Taking a Look Back at the Last Twenty Years

I have just completed my twentieth year of authoring "Closing the Sale" for Kitchen & Bath Design News, and I wanted to say thank you to all of the readers and advertisers. This column has given me an opportunity to share my opinions and philosophy of business, and bring focus to the importance of selling skills to be successful in our industry.

This month, I take a look back at some industry changes, and review some of the basics of selling that I believe in that have not changed over the years.

What has changed? Well, things such as harvest gold appliances, or how we thought that almond was a color that would last forever, until stainless steel showed up.

And, there was a time when a stain color called fruitwood seemed to cover the world. Today, we have finishes with stains and paints covering literally thousands of choices, not to mention glazes. It seems we have come close to confusing consumers in trying to give them all they want.

The design of our kitchens reaches so far beyond function that it has literally taken on an art form. The drafting board has disappeared and the computer is the centerpiece of design.

So, what is ahead for owners, managers, salespeople and designers? As I see it the challenge of earning the prospect's business is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago. Prospects will not become customers until, from their perspective, they find benefits to be gained or losses to be avoided by investing in your products and services.

Passion and Skill
I have had the opportunity to meet many very successful sales/design people in our industry. They share many attributes in common, such as product and industry knowledge, and creative and design skills, but there is one characteristic that stands taller than all of the rest. These winners have a passion for their work and approach every selling opportunity with that passion. Passion creates enthusiasm, and this cannot be taught. They are the emotional results fueled by success.

Sales skills, knowledge, organization skills, etc. are skills one learns, and learned skills are important in creating a difference in your favor in the competitive marketplace. Never leave yourself short because of lack of effort in your personal development.

When all of your skills come together, it is important you use and share them for your success. The result is that this will create an even greater passion for your profession.

In the past 20 years, I have found that winners must excel in many sales skills. One of the most important is questioning and listening. What we know has little value until we know what our prospect knows. The probability of sales success is lifted when we have identified clear targets of the customer's needs, wants, desires and expectations. It's always interesting to watch the original targets being set aside for others as we reveal and demonstrate our creativity, products and services. Most often, the new targets are upgrades and require a greater investment by the prospect. To me, this is proof that prospects will find the amount of money (within reason) to buy what they want to own.

From this process, two wonderful things take place. First, we and our companies profit from the upgrades. Second, the consumers are happier with their improved project.

Twenty years has not changed another basic selling skill. That skill is understanding that emotions drive the prospect in shaping buying decisions. We are fortunate to be in an industry with so many product features yielding consumer benefits to drive the buyer's emotions to favorable decisions.

One strong emotional drive is delivering convenience. An example of this is the benefit of storage and access with the wide pots and pans drawer bases with full extension. Once the prospect understands, with the help of your selling techniques, the ease of putting things away and envisions them when stored and how easy they are to access when needed, it triggers positive buying emotions.

Another strong emotional driver is safety. This could be having the microwave at the right height, creating the best traffic pattern within the room, providing accessible landing space for items being removed from a heat source, having the kitchen lighted well the list goes on.

Creating emotions requires tools to transfer knowledge to the prospect. This is done with displays, samples, literature, interpretive drawings, etc. Using these tools properly will heighten the consumer's emotions. You will also find you can enhance your sales tools by appealing to the senses of seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and tasting. This is most effective when done by demonstration.

For the past 20 years, I have shared my belief in overcoming objections during the selling process. It is important that you identify and solve objections on your way to closing the sale, not at the time you are closing the sale. Evaluate your most common objections and solve them in your selling process.

Another characteristic of winning salespeople and a basic skill that has not changed is controlling the sale. There are many distractions between meeting and greeting and the point where you can write up the order. It is vitally important to be the conductor of the sales process in the same way the maestro controls his symphony with this baton. Being in control requires being firm about the direction and tempo of the sale but also letting the prospect know what to expect and not blindsiding the person with something unexpected. Control will make it easier to move the sales opportunity to a successful conclusion for you and, equally important, create a successful conclusion for your prospects project.

The Right Words
There are some phrases that worked 20 years ago that still work today. And, they will work tomorrow. These include phrases such as please, thank you, I appreciate that, you did a good job, and may I help you. Successful people understand that their success depends on the right attitude and skills of many others. For this reason, it's wise to surround yourself with people who see the goals of success and how to get there the same way you do. When done correctly, you are also contributing to their success.
While I was preparing my thoughts, I pulled the January 1985 issue of K&BDN with my first article. In looking and reviewing it and seeing my picture, I found how much I have changed physically in appearance. However, the article was about organizational skills, and I found that my beliefs about how to become a successful salesperson have not changed.

Well, friends, thanks for the past. Now let's look forward to ways to improve our future.