How to Maintain Control of the Sale

I heard a comment by a salesperson in a showroom recently that created an opportunity for negative inferences by the customer. I would like to say that the comment was made in a big box store or in a competitor's showroom, but it wasn't. The statement was made by someone in our showroom.

At our showroom, we set aside every Tuesday morning for training, which includes product information, systems for internal success and sales training. In fact, within the last 60 days alone we set aside four hours of training specifically focused on selling skills. However, after hearing the conversation that transpired between this salesperson and customer, it became clear that more work needed to be done.

After having a discussion with my salesperson about the incident, I put together material for our entire sales staff that is specifically designed to improve their opportunities to take and keep control of a sale. Following are many of the points of that plan.


To begin, I'll describe the situation: The consumer was a husband who was alone and gathering information on our products and services. After looking around, he had clearly developed interest. The customer asked about getting an appointment at a time when both he and his wife could come together. The response to his inquiry was, "I am going to be here all day Friday and Saturday, so I am available anytime." The consumer's reply was, "Saturday will work." Then there was silence, as if the customer needed to establish the time.

Here's where the negative inferences begin. The first big failure was that the customer was handled with indifference rather than enthusiasm. Research shows that over 60 percent of customers choose not to do business with a person or a business when they perceive an attitude of indifference.

Next, the customer was given a message indicating that our salesperson wasn't very busy. The salesperson also erred regarding internal company policy, because we don't take any Saturday appointments after 10 a.m. due to the amount of showroom traffic on the weekend.


What could the salesperson have done better? Here are some tips:

1. Qualify the customer. There's so much we need to know about the customer, and we can gather that information over the entire selling process. However, there are four questions whose answers will provide the starting point on the road map to sales success. The questions of who, what, where and when need to be addressed early.

In this case, the who question would have revealed the fact that the customer's wife was an important part of the process and would need to be included. Knowing this, the salesperson should create an appointment that includes the wife by giving the consumer a choice of two or three appointment times. Or, the salesperson could have gone with a more straightforward invitation, such as "I have Saturday at 8 a.m. Would that work for you?" Either of these approaches accentuates the customer's importance as helps the salesperson control the sales process from early on, and in a non-aggressive way.

2. Let the customer know you're a busy person. It's reality; customers like doing business with people who are busy. When a salesperson lets the customer choose the time, it implies that the salesperson is not busy. Customers may then wonder why. Conversely, busy people have an aura of optimism and their enthusiasm about their work draws prospects toward wanting to do business with them.

3. Explain early what the process is, as well as what the responsibilities of each party will be in creating a successful project. This is the time to talk about design fees, time lines and any other important conditions. If you or the prospect cannot meet the necessary conditions and the conditions can't be altered, now is the best time to thank them and direct them to a resource where their needs will be served. If a customer isn't a fit, find out early and move on.

4. Start closing the sale early. Ask questions and make observations that assure that your prospect is dedicated to the project. Though a yes answer to the question "Are we on the right track?" may be what you're looking for, be careful; it may be a qualified "yes." Watch your customer's body language it may tell you something different. Be sure to ask how the customer feels about what you've accomplished so far. This gives the prospect an opportunity to validate your chemistry together.

Another good question is, "I am comfortable to go to the next step, are you?" This will only work if you have told the prospect what the process is and what steps have to be accomplished and by whom.

5. Ask "Do you have any questions or concerns that I haven't covered?" This question gives the client an opportunity to clarify any questions and will start to uncover any burgeoning objections. Asking questions like this will build trust and strengthen communication.

6. Ask "Are you working with any other designers on this project?" If you get a "yes" answer, follow it with "What are you looking at?" "What do you like about it?" "How far along are you with the designing and pricing?" and "Are there ideas you've found that I should be incorporating into my design?" The better you can define the competitive target, the better you'll be able to identify what your client really wants and needs, thereby gaining the sale.

7. Set a time line for making decisions. Let your prospect know that timely decisions help propel the project forward toward a final decision. Let the customer know the expectations to be met and establish a time for all decision makers to meet.

Take a look at your selling experiences in particular the sales you wanted that somehow got away to see if the problem was related to design, price, timing, your services or the fact that you lost control along the way.

I know I'll be using this article in next week's sales meeting, where we'll do some role-playing and have open discussions about how we can best develop and control the sale. I hope you'll do the same.