I don’t know how many conversations we at the DPHA have had with members about how dramatically the industry has changed and how our businesses need to change to keep pace. Change is especially difficult if you have a history of success, as many DPH showrooms have had.
Many will say they have adapted to new market conditions, but what changes have you really made in the past five years to respond to current market conditions? Have you changed the products on your showroom floor? How many new vendors have you partnered with? How many have you said goodbye to voluntarily? Have you changed the content on your Web site, or the way you train your staff to teach them how to build better relationships with customers?
It’s clear that we all must change the way we train our sales professionals if we’re going to satisfy the changed needs and buying habits of our customers. As an industry, we haven’t fully responded to the new paradigm of how our customers buy products. We remain very much product-centric in our customer interactions, our showroom focus and the training we provide.
It’s not that the sales training we offer isn’t good. Our sales teams receive boat loads of training, most of it conducted by reps and manufacturers who provide information about their products. This training involves the intimate details of the functional and technological features and benefits of decorative plumbing and hardware. Salespeople learn what finishes are available, what code approvals a product has obtained, how many gallons of water a fixture uses and what’s behind the wall that no one sees.
This product-centric training has met our industry’s needs for decades. Customers came to our showrooms to see, feel and touch products that were rarely available elsewhere. By describing features and benefits, showroom consultants used their superior knowledge to connect with customers, establish trust, make recommendations and close sales.
But the Internet has changed the rules of the game and training needs. Selling just features and benefits is out of touch with today’s reality. Customers come to our showrooms armed with reviews, ratings and comparison-shopping data that gives them the idea that they have all or most of the information they need. Sales professionals can’t simply rely on knowing more about a product than their customers, because that may no longer be true.
If you subscribe to the notion that the way our customers buy has radically changed, then you know that the way we sell has to change. We also need to take a critical look at the way we train our teams to build better, trusting relationships with customers. There’s no doubt we must continue to teach our staff the functional, technical and operational features of products sold in our showrooms. But we also need to focus on how to sell in this new environment.
I don’t know a single DPH showroom that has a formal sales training program teaching the art of selling. We don’t have programs that guide our sales teams to respond to customers who claim they can purchase the same or similar products for less online.
RULES OF THE GAME
Where do we find the tools to teach our team how to establish a relationship with a complete stranger in 20 to 30 minutes?
One way is to take advantage of research conducted by Daniel Pink and described in his book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. Pink believes selling in today’s world requires the ability to influence, persuade and change behavior while striking a balance between what customers want and what showrooms can provide.
Pink claims that the new tools needed to successfully sell are attunement, buoyancy and clarity. Attunement requires understanding the customer’s perspective by asking questions and listening critically to responses. We need to teach our sales professionals to focus on understanding the buyer’s thoughts rather than feelings.
Buoyancy is the balance between positive and negative forces. It allows sales professionals to survive repeated rejections by learning how to ask and answer questions, maintaining a positive attitude and having an optimistic outlook even if an initial approach does not deliver the desired result.
Clarity moves the sales process from a features and benefits emphasis to an emotional connection that involves describing the experiences customers will enjoy by purchasing recommended products. Providing clarity can only be achieved by asking the right questions, because in today’s new world of sales, Pink writes, “being able to ask the right questions is more valuable than producing the right answers.”
THROUGH THE CUSTOMERS’ EYES
Our training needs to focus on looking at the buying process through the customer’s eyes to better understand how customers engage with our showrooms and brands. Our ability to ask the right questions is contingent upon understanding the journey our customers take and our ability to make that trip as enjoyable as possible.
Adam Richardson, creative director at Frog Design, a global innovation firm, writes in an HBR Blog, “A customer journey looks at things entirely from the customer’s point of view: their actions, goals, questions and barriers.”
Showrooms support customers on their journey through various touch points that occur when customers interact with our brands. These interactions take place when customers come to our showrooms, visit our Web sites, deal with accounting and soak in the tub we sold them. Touch points are concrete and completely controllable. To help identify and leverage competitive advantages of your interactions with customers, Richardson suggests asking yourself:
- What specific things do you do at each touch point?
- Do you address customer motivations, answer questions, allay concerns?
- How do touch points need to differ for designers, architects, installers or homeowners?
- Do your touch points answer questions customers don’t know they should ask? Are they solving problems and easing stress to help differentiate you from your competition?
- Are your touch points consistent?
- What obstacles do you present that make it more difficult to transact purchases?
It’s important that every time your business touches a customer, it delivers what the client needs. In this day of hyper competition, if you lose one meeting, you could very well lose a customer.
There are numerous wonderful sales guidelines and training programs designed to help your teams, but few respond to the changed environment we now live in. It boils down to one simple thing: You have to want to do it. The longer you wait, the better the competition will get.
Kate Brady is manager of showroom operations for General Plumbing Supply. She is the President-Elect of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association.