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Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Back to Sales Basics

Furniture World Magazine


Whether or not you agree that we’ve entered a new retail paradigm, it’s time to double down on proven sales practices.

We seem to be living in strange, troubled times. There is persistent pessimism among businesses and consumers alike. Inflation remains high by historical standards and there are lingering supply chain worries made worse by concern about dependence on foreign essential goods. Politicians are calling for re-shoring critical industries to bolster “Made in America,” but with low unemployment, numerous job openings and few takers for many jobs, where are we going to find qualified American workers who are willing to make things? And as usual, there is no consensus from the experts and politicians as to how to fix any of it.

A New Retail Paradigm?

Do we have a new retail paradigm? Maybe, but it may take a while to be certain. In my opinion, until we have absolute evidence, retailers would be wise to examine their current sales practices against the proven, successful sales practices of previous decades.

I have never known anyone to fail that employed proven and boldly applied sales practices, enforced by serious training and performance, no matter how the world has turned.

Recent articles in Furniture World have advocated for retailers to get back to basics in a number of areas, including sales skills training.

During the past couple of years, when demand was high, many salespeople became order writers. Now that we’ve transitioned to the next phase, a rigorous review of what you are doing now can reveal organizational weaknesses that should not have been allowed to happen in the first place. Sometimes, it is easier for store owners and managers to blame ‘the times’ than to frankly address what should be obvious problems in your company’s sales routines.

“The salesperson’s function is to help, not greet then wander off and leave the customer to browse or leave.”

Proven Sales Habits?

As strange as it seems for somebody (like me) who started in retail sales nearly thirty years ago, there are a lot of people now working in retail showrooms that have had little or no introduction to serious retail sales training. With no anchor in sales theory or practice, the world starts over for them with every new customer. It is no wonder that so many newly hired retail salespeople quit in failure and disgust; after disdaining what could have been a meaningful and financially rewarding career.

Whether you are trying to address the needs of a rookie confronted with a bewildering array of products, policies and inventory; or a seasoned professional who hit a career roadblock, sound sales training will benefit your organization.

Where do you start? A good place is with a review of product knowledge and the steps of the sale. There are a number of inexpensive, effective mattress and furniture sales books. Some I’ve mentioned in previous articles are my book “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales; the Bed Seller’s Manual” and “The Selling Bible” by John F. Lawhon; plus, “Spring Training” and “Sell More Beds” by Gerry Morris. More resources will be listed later in this article.

“When qualifying customers who are shopping for bedding, questions fall into four major categories. These include...”

The Four Groups of Knowledge

Whether your store has a 40-odd SKU mattress display, or a showroom measured by the acre with thousands of furniture and mattress SKUs, your salespeople must know about ALL of them. There is no better confidence-builder for a new salesperson than to be thoroughly up to date on all of your products—their names, specs, prices, manufacturers, warranties and the mechanics of how products such as motion furniture, extendable tabletops and adjustable beds work. It’s usually an impressive list of features and benefits that salespeople need to learn. Regardless of one’s sales experience or perceived sales ability, you cannot sell if you don’t know your products. No paradigm shift in marketing, sales or consumer demand will ever change that reality.

In addition to product knowledge, salespeople must master store policies, advertising, inventory and financing. It’s especially important right now to have a plan in place to double down on their study of these subjects. Their success as salespeople depends on it.

Steps Of The Sale

When was the last time you and your staff reviewed the Steps of the Sale? These steps are guidelines they should keep in mind every time a new customer walks through the door.

It’s my experience that repetition is necessary because professional salespeople sometimes get sloppy in their habits. It’s been said that Broadway actors repeat the same lines night after night, year after year, but their audiences hear those lines for the first time. That’s why actors cannot afford to get sloppy. They must continually study and refine their performances to keep them fresh. The same is true for retail salespeople.

Not every sales trainer agrees on the definition or sequence of the Steps of the Sale, but for the most part, here are the definitions of each step most of you are no doubt familiar with.

“Now that we’ve transitioned to the next phase, rigorous review of what you are doing now can reveal organizational weaknesses that should not have been allowed to happen in the first place.”
  1. The Approach and Greet Step is one of the most overlooked and misused steps. Its purpose is to attract and command the customer’s attention. A weak, whimpering “Welcome to Our Store” may not be that riveting.

