Engagement Party. Taniya Nayak, Mohawk’s newly named spokeswoman and the star of the HGTV show Designed to Sell, discusses Mohawk’s new CustomWeave boutique with Floorscapes retailer Jim Naccari of Jim Owens Flooring & Cabinets in Mandeville, La. Mohawk set up a demonstration of the new store-within-a-store concept on the show floor of the Floorscapes convention held in Kissimmee, Fla., in early December.

We are at war. I’m not referring to Iraq. The war we are all waging is for sales. The battle is almost like hand-to-hand combat because it will be won by selling one customer at a time. To survive in these turbulent economic times, you must win the war for customers; you must be more effective at closing the fewer customers who come to you looking for flooring. The game has changed, but the Rules of Engagement have not.

In every war the Rules of Engagement (ROE)determine when, where, and how force shall be applied. Such rules are both general and specific. This is also true in our war. The ROE in selling involve four key issues:  (1) When influence may be applied, (2) Where influence may be applied, (3) Toward whom should this influence be applied in the circumstances described above, and (4) How selling influenceshouldbe applied to achieve the desired ends.

The ROE in our war are extremely important because they provide a consistent, understandable and repeatable standard on how salespeople should act. To be effective, the rules must be carefully spelled out in detail well in advance of an engagement and they should cover a number of scenarios, with different rules for each.

Ask yourself: by what rules do my competitors fight? Are they simply cutting prices? Consumer research has consistently shown that price is secondary for most flooring customers. They prefer to spend more money up front for a quality product that will last. Offering the lowest price will have minimal influence on the customer’s future purchasing decisions. So what other weapons are they deploying? How about your operation? What is your strategy? 

What follows are 10 rules of engagement. Some may appear deceptively simple, but if you and your staff strictly adhere to them, I believe you will increase your closing rate. You will win the war for customers, especially if your competitors are clinging to an ineffective low price strategy.

Rule 1: Greet the customer with a smile within 20 seconds of entering the store.Whether you are busy or not, smile or wave and acknowledge the customer as she enters the store. Act like you are glad and appreciative that she is there. Remember why customers walk out. Often it is indifference.

Rule 2: Empower the customer so they feel in control.Psychologically, this is critical. Feeling manipulated, controlled or coerced, she will leave. Help her feel in control by asking permission (to do anything):“May I ask you a few questions?” “May I put you on hold?” “Is this a good time to talk?” She will then feel in control if you offer her choices (but not so many that she is overwhelmed).“Based on what you’ve told me, I think there are 4 or 5 products that will work perfectly for you. May I show them to you?”She will feel in control if you spend more time asking questions and listening than telling her what she ought to buy.

Rule 3: Sell her what she wants, not what you want.  Be product neutral. Research shows that when salespeople have too few favorite products, they will limit their sales. Remember, a good salesperson sells what the customer wants, not what the salesperson thinks that customer should buy. Following this rule also makes the customer feel in control.

Rule 4: Never talk longer than 30 seconds without asking a question.Listening is hard. The best salespeople keep the customer talking by listening and asking questions. If you are talking too much, the customer may not be engaged. A question or two will keep her focused and talking.Why is that?Because the customer feels more in control when she is talking and you are listening.

Rule 5: Give the customer space if she desires it.Be aware, watch the customer. If her body language and demeanor tell you she wants space, give it to her. Let her look. Watch her (without making her feel uncomfortable). She will tell you (usually non-verbally) when she feels comfortable enough to let you in. While she’s browsing, every once in a while, ask her a question, try to engage her. Letting her have space will help her feel in control. Successful salespeople are helpful, not pushy or overpowering.

Rule 6: Learn your customer’s goals and dreams for her house. What’s her concept of a beautiful room?Most salespeople don’t ask enough questions. Remember the customers make three decisions: on fashion, performance and price. Which is the most important? It depends on the customer. The more good questions you ask, the better your chance of closing the sale. It is the most important tool in the salesperson’s toolbox.  (Email me to request my list of questions you should ask a flooring customer: sam@allmanconsulting.com.)

Rule 7: Never make the presentation before the engaging enquiry. A big mistake salespeople make is to start presenting product before they understand what the customer wants. The customer may say, “I’d like to see your Berbers.” Most salespeople would say, “Sure, come over here and I’ll show you the ones we have on special.” What the salesperson should say is something like, “To help me understand, tell me why a Berber appeals to you.”

Rule 8: Get the customer’s name and address.
  What do you call a customer who walks into your store? A qualified lead. If you let her leave the store without buying and without getting her name and address, you have struck out. With this information, you now have a way to maintain contact and follow up. Your store needs a systemized follow-up program for those customers who aren’t ready to buy on the first visit. (To create a good follow-up or UP System, contact me at sam@allmanconsulting.com.) How do you get her name? You ask. “Mrs. Smith, if I think of something that you might like or something goes on special, may I let you know? Would it be okay if I get your name and address?” (Ask permission.)

Rule 9: Have a price tag on everything and mark it by the square foot so that she can make comparisons without you.Again this strategy helps her feel in control. Customers often conclude that if everything is not marked, the store may be trying to hide something. Trust is lost and salespeople spend more time with a price book than the customer. The customer can’t evaluate different products without the salesperson. She uses price as a way to make comparisons. In addition, the customer has to remember the price of every product quoted. As I heard one customer say:Sometimes they price things by square feet and sometimes they price it by square yard. It’s really annoying and I don’t know how to go about comparing it.

Rule 10: Make the customer’s experience remarkable.“Good remarkable,” in that the customer will want to tell others. The experience is everything. To start be patient, ask good questions and focus on her needs. If she buys something, build value and make certain you sold her the right product and the installation was hassle-free. Once she feels that you really care about her she will want to tell her friends. You made the experience remarkable. You don’t manage the sale; you manage the relationship.

In selling and in war, it is winner take all. How much do you make for the sale you almost made? Yes, times are tough and there are fewer customers.  We have to get better; we have to close more. If you close just one more person out of 10, and you are an average closer, that will give you a 33% increase in sales. If you follow the 10 Rules of Engagement, one more out of 10 is easy. Will you let them work for you?