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From Home Furnishing Business

Coach's Corner: Our Mission Represents a Higher Calling Than We Think

By Tom Zollar




























At a recent management meeting with one of my clients, we were discussing how to help younger new hires understand that they could develop a very lucrative and rewarding career with us in retail. Many of the articles we have read state that the value structure of the Millennials and younger generations seem to be quite different from the Boomers and their parents. Not better or worse, just different.

One of the major aspects of this is that they desire and therefore demand more from their job than perhaps the previous generations did. Not necessarily from an income or financial security standpoint, although that is certainly very critical, their focus appears to be on what they personally get out of the experience. They are often equally or more concerned about what it does for their feelings of self-worth than how it impacts their net-worth. Don’t get me wrong, money is still very important to these younger people, but in many cases they have even bigger dreams than we did. However, their satisfaction in life is more determined by the inner rewards they get from what they do, than it is by how much money they make and what they can buy. As a result, they may value things from their job and ultimately their careers, that perhaps they don’t feel we in retail are offering them.

We all know that a successful sales person on our floors can make a very good income. In most cases better than they can in other industries after spending more time and money on additional education. However, even when we show them what they can earn, many of the ones we really want, turn up their noses and go elsewhere. Why is that? Perhaps it is centered on the fact that they are more interested in “making a great living” than just a good income. In other words, they are focused on the total picture of what we can do for them as employers and we are mainly talking about only one important aspect of it.

So, the most important question becomes: in addition to money, do we indeed offer the type of lifestyle and self-worth rewards they seek? In other words, can we feed their soul as well as their pockets? I firmly believe that we do have the potential to be a very attractive career opportunity for many of the younger, potentially successful sales people that we are either not getting or not keeping. The problem is that we ourselves may not fully understand how vitally important we are to our customers. Even if we do, we don’t properly and consistently communicate it. Therefore, when we talk to prospective employees we do not give them a vision of what our real mission truly should be and if we do hire them we don’t constantly reinforce it throughout our training, coaching and management efforts.

The fact of the matter is that we spend far too much time and effort selling our products, when it is the result of the service we perform for our customers that is really the most important thing we deliver. The products are a big part of it, but they are mainly a means to an end for us. To better illustrate this, let’s go back to one of the basic elements of selling anything – a thorough understanding of the features and benefits of what you sell, be it a product or a service.

When I first started in the furniture business, Sears was the king of the hill for most home products. They were very different from the shell that remains of the former giant. For years, Sears offered a great lifetime career opportunity, including top earnings potential and solid benefits to all employees. A major factor in their success was that they trained their people and had a solid selling process in most big-ticket departments, including appliances, tools, furniture and bedding. A big part of my first role with their largest furniture resource was helping in that training effort. Before I could do that, I had to be taught the Sears approach to selling, which at the time included a heavy focus on product knowledge and understanding how to use it in the selling process to find the best product for your customer.

Their approach was that a feature was a physical element of the product and the benefit was what it did for the consumer, or as they said: “Features TELL and Benefits SELL”. The first session I attended began with that statement. To emphasize his point, the trainer held up a power drill and asked, “If this drill is the feature, what is its corresponding benefit?” No one got it. Then he said, “OK, tell me what this drill does for the owner?” Finally someone said, “They can drill holes in things”. Then the trainer said, “So what does the owner get from the drill?” It actually went back and forth a bit until some bright person said, “A hole!” The trainer responded, “Exactly, they get a hole. Therefore, the major benefit the buyer gets from owning the drill is a hole, basically wherever they want it. The feature is the drill and the benefit is a hole.” In this simple example nothing else matters, because when the drill isn’t producing a hole it provides no other benefit and ownership of it does nothing else to enhance the customer’s life, unless he is Tim the Toolman.

