How to Correct Common Sales Errors

Several years ago, a woman walked into our showroom dressed to the nines and looking to buy a faucet. The salesperson scanned the woman from head to toe and directed her to one of the most expensive faucets available. She was taken aback by the price, and selected a much less expensive faucet instead.

The salesperson said, "You are wearing $650 Gucci shoes, a $5,000 Armani suit and more than 20 carats of diamonds. If you want to buy that faucet, you will have to purchase it elsewhere. I'm going to sell you this faucet [pointing to the more expensive faucet]."

Then, there was excruciating silence followed by laughter and a sale. Much to my surprise, the woman purchased the more expensive faucet.

In the Southwest, an average-looking customer walked into another showroom to purchase a new bathtub. He explained that he wanted a sophisticated, free-standing air tub that he subsequently purchased along with a decorative swan faucet and all of the trimmings. The total bill amounted to more than $20,000. Before leaving, the customer stated, "Next year, I'll come in for the shower. We're looking at a double-wide."

Both of these true stories illustrate a common mistake in the sale of decorative plumbing and hardware: Salespeople often prejudge customers or fail to adequately qualify them. Brash, arrogant, prejudicial and risky are apt descriptions of the salesperson's approach in the first example. The salesperson erred by determining the customer's preferences and budget based entirely on appearance.

In the second example, listening to what the customer wanted instead of being prejudiced by an address led to a sale that more than likely would not have occurred had the customer started a conversation by saying, "Hey, I live in a mobile home and want to buy a new tub."

A failure to determine customer or project needs is a major shortcoming in decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms, claims DPHA president Jeff Burton, of The Bath and Beyond, in San Francisco.

"Sales professionals need to determine who is the buyer is, the budget, delivery schedule and special circumstances," Burton states. "Too often, a showroom is used for a search-and-seek mission, with the exclusive purpose of price shopping or obtaining bids. This is perfectly fine provided that that information is obtained at the beginning of a conversation. But, we don't want to waste our time with third parties who don't understand, appreciate or want our technical expertise and customer service."

Qualifying customers helps determine the best sales approach. For example, if a client wants to purchase a product for a home that has yet to be built, it may be better to discuss concepts instead of specifics, because pricing and selection will differ by the time construction begins. Similarly, if a product is needed immediately, salespeople should direct customers to products that are available from the showroom's inventory.

Jerry Norton, of Designer Hardware by Faye, in Oklahoma City, OK, suggests that the qualification process enables sales professionals to distinguish themselves. "Often, we end up serving as consultants instead of salespersons because it's necessary to help customers achieve their goals," he says.

At Union Hardware, we encourage sales professionals to answer questions with questions because, too often, the customers don't offer enough information to make an informed decision or they don't actually know what they want.

Some commonly made mistakes in the sales process include:

  • Failing to Clarify Product Applications: Sales professionals need to clarify product applications as much as they do customers and their projects.
    "There are many facts that a showroom is not privy to unless the customer provides the information," comments Marilyn Hermance, of Westheimer Plumbing & Hardware, in Houston. "Our role is to encourage the customer to explain unusual applications and potential pitfalls."
    Hermance instructs her sales professionals to ask questions ranging from the location and age of the house to timelines and budgets. She also has found that customers do not understand the technical nuances of decorative plumbing and hardware. "There's a common misconception that one fixture can fit all applications," she says. "If you don't ask the customer to describe an application for the product they want, there's a likelihood they'll purchase something that cannot work."
    According to Hermance, a recent quality assurance audit of Westheimer's business found that change orders were responsible for a large percentage of errors.
    "It's not uncommon for a designer to change the finish on a light fixture that would require changes to the faucets, accessories such as cabinet knobs and possibly door hardware," Hermance comments. "In response, we've developed a formal procedure to track change orders. Problems have decreased significantly as a result."
  • Providing Too Much Information: Many sales consultants get too wrapped up in technical details such as a product's dimensions, available finishes, style nuances, design lineages, environmental impact of manufacturing processes, and the like. While these are all important issues, there's a fine line between effective salesmanship and techno speak.
    We instruct our staff to disseminate information in usable bits without overwhelming customers with information that they do not want or need.
  • Providing Too Many Options: Offering too many options is another common sales shortcoming. In our showroom, we minimize this problem by displaying inventory by style instead of by manufacturer. Products are segmented into contemporary, traditional and formal styles.
    You can improve the efficiency of the sales process by asking, "What style are you looking for?" and "When do you need it?" The responses typically will eliminate at least two thirds of a showroom's inventory from consideration.
  • Avoiding the Money Issue: Money is an issue that sales professionals too often tiptoe around or do not address at all. Burton claims that as many as 50% of his clients don't have a fixed budget. The guidance he provides his sales staff is to discuss budget in positive terms. The message that's then conveyed is that the showroom cares about costs.
    An effective technique to turn cost from a potential negative into a positive is to explain the reasons for price variations, such as materials, finishes and the originality of the design.
  • Failing to Ask for the Order/Inadequate Follow Up: Sales professionals spend hours reviewing priorities, providing options, detailing performance features and developing specifications and bid quotes and then do not ask for an order. Bath and Beyond addressed these problems by developing an automated tracking system for outstanding quotes that issues frequent reminders to sales professionals and requires that they respond.
  • Failing to Manage Expectations: Effective sales require effective expectation management, according to Tony Carter, of Carter Hardware, in Beverly Hills, CA.
    Carter explains that attention to detail cannot be overstated. "The nature of our business is such that time frames are unrealistically compressed. There's so much pressure to deliver yesterday that often the simple details get lost or ignored."
    Carter instructs his sales staff to avoid absolutes when discussing lead times. "We don't make a delivery commitment until we've received an order in writing with an explicit approval of the schedule we've detailed," he says. "Once received, we provide an estimated delivery date, knowing from experience that we need to spend as much time on the back end as the front end, expediting and then inspecting the material before it's shipped to a customer."
    Training in both the technical aspects of our industry and the art of salesmanship can help avoid most of the common problems made by DPH sales professionals. Business owners, managers and sales staff should review their operations to determine sales techniques that should be implemented, changed or eliminated to increase profitability, quality and professionalism.