Back in my younger days, when I was working on a car lot, I would watch as customers – or "Ups," as they were called – would amble onto the lot like unsuspecting flies into a spider's web. The sales staff would descend upon them en masse in an all-out battle for the customer's attention. It was always interesting witnessing the strong, successful salespeople as compared to the weak, low-producing ones, and both were easy to spot. The top producers would be walking with the customers in tow, while the low producers would be following their customers around the lot. The top producers were leading their customers.
Working for Hawaii's leading mattress retailer several years ago, I was the top producer. Out of 175 salespeople throughout their many stores, I was consistently at the top of the sales chart. Since the sales leaders were made known throughout the company, I would occasionally have other sales associates from other stores seek me out for sales advice. They wanted to know what my secret was, why I was at the top of the list. The reason was simple, I explained: I lead.
Every day, customers would stream in with that lost and confused look on their faces. And more often than not, they had a competitor’s business card with mattress specs scrawled on the back. Once greeted, they would present the business card and ask if we had any mattresses that matched the specs of the model they liked at the other store. Usually, the information scrawled on the card was the coil count, foam density, or price. I would take the card, look at it for a second, and ask, "Why is any of this information important to you?" The customer would find they were at a loss, and in that moment of confusion, I would invite them to follow me as I would be happy to show them how to properly shop for a mattress.
When we are children, it is not uncommon to be afraid of the dark. As we peered into the darkness, our imaginations would fill the void with scary monsters and lurking burglars. And at that point, we would have ourselves so scared we would call out for mom or dad, who inevitably would flip on a light and save us from the scary monster about to pounce from inside the closet. Darkness is a void of information, and a lack of information can be scary. That fear drives us to call out for help. Our rescuer flips on a light, and light allows us to instantly see facts and information, and it assuages our fear. The same dynamic is present when most consumers shop for a mattress. They do their research, and yet when they walk into our stores, they are in a state of confusion and fear; fear of a new environment, fear of being approached by a sales associate who may try to pressure them, fear of buying the wrong mattress and losing money, fear of buying a mattress which will only fall apart after a few years, and fear of overpaying for something others got for less. Your customers are looking – no, they are crying out in the darkness – for someone to flip on the lights and help them. They are looking for a leader.
When we take control and lead our customers, they will be grateful and will feel a sense of relief. Customers want someone who knows what they are talking about, and they want someone who will educate them so they feel empowered. Customers don't need a list of the specs, they need someone to take them by the hand and show them how to decide for themselves which mattress is right for them. And it is during this process that you will win the customer's confidence and make the sale. They buy you.
Ever found yourself lost, trying to find a business or residence? You ask someone, who then proceeds to fumble and vacillate, clearly just as confused as you are. Do you go where this person directs you? Certainly not. You ask someone else. And when you find the person who sounds like they know what they are talking about, you confidently proceed with their directions. The same dynamic happens on every mattress sales floor in the world. Customers are lost, they want direction, and they run into a salesperson who proceeds to show them every mattress and talk about specs. The confused and scared customer remains confused and scared with no clear direction. It is the salesperson who confidently leads them and educates them who makes the sale.
There are very few natural leaders in this world; but fortunately, the attributes of a leader can be taught. If you take on the characteristics of a leader, and act like a leader, people will follow you. Here are a few ways you can start acting like a leader on your sales floor:
- Leaders are in control. You may have heard the saying, "Whomever is asking the questions is in control." That is very true on the sales floor, and it starts the moment your customer enters the store. Approach your customer with a question such as, "Have you been to our store before?" Introduce yourself, shake their hand, ask their name and use it. Asking questions will set the tone with your customer, letting them see you are in control. It will also get them talking. And if they are talking, it means you are listening, gathering information, and that will help you guide them to the solution to their issues.
- Leaders ask the questions. Too often, we are taught to give a presentation to customers. However, it is better to have a conversation rather than give a presentation. A conversation involves both parties talking and both parties listening and learning. When you are the leader, you set the tone of the conversation. Your customer asks a question and you not only answer it, but you inquire further, or "dig down" and find out the fear behind the question. Then, once you have answered the question and educated the customer, you come back to asking a question yourself, keeping the balance of the conversation and keeping control.
- Leaders lead, customers follow. If you act and speak in a confident, knowledgeable manner, you will be perceived as someone who can solve issues. Customers are lost, and they are really hoping someone will take them by the hand and make sense of the myriad of mattresses choices, the specs, the sales, and the hype. If you take the time to learn your customer's name, learn their issues, and then take that information and show them how they can solve their issue, your customer can then relax, mentally and physically, and focus on comfort. Bogging the customer down with specs and showing them too many beds will decrease your chance of making a sale.
There are other factors to being perceived as a leader – as someone who can solve your customer's issues – such as using proper body language, the tone and cadence of your voice, and proper attire. Ultimately, your customer is buying you. And if you are perceived as someone who is trustworthy and knows what they are talking about – an authority – you will get the sale more often than not. Yes, price and specs are important. However, customers must first buy into you before they buy into the mattress. If you don't lead, if you do not establish control, you are going to be sending a lot of potential sales out the door with your business card and a bunch of specs written on the back, because they need to "think about it." And guess what? They do need to think about it, because you did not lead them; you did not solve their problems. When they find that sales associate who takes them by the hand and leads them, they will buy. After all, they need and want a mattress, right?
To learn more, check out Joe Alexander’s book Retail Relationships.