Avoiding Common Selling Pitfalls

It's always difficult, I find, to address the topic of the major pitfalls in selling kitchen/bath products and services. It isn't that one particular pitfall is more devastating than another. It's just that any one or more can hinder your effectiveness and stand in the way of success as a salesperson.

A good place to start is with the all-too-common loss of sales because you erroneously assume the client is going to do business with you. This develops from your neglect in asking if the client is in agreement with you, and if they plan on you as the source for their project. It also can mean that you don't have a mechanism in place such as a retainer/ design fee to help assure that your investment will result in a sale.

You may be too uncomfortable to ask the necessary questions, or lack the skills to place the customer in a position that assures you the sale. The best solution to this pitfall is to start at a very early point in the sales process, and then continue to ask for client agreement on your offering and then do everything in your power invite them to do business with you as quickly as possible.

A 'new' customer
Today's consumers are different than they used to be; consequently, it is we who must adjust. There are two key areas in which the customer has changed. Both cause challenges we weren't facing 10 years ago.

First, the today's customer is more informed than ever about our offerings. The Internet, shelter magazines, televised home shows, and other factors deliver more information than ever to consumers.

For the most part, the information they have access to is correct, although it may not be understood as accurately as it's delivered. Because of this, you must be sensitive to possible inaccuracies.

You must gain information about what they know through your questioning skills. Again, it's a case of how strong your basic selling skills are and how much accurate information you can gather through the proper questioning.

The next difference I see and hear about is the customers' aggressiveness and, often, their lack of fairness taking both the "fun" and the profit out of the sales profession.

I don't have a solution to this potential sales pitfall, outside of developing your "relationship" skills and, very early in the sales process, letting the consumer know the parameters of how you and your company operate.

It's become very important to keep an accurate paper trail of our communications with consumers, developing documents that can be easily understood concerning what you'll be delivering and doing for them, and signing off on all documents. Included in this would be all add-ons and change orders. Also remind yourself that if you can detect the proverbial "customer from hell" before you sign documents, you don't have to take their business.

With our selling skills, most of us are able to qualify customers; however, we need to also be able to calculate the opportunity each customer presents for us and disqualify them if they or their project don't mesh with our capabilities.

Knowledge needed

A lack of knowledge also becomes a major pitfall for many salespeople. In our company, we dedicate Tuesday mornings for training. We spend time on product knowledge, systems and skills in an effort to give us an advantage in the market.

I know that many business owners feel they just don't have the time to train; in contrast to that approach, we feel we must dedicate time to train in order to maximize our sales potential in the marketplace. We want to make sure that when we advertise professionalism, we're in a position to deliver just that.

The kitchen and bath industry has developed into a very complex and detailed sales/design profession. In order to develop yourself as an industry professional, it will require a major investment of time and, in many cases, money to learn what is necessary to function at the level required particularly in the face of new forms of competition.

Interestingly, what many people do once they experience some measure of success is to immediately quit learning. The problem with this attitude is that as the industry continues to change, you must keep up with the product knowledge, industry knowledge, design knowledge and human relationship skills needed to keep your marketing position strong. As the industry becomes more difficult and challenging, greater success will come to those who are smart enough to invest in learning.

If you feel you're caught in an uncomfortable workplace that prohibits you from rising to the top, you're no doubt right in your assessment that you won't get to the top. My suggestion in those cases is to just keep developing your skills, making yourself attractive to work situation in which where you can grow and use your talents to their maximum. This will translate into an opportunity where you'll receive maximum rewards in job satisfaction, customer satisfaction and income.

Teamwork needed
Another pitfall in selling kitchens and baths today is failing to remember that we're dependent on many others for our success. Your spirit of cooperation and team-building skills are all-important when it comes to creating relationships that are dependable.

In creating these relationships, you must mirror your expectations. Never expect more from others than you're willing to do!

Think about how you feel about your relationship with the following: manufacturer's customer service department; the representatives of the manufacturer; subcontractors; installers; delivery people, your accounting department, etc. Remind yourself continually that failure with any of these people will cause failure of your projects.'

The final pitfall I'll mention this month is the lack of ability and discipline required to take care of details. This could involve returning a phone call, being on schedule with your appointments and quotes, and the like.

This column will either assist you in addressing a weakness, or you'll feel you're fine and do nothing. Whatever you decide, you owe it to yourself to review your entire selling/designing process and see what pitfalls you're prone to and then take action to correct them.

Pitfalls are those things that stand between you and earning profitable sales. I have faith in the future of those involved in a continual process of self-improvement. Discover what's holding you back, and solve the problem.