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It's Buying, Silly - Part 4 - Knowledgeable Salespeople!

Furniture World Magazine


Customers need knowledgable salespeople.

How would you like to have a sales job in which every customer you encountered bought something? You’re probably ready to shout out, "Take me to that job!" Relax, and allow me to describe that job a little further. It’s the sales job at a super market checkout counter! These clerks ring up a lot of sales and earn proportionally little for standing on tired legs many hours each day. Neither do they get credit for handling a wide array of nagging problems of one kind or another. Theirs is not really a sales job, you might reply, and with good reason. It isn’t. They have nothing to do with customers’ commitment to the items they select.

If you are in a real sales job, you have to win the customer’s commitment. But before you can do that, you need to provide the customer with relevant features and benefits. Before you can do that, you need to find out what your customer is specifically looking for and why. But that’s just the beginning. You have to find out if what the customer is specifically looking for is best for that customer. You also have to make sure the customer and you have a clear understanding of all of their needs... not just one of them. Finally you need to have developed an understanding of the priority of those needs.

One of the difficulties in arriving at this kind of understanding of a customer’s needs is that often customers have a rather vague understanding of them. And a good thing it is that they do. For if all customers had a clear, complete, and mutual understanding of their needs, they probably would have little if any necessity for a genuine salesperson. They would only need a checkout sales clerk to ring up the sale! The point of all this is that customers for most types of larger ticket items really need knowledgeable salespeople.

Although many contemporary sales books claim that today’s customers are better informed than those of yesteryear, I personally don’t find that to be so. Naturally today’s customers are better informed about computers than in the days when computers were brand new, but are they better informed about the quality of furniture?

The general public has a general knowledge regarding the products it buys. The public is termed general because it has general information about a great variety of things. That is why anyone who makes a major purchase leans heavily on the knowledge of a professional salesperson.

But how should salespeople act when they come across customers who are clear about what they are looking for, but lack the required knowledge to make the best buying decision? Should salespeople automatically "go with the flow" or "jump on the same bus" as some sales consultants might advise? I think not. For while it is a strong rule in selling not to oppose the wishes of a customer, it is an even stronger rule – and one based on ethics – always to provide customers with the information they need to make the best buying decision. Had a true counselor guided those westward bound travelers in Steinbeck’s "Grapes of Wrath," those unfortunate settlers might have been spared a lot of tragic misery. Those settlers knew where they were headed; they did not know what awaited them there. Theirs was a terrible buying mistake!

Often customers’ idea of what can best satisfy their needs is equally flawed. Therefore, they need salespeople who are true counselors or consultants. For just as optometrists use the instrument called a phoropter to keep on testing which lens best fits the patient’s eyes, so too do customers need a professional salesperson to be informed of what best fits their needs.

Successful salespeople know the wonderful feeling of having directed their customers to the best buying decisions. It is the feeling only knowledgeable and ethical salespeople get to experience.


Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at finney@furninfo.com.