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From Home Furnishing Business

So Why Else Do Customers Leave Without Buying?

This is actually the third and final column in a trilogy addressing the fact that many of the newer, “alternate” distribution channels are taking significant market from the traditional channels, like independent furniture stores and others that previous generations chose to do business with for most of the latter part of the 20th century.

The October issue presented the numbers and offered the observation that the faster growing retail options tend to offer a shopping experience that did not include a traditional sales person. It presented the opinion that many of today’s consumers do not feel the need for one and may actually fear having someone sell them something they don’t want, or interfere with their shopping experience. The solution presented was to make sure we are properly communicating the benefits of working with our staff and promoting our services to the consumer, not just our products. Don’t assume they understand the process, because they do not.

In the November issue, we addressed the fact that even though we know how important our staff can be to the customer, over 40% of those that do choose to shop at a traditional retail store end up leaving without buying because they “did not see what they wanted”. Since it is primarily the sales person’s role to help them find what they want, this is a very concerning number. So, we presented some ideas about the fact that many customers don’t even allow our staff to help them when they enter our store by telling them “I’m just looking”. If you can’t properly open the sale and build trust with the customer, then you have little or no chance to close the sale.

The main issue discussed last month was the fact that so many customers leave our stores saying they did not see what they were looking for.  While the greeting is indeed the most important element, there is another critical step in the process that perhaps is not being handled as well as it could be by our sales team. Once we get the consumer talking to us about why they came in, we need to properly analyze their