The number one selling rule 

By David Miles, Independent Sales Trainer;

I would like to share two experiences that I have had recently, one when buying furniture and one where I needed a tradesperson for some work on my house.

Firstly, the furniture store visit.

Last week I walked into a well known retailer to buy a new sofa. I was faced with what only can be described as a “wall of salespeople”… so I took a deep breath and ran the gauntlet.

The first salesperson smiled as I walked by and asked “Can I help you with anything?”…”no thanks” I replied.

Second salesperson asked “ Is there anything I can help you with today?”… same reply “no thanks”.

Third salesperson asked me “Are you alright there?”… I was so tempted to “ “Why, don’t I look alright?” but I thought better of it and just nodded.

The next 25 minutes I spent browsing the store I was approached by another 2 salespeople – both of them asked me if “there was anything I needed help with?”

When I said I did want some advice one of them without asking me what help I wanted, proceeded to lecture me on the fabrics and frame construction of the sofa I was looking at. That is not what I need to know when I make a purchase. He managed to get me so wrong so quickly. All I really wanted to know was if it came in red!

I have been involved in Sales training for nearly 25 years and within less than half an hour this retailer made me feel like I was back in the 1980’s!

Why have salespeople not learnt how to approach customers in a non-selling or threatening manner?

One of the biggest reasons why salespeople struggle with their rates is because they use their own preferences for buying when they are selling, the one who told me about the frame construction probably did so because that was important to him and he liked the detail, that just doesn’t work for me.

One of the most important and first things a salesperson should know is that they need to adapt their selling style to match the customers buying preference. They should be able to ascertain the level of detail a customer wants quickly, they should understand the type of relationship the customer expects and at the very least they should ask some great questions.

Instead I was subjected to 5 salespeople who I am sure were good people but they just didn’t seem to get the most important rule in selling, which is… well before I say what I think the rule is, let me ask you a question that you can answer in your head – when it comes to selling is this statement true? “People buy from people”.

If you said “yes” to yourself let me just question that thought, because I think that statement is significantly missing some words. It also reminds me again of the 1980’s sales training.

So what about adding a few words…”People buy from people that they like and trust”.

This is getting closer to the rule. We have all probably had experiences where we have not purchased an item because there was “just something about the salesperson I didn’t like” and we tend to trust people we like. But there is one more addition to the phrase… how does this sound as a more realistic rule?

“People buy from people that they like and trust…that are like themselves”.

In most cases the friends you have in your life that you spend time with that you like and trust, outside of your family, are similar to you. They probably have the same humour, values, interests etc.

So before any salesperson gets into their sales process they should be focussing on “how do I become more like the customer in front of me?”… when they do that they will build trust and likeability and are far more likely to get the sale , so this is what I focus on when I write and deliver sales training, whether it be for furniture, kitchens, bedrooms or bathrooms.

Another problem I had with the staff I met was that the questions they first asked me identified them as salespeople…and many customers are wary of being “sold” to. They certainly didn’t feel like they were making any effort to be “more like me” in the first 7 seconds it takes to create an impression.

So sales training in 2018 needs to be far less process driven and far more behavioural driven. Companies I have worked with where they take this on board see a significant increase in conversion rates.

The second experience I had recently was when I wanted a decorator to do a significant amount of work in the house. I used a recommendation website and had 3 decorators round to quote.
Now I have been in the retail and installation industry for all of my working life and I do have quite high expectations of tradespeople, but then so don’t most people?

The first tradesperson to quote arrived 10 minutes late, had paint all over his T-shirt and a tear in his jeans, not the best first impression… Now I know he probably just came off of a job but he could have kept a clean T-Shirt in his van to slip on before he came round. He then proceeded to call me “mate” all through the time he was in the house…now I call people “mate” when I sell…but only if they call me it first! I then got given a list of “problems” he would have to overcome when he decorated… I knew the problems that’s why I wasn’t doing it myself!

All I felt was that he was trying to justify his quote and I was right…it was nearly double what I actually paid for the work.

The second person to quote did slightly better…he looked presentable and asked me a few questions that were important to me, but when I told him some of the companies that I had worked for in the past he proceeded to criticise all of them and asked me “God how could you work for them, they’re awful?”… he also told me the colours I had chosen wouldn’t suit the house (they do in my mind) and that what I was asking for would be very expensive, before he had any idea or asked what I thought the work would cost!… how is that becoming more like me to get me to trust and like him?

The third person looked ok… He took the time to ask me some great questions, he double checked everything I asked for, he provided me with options and asked me if I had a figure in mind that I wanted to spend. He was very sociable, we spoke about the World Cup for about 15 minutes, and we found we had a lot in common. His quote wasn’t the cheapest but it was the one I went with. Incidentally, the quality of his work was excellent and I am having him back to do some more work later in the year. I am not sure that he was trying to be more like me, I think it was probably more of a coincidence, but it does show how important being more like your customer is. I liked him, so I trusted him and he got the work.

In a time where retailers are removing installations as part of their offer and more tradespeople are having to find the work themselves, just relying on the quality of your work may not be enough.

It is obviously critical that the work that is done is to a high standard, but if you don’t get the job there is no work to do! So selling yourself is becoming as important as talking about the quality of work or providing a realistic quote.

I have just been looking at adapting a sales course I wrote for sales teams to be used with installers… a lot of the principles are the same. Tradespeople will get far more contracts if they can adapt themselves to the customer that is in front of them.
Whatever happens in the future in our industries, whether you are a salesperson or a tradesperson, I plead you to remember the selling rule…

“People buy from people that they like and trust that are like themselves”…when you adapt your selling style whether it is a product or a service you are selling, adhere to this rule and watch your conversion rate grow.

Good luck!

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