you do, you will not hear what the customer is saying. I read something that said it best. It’s from Rockhurst University’s Communications Department in Maryland: “The human body has two ears and one mouth. To be good at selling you must find out how to use those natural devices in proportion. Listen twice as much as you talk, and you’ll succeed nearly every time.” Sounds obvious, but try to be objective as you rate yourself on your listening abilities. There isn’t a salesperson on the face of the Earth who doesn’t need to improve that skill.
Lead Them to Green Designs.
Sustainable design, especially in carpet, is becoming increasingly important to consumers. People these days want to be environmentally responsible, so they will choose products that won’t end up in landfills one day. The good news is that carpet manufacturers are already heavily invested in supporting green design. Comprehensive programs that create new products from recycled content are already in place with the major manufacturers. Add in eco-friendly backings and sustainable carpet pad and you have a powerful tool to incorporate into your pitch. The green movement is real and it’s here to stay. Thinking green and knowing which products on your floor are sustainable is a story your customers want to hear.
Use Every Tool.
Okay, you made it happen. Your customer has fallen in love with you and the products you have introduced her to. What now? The best salespeople sell upgrades consistently by creating an irresistible flooring design. They also find an affordable way for the customer to “have it all.” This is when to explain your financing plan, or your store’s promotional offers. This way the customer can “have it all” and she has you to thank. She will tell her friends and, yes, you can bet she’ll be back when she needs more flooring.
In these competitive selling times, your experience already makes you an asset to your company. But don’t be fooled into thinking you can coast on what you have already learned. Building professional (and creative) selling skills is an ongoing process. The techniques outlined here give you an opportunity to round out your creative selling skills. Approach every sale as if it were the most important one of the week and your enthusiasm will translate to strong customer rapport. Add to that your professional polish as you begin to master the art of “building a visual.” Do that and there will be no stopping you!