A retailer should never assume he understands what the customer wants or is looking for without asking questions.

You have heard it before. To assume is to make an #$% out of you and me. In most cases, that is true. However, there are areas in life that require assuming. When opening a new business, we would not invest unless we assume or believe that our venture will be successful.

When a customer walks in the door you should assume that you will make the sale. Creating a vision and assuming it will happen is essential for that vision to come true. Our assumptions many times cause us to take actions we would not take otherwise.

Paraphrasing Henry Ford, “If you assume you can, you can. If you assume you can’t, you can’t.” The problem is “if you assume you can’t, you won’t…you won’t even try.”

With all that being said, assuming can be dangerous. I think that there are some critical assumptions you cannot make when selling and running your business in these lean economic times. Here are three assumptions that can get you into trouble.

Assumption #1:  A consumer’s primary motivation for buying flooring is either fashion or price.False.

Recently, I watched a fascinating discussion on a social networking site about the primary motivation of a consumer buying flooring. Some of our industry’s leading consultants, retailers and columnists assume the primary motivation of the consumer is to have a beautiful home or office.

In many cases, I would agree. However, research indicates that more and more consumers are concerned about performance, quality and ease of maintenance. With more women working, they want easy-care flooring products that will not show everyday use.  

This recession has unquestionably made the consumer more price conscious and more concerned with the value she is receiving for the money she is spending. She is shopping more stores and seems to be more deliberate when purchasing a floor. She is looking for a more judicious use of her dollar.

Making this assumption can cause you to lose the sale. These are valid issues with many customers. But to assume that every consumer values the same thing and are motivated by the same issues is dangerous because it can lead you down the wrong selling path. It’s like responding to a customer who asks if you have porcelain tile, “Sure, come over here and see the ones we have on special.”

When a consumer buys flooring, she will make three decisions. The first is a fashion decision. She asks herself, “How will it look? Will that floor make my home or office beautiful? Will that floor give me the look I desire?

She will also make a performance decision. “Will this floor last and stay attractive with my family? How easy will it be to maintain?”

Finally, she will make a budget or price decision. “How much will it cost? How much can I afford to spend? Will the price be worth the value I receive?”

Which decision is the most important to the customer? It depends on the customer. That’s why it is critical not to assume. Your engaging inquiry will lead you to understand your customer and help find the best product for her. Your questions are the best tool you have to lead your customer to her own conclusion.

Remember, customers are different. Their motivations and values are different. Thank goodness they want different things. It’s what makes salespeople consultants.   

Assumption #2: Customers buy for the same reasons you buy.There is no question you need to believe in what you sell. Customers must feel your conviction. You must be able to influence your customer with your emotions and enthusiasm because all buying decisions are first emotional and then justified with logic. So showing them your favorite products makes sense. False.

This assumption can cause you to lose the sale because if you assume she will like what you like, you will move quickly to showing your favorite products. That will cause you to shorten your inquiry and move to the presentation too soon.

Generally, the more favorite products a salesperson has, the fewer questions he will ask. This limits the empathy the salesperson will acquire for the customer. The customer may think, “Why is the salesperson showing me this? He doesn’t yet understand me. He must make additional commission on this product.”  

Remember, the answers the customers give during the sales inquiry will be used to help find the specific products filling the customer’s specific needs. You can’t shorten the process because you need to learn her motivations. Recall one of the basic rules of selling, “Customers buy for their reasons, not yours.”

Assumption #3: The only way you will make the sale is by offering the lowest price.False.

This assumption can put you out of business. Many retailers, fearing they may not survive this recession are taking business at any margin, forgetting the number one reason a business fails is a period of declining gross margin.  What do most businesses do when they get into trouble? They lower their prices. So if you are competing with businesses that are going broke, they may drag you down with them, unless you have more money than they do.

They primary reason you got into business was to make money. You must stay focused on keeping your gross margin higher than your expenses. Cut your expenses where you can, but eventually you have to quit cutting. You don’t want to cut muscle.

Focus on tactics that will build margin. Consider everything that affects it from merchandising to something as simple as how you display prices. Get out of the surviving mode and into the thriving mode.

Assumptions make an #$% out of you and me because they hold us back from doing what needs to be done. By not making the first two assumptions, you will stay focused on the customer and discover her needs. When you clearly understand her, you will be able to build value and move the focus away from price. When you do that, you will learn by your own experience that the third assumption is also false. You may not sell the very focused price shoppers, but you also won’t be in the graveyard with those that made the wrong assumptions.