Later in my career I realized that while this was a very useful analogy to help understand the relationship of a feature to its benefit, it does not really help us learn how to better use features and benefits in the selling process beyond that. Since I am kind of Tom the Toolman, I developed a way to use the drill analogy as an example of how important product knowledge is in driving the selling process, through the understanding of the benefits a product provides to the owner. It goes like this:

A guy walks into Sears and the clerk says, “Hi, what can I help you with today?” The guy replies, “I need a power drill”. The clerk says, “Well we have dozens of them. Here’s our best seller at $19.99, you want it?” The customer says, “I guess so” and buys the drill. Simple deal. But was it really what the customer needed or not? Truth is, we don’t know because the clerk didn’t ask enough questions to find that out before recommending a product.

What if instead of a clerk, the customer encountered a caring sales person when he entered the store? The conversation might have gone like this: “Hey, welcome to Sears Brand Central, thanks for coming in today! What project can I help you with?” The customer thanks him and says, “I need a power drill”, to which the sales person says, “Well you certainly came to the right place because we have every kind of drill you could possibly need. If you let me ask you a few questions we will find exactly the one you want”. The ensuing conversation goes as follows:

Sales Person: Are you planning to use this drill only to drill holes or will you be driving in some screws with it? Because if you will be doing that I strongly suggest a reversible drill so you can also unscrew any you want to remove.

Customer: Oh yeah, I have a deck to repair and other projects where I will want to drive screws, so a reversible drill makes perfect sense.

Sales Person: OK. Next I need to know if you are planning on using it to drill into several different materials, because as an example, you need to drill at a much higher RPM in metals than in wood.

Customer: Yes, I have a lot of different needs as far as the materials I will be working with.

Sales Person: Well then, I highly recommend you consider getting a variable speed drill so you can use it for all those different materials.

Customer: Wow. Yeah that makes sense too!

Sales Person: Great. Do you plan on just using this drill in the workroom, garage and deck or will you be using it in many different places where you might not have access to power?

Customer: Well I have a boat and some other things I work on that aren’t near the house or any power supply.

Sales Person: Then I think you will be much happier with a rechargeable drill. Our better models do everything that the ones you plug in can do and come with two batteries plus a charger in a nice case. Charge one battery while using the other and you don’t run out of power!

Customer: I like that idea a lot!

Sales Person: Ok. Lastly, we have a new quick release chuck option on our better drills that makes it much easier to change bits. No chuck key to lose either!

Customer: I definitely need that option. I’m always misplacing things like that!

Sales Persons: Great! So, you need a variable speed, reversible drill that is rechargeable and has the quick release chuck option. We have our 18-volt model on sale. It has all the power you will need, includes the case, charger and two batteries I mentioned for only $99. Can I get one for you?

Customer: Yes, I think that is exactly what I want.

The key is that it is the same customer in both scenarios. In which case do you think he will end up most pleased with the ownership of the product he bought? Obviously, it is the second one, where the sales person used his knowledge of his products’ features and the benefits they deliver to the customer to drive the selling process.

So why tell you this big long story? Because In many cases, we need to have a complete paradigm shift from our current focus on “selling furniture” or “helping our customers find the product they really want” to what our customers truly desire as the ultimate benefit or end result of their relationship with us. If we think it is the pride of owning our products or only the fact that their room is prettier or more comfortable, we are short changing ourselves, and what we do.

We have a much higher calling than just providing products to people. Our overriding mission should be to make people’s lives better by helping them be happier in their home, which is the center of their life. Think about it, we don’t just sell furniture for a living, we live to make our customers happier with their home and in turn their life. I never want to hear anyone I have trained tell someone they sell furniture for a living. Instead they should say they consult with people to make their home a better place to live.

In other words, the main feature of our service is that we sell home furnishings products and the ultimate benefit of our efforts is that our customers are happier with their homes and thus their lives. Now that is a really great feature/benefits story if I ever heard one!

Perhaps if we look at what we do in that way and carry that message down to our entire staff, plus use it in the job descriptions we give to prospective employees, we can change the perception of our career opportunity and get better people who stay longer. It is sure worth a try!

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