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Asking The Right Questions - Part 1

Furniture World Magazine


Ask the right questions and get the answers you need to move the sale forward.

Today's consumer is more sophisticated, savvy and suspicious than ever before. They want to be educated, informed and assisted in a professional, helpful manner. Getting put-down, beaten up, pounced upon, or totally ignored is not part of the agenda!

We sometimes forget that our customer's degree, license, or Ph. D. is in their field ~ not ours. When we assume they know the answers to our questions, we assume wrong. We end up sounding like a "Stepford Clerk" whose opening lines are "panned and canned." Yep, we've got our "greeting" down pat. We ask everyone the same questions the same way in the same tone. What's so horrifying here? They are not even the right questions!

The #1 sure-fire way to shoot yourself in the foot is to ask her questions she can't answer! Go ahead. Make her feel foolish and even more uncomfortable! That will really help you establish rapport and bond with "Ethel." Remember, she doesn't want to be here in the first place!

She comes through your front door and tells you she's looking for a couch. What's the next question most salespeople in their infinite wisdom, ask? "What kind of "style" do you want?"

Does she know? No-o-o! So... why did you ask her that question?

You know that she does not know the answer. Even worse, she might think she does! Yet her definition of a "Tuxedo" sofa and your definition could be from here to Mars!

Remember that most consumers are "style challenged!" This is not a criticism, it is a statement of fact. It's like someone asking me to explain particle physics with mathematical precision.

It is a good idea to eliminate the words "kind" and "style" From your vocabulary. These are two more "lizard words" to add to your list (see the March 1998 issue of FURNITURE WORLD or the sales skill index on www.furninfo.com).

After shooting ourselves in the foot, we then fire that final bullet when we ask customers, "Do you prefer contemporary or something more traditional?" Predictably, they reply, "I don't know. I'll know it when I see it."

When we hear these words expressed just that way, most of us race back to the FORT as fast as our little legs will carry us! Labels, (Contemporary, Traditional, Country) are "lizards" which need to be eliminated from your presentation!


Another question that you want to delete from your repertoire is, "what kind of wood do you want?" I used to ask that question all the time and got one answer on a consistent basis. "Oak. I want oak. Give me oak."

They didn't want "oak." They just knew that oak is strong. Oak is mighty. Oak is a hard wood. "Give me oak." They knew that oak was a good wood to want!

Ask them instead: "Do you prefer a light wood or a dark wood?" "Would you like your room to be more casual, or more "dressed up?" (Notice I didn't even say formal or informal.) They know the answers to these questions.


One more roadblock that you want to avoid is colors. I had a client who wanted me to come out and measure for draperies. "Wonderful! What color is your carpeting?" "Gold she emphatically replied." Now maybe in her former life that carpet was gold. The day I hit her front door it was avocado green!

Or you get this reply when you ask about the color of the carpeting. "Desert mist!" That's the color - that's exactly what she saw on the label! This lesson was confirmed at one of my seminars from a fellow "Color Believer." She had a customer who told her that she wanted pastels. This consultant selected some pastel fabrics and heard this woman shriek, "No, I told you. I want pastels!" This customer really wanted jeweltones!

The next time a customer asks you for "pastels," ask her, "There are so many different pastel colors. Which ones do you prefer?" When she specifies navy blue, burgundy & dark green - "Oh, those pastels," should be your reply. She's not embarrassed and you find out exactly what she's talking about!


Be very careful not to use the "lingo" of the trade.

I had a customer who told me she was looking for a sofa. I handled this brilliantly. I looked her straight in the eye and said, "wonderful! what kind of frame do you want?" She looked at me and replied very sweetly, "honey, I'm not here for a picture!" Similarly, it is very hard to romance case goods.

Several years I had my own personal "adventure." I was shopping for my first computer. I told salespeople in the first three stores I visited that I was "computer illiterate" and needed a machine that was "idiot proof." They opened their mouths to speak and all I heard was this very strange language that included "mega-bytes, CD roms, hard drive, software, modem and floppy disks!" I felt as if I had been abducted to another planet. They were not talking English. They were definitely not communicating in "consumereze." They didn't care about me or my needs. They wanted to show how brilliant and knowledgeable they were. This entire process was making me more confused and giving me a headache. It's tough to build rapport when you're in pain. I needed their assistance to make a smart buying decision. Instead, they made me feel more uncomfortable by talking to me in "computereze" instead of "consumereze!"

I meet lots of sales consultants who tell me, "I just don't understand. It's so hard for them to visualize how their room will look. What's the matter with them? It's so easy. Why are they making this so difficult? I'm so frustrated with these people that just don't know! They just don't get it!

It's not the customer's job to get it... it's the salesperson's job! That's why they need your help! Today, more than ever before!

Empathize with consumers who need your help. Remember, you are a consumer too. How do you want to be treated? Consider this, and then you can apply the platinum rule.


It's a newer more sensitive version of the golden rule which Tony Alessandra defines as, "do unto others as they'd like done unto them." It is also one of the biggest secrets in sales. People only buy from people who they trust and people only trust people who are like themselves.

The faster you can "empathize" and become like that other person, the faster they will trust you... buy you... and buy from you.

Apply the platinum rule today in all walks of life. Put yourself in the consumer's shoes. Treat them the way they want to be treated. Focus on where they're coming from. People today don't want products... they want solutions. Let customers know that you are the problem solver with the answers.

My philosophy has always been that anybody can sell anything to anyone once. But why would you ever want to do that? Why would you ever work that hard to sell a customer only once? If you are going to spend your time, give them your expertise, and build a great rapport with them, you need to make real sure that they become your client. You want them back again and again to see you. You want them referring friends and acquaintances to you.

Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates and "T 'N T." She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Her latest audio tape series on follow-up is called "The Marketing of "Me, Inc." - Taking Your Company Into the Next Millennium!" 10 audio tapes plus a comprehensive "how-to" manual that helps your people turn all the customers into "clients!" Questions can be addressed to her care of FURNITURE WORLD at