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Next Level Sales Training—Connecting With Customers

Furniture World Magazine


Part 16— by Scott Morris

Scott Morris says that many furniture and bedding sales associates habitually try to connect with customers in all the wrong ways.

Not addressing the “Lost Art of Selling” on your sales floor is no doubt costing you Big Time!

The Problem

The most significant change on retail sales floors I’ve witnessed over the last several decades is that most furniture salespeople have lost the ability to connect with customers through impactful product demonstrations. Instead, salespeople answer their customers’ direct questions and then try to be very “nicey, nicey” throughout the remainder of the sales process. I’ve seen this done in every furniture store I’ve visited in the past few years. Salespeople usually dart in and out of their customer’s presence, too, probably trying to give them a feeling of not being hounded.

A Short Story

Here’s a short story to illustrate this point: I recently visited a local store and noticed a young, unattended couple. I initially saw them on the first floor, then recognized them later on the second floor, sitting on a reclining sofa and looking puzzled. The sales staff had not approached them. I perceived that they were looking for their very first living room set. I approached them and said, “I used to sell furniture. Do you have any questions?” They asked about the quality. I answered them and followed up with a logical question, “Even though these seats recline, might you want to lie on the sofa occasionally?” They answered, “Yes.” So, I explained that this sofa would work particularly well for that, too. “The lower arms are a perfect height to provide proper support for your head, plus the wide and very soft arms are made to be very comfortable for both your head and neck!”

Just as I finished that statement, a salesperson, whose up it evidently was, came hustling towards us and shouted loudly: “Do you have questions?” Then, he gave me a pretty noticeable stare, which caused me to take my leave very quickly. As I walked away from his customers, I heard the couple shout, “Thank you so much for all your help. We really learned a lot!”

What Happened

When I broke into the industry, things were much different. Back then, I would have reprimanded the salesperson who acted this way for inattentiveness to the young couple, crude re-approach demeanor, and noticeable rudeness towards a helpful customer.

So, what’s happened within the industry that brought about such a dramatic change in sales behavior? A writer for a major Brazilian furniture publication is the one who made me see the light. During an interview, he asked me, “Do salespeople in America still sell the furniture anymore?” I didn’t quite understand the nature of his question, so I asked, “What do you mean?” He replied, “The beautiful visual displays here in Brazil pretty much do all the selling now!” I hadn’t realized this was also rapidly becoming a common practice for stores here. I’m not suggesting that attractive products and eye-catching displays aren’t important, and I’m aware that most shoppers browse retailers’ websites to prepare for in-store visits. However, once they walk into a brick-and-mortar store, they need guidance.

Here’s a quick and simple test to pose to your salespeople that’ll really bring home this point! Ask them to answer the following questions:

  • Share with me various ways you get your customers physically involved with a living room set.

  • Do you ever ask them any ‘opinion questions’ and then ‘tie-down’ questions right afterward while presenting?

  • Do you routinely show customers a better ‘step-up’ set and then physically demonstrate the comparative “good-better-best” differences?

Evaluating your sales team can be even easier than that! Stand in the middle of the sales floor on a busy day and observe what’s going on. Do they educate customers about the features and benefits of the furniture, with plenty of physically interactive proofs given? Or do you see a lot of constant face-to-face chit-chat taking place away from the furniture, often while the furniture is being ignored?

Customers certainly won’t buy unless they are SOLD on how FURNITURE will fulfill their particular needs and are convinced they are getting a good value. Eye-candy appeal is the initial attraction, but it won’t do anything to overcome their important hidden concerns or answer this all-important last consideration: “Will this hold up, or will it fall apart on me?”

“Guiding customers through the typical maze of decision-making is being replaced with a focus on enhancing rapport.”

A Good Salesperson’s Tool Kit

My article in the January/February 2024 edition of Furniture World, “Third-Level Salespeople”, provided many insights into the various skill sets great salespeople possess. Guiding customers through the typical maze of decision-making is being replaced with a focus on enhancing rapport. Many furniture and bedding salespeople are so poorly trained that they are truly afraid of offending customers. This situation has progressed to the point where they purposely avoid asking even the most basic and helpful questions.

Another Example

Let me share an example to bring home this point. When training a new salesperson to demonstrate dining room chair construction, I suggested asking shoppers about the needs of others who might also use it. Will an elderly person or someone who has trouble getting up from a sitting position use it? Or does it need to be extra sturdy? She immediately replied, “Oh, I would never ask such a question. They could easily be offended!” I observed, “If it seems to cause a customer to be uncomfortable, then just ask this follow-up question, ‘For instance, do you have any football player types in the family?’ If they answer affirmatively, then solutions should be offered. Explain that chairs with arms would be of great benefit for those having difficulties getting up and sitting down. However, a regular side chair without arms may work better for larger people because the lack of arms offers more seating surface.” Offering these additional insights can eliminate unnecessary hardship for customers and their loved ones, which they might otherwise experience during the lifetime of that set.

“If your sales staff views themselves as ‘just salespeople,’ they will never be able to approach their customers correctly or become top earners.”

Here’s another helpful piece of advice that can make a big difference. If a dining table being considered comes with leaves inserted for specific occasions, it is a good practice to ask, “Who will most often set up the table and put the leaves in?” If it’s an elderly or infirm person, suggest a set with self-storing leaves that can effortlessly insert themselves. What a huge advantage that can be, as opposed to having to reach for heavy table leaves stored on the top shelf of a closet. This helpful insight could very easily prevent an injury just waiting to happen!

The lesson is that your shoppers deserve to encounter well-trained furniture salespeople who can do more than establish rapport.

The full range of help shoppers need is almost always unknown to customers when they walk into your store. Helping is certainly not the same thing as selling! However, the more genuine a salesperson is, the more they will sell. Why? Customers buy when they are convinced they are making the right choice. Once convinced, they will return to the store to fulfill future furnishings needs from that caring, professional salesperson who truly had their best interest at heart, someone who saved them from purchase-related mistakes, difficulties and regrets! Even something that seems rather insignificant can generate a lot of future goodwill! For example, depending on the finish, salespeople can explain to dining room purchasers the reasons to use table pads or a tablecloth, placemats, and coasters. Also, put felt pads underneath anything abrasive, such as a centerpiece or decorative bowl, that might scratch the surface.

Parting Thoughts!

If your sales staff views themselves as ‘just salespeople,’ they will never be able to approach their customers correctly or become top earners. It’s much better to view yourself as providing your customers with the indispensable HELP they truly need. That helpful process begins by asking the right questions and then providing valuable ‘usage’ insights that most customers aren’t aware of. That is the very best way to build the rapport with customers that every salesperson wants and needs! Happy Selling!


About Scott Morris

Scott Morris worked for the four largest furniture retail chains in America as a store manager and sales trainer. He is the owner of HSM Publishing. His mission is to stop the high sales associate turnover rate within the furniture industry. He has written and published six books on various topics, in addition to the “Sales Questions” laminate, and designed and produced the advanced level sales training course titled “The Best Furniture Sales Training Ever!!!” He also produced 12 insightful customer “handouts” designed to bring back the “75 percent who leave without buying.” Questions about this article or any aspect of sales education can be directed to him at hsm7777@att.net or visit TheBestFurnitureSalesEver.com.