  2. The Qualifying Step is another that’s badly misused and needs to be periodically reviewed. It is the conversation between the salesperson and the customer, by which the salesperson gets to know the customer’s needs and wants, budget, room to be furnished, how they plan to use items, ability to pay, urgency, where they’ve shopped previously, etc. These questions are best done diplomatically, asking a series of questions; then waiting for, listening to and interpreting the customer’s answers.

    When qualifying customers shopping for bedding, questions fall into four major categories. These include health- and medical-related questions, sleep and comfort questions, selection and presentation questions, and problem and situation analysis questions.

    The whole point of qualifying is to gather enough information so that the salesperson can solve the customer’s problem or achieve their goal. The salesperson’s function is to help, not greet then wander off and leave the customer to browse or leave.

    One more thing. Salespeople who really dig down to uncover the customer’s motives and plans often find that some have more on their minds than what they initially asked for. They may have come in to buy a twin mattress, for example, but are also thinking about redecorating two other bedrooms.

  3. The Selection Step.Helping customers find what they are looking for requires a deep understanding of product knowledge. It does no good to learn what a customer wants without knowing every SKU and where to find it.

    Once a shopper has been led to product or products that seem to solve the shopper’s problem and have their attention and interest, that shopper has “landed.” Only then is it time for salespeople to present this product as a prospective solution. This includes giving a product demonstration. During the qualifying step, the salesperson should have already learned all the “hot” points likely to impress a particular customer. Now is the time for them to confirm all these salient points and emphasize how the product satisfies those needs and wants. Only then is it wise or permissible to proceed to the next step.

  4. Closing the Sale. It is rare for a sale to be closed without encountering a few customer objections. Customers often display a natural reluctance to part with their hard-earned money. It is important for salespeople to understand this and respect why customers are hesitant. The Furniture World archives include several articles on handling objections. John F. Lawhon, the author of “Selling Retail,” said that closing should be as easy as “writing it up” if you know the five groups of knowledge. Of course, it’s easier to write about closing the sale than it is to actually do it in real time.

    Only when a solution to the customer’s problem has been found, has a salesperson EARNED the right to ‘Ask for the Sale,’ often by asking some version of the big closing question: “Would you like to go ahead and get this now?” It’s amazing how many sales are lost because salespeople simply don’t ask.

Additional Bedding Resources

In addition to the books mentioned previously, Furniture World makes available a large collection of archived sales education articles. To access them, click on the ‘Articles’ option in the top menu at https://www.furninfo.com, then select Furniture World Sales Education Articles. If you are specifically looking for information on bedding sales, go to https://www.furninfo.com/series/Bedding/1.

Listed below are articles at https://www.furninfo.com/series/Bedding/1 with more information to help train bedding product knowledge and review the steps of the sale.

  • Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Everything RSAs Need to Know About Bedding
  • Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: The Approach & Greet
  • Better Bedding & Mattress Series: Qualifying Questions Methodology
  • Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Selection & Presentation Qualifying Questions
  • Better Bedding & Mattress Sales Series: More Qualifying Questions
  • Better Bedding & Mattress Sales Series: The Selection Step
  • Retail Bedding & Mattress Sales: The Presentation
  • Better Bedding & Mattress Sales:
  • I Object Again!
  • Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Introduction to Closing 
  • Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Making a Great Closing Argument

Wrapping It Up

Finally, it is important to wrap up the sale correctly. Besides the obvious chores of setting delivery, completing paperwork, including financing details, etc., salespeople should also be planning for the next sale. And not just for their current customer but also for any referrals they receive from that customer. Remember, at the closing stage, a salesperson’s relationship with a customer is at its apex. That’s why every customer should be asked to tell their friends, neighbors and co-workers about the great experience they just had at your store.


We started this discussion by asking the question, “Is there a new Retail Paradigm?” I will now give a more definitive answer which is, “who cares?” The more important lesson, in my opinion, is not to be overly worried by slower traffic or other current factors mentioned at the start of this article. Instead, get back to the basics of selling and make the most of every UP.


About David Benbow: David Benbow, a veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company offering mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) He has many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas.

He is the author of  “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual” that systematically presents a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It can be purchased at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.
Questions an comments can be directed to him at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or 361-648-3775.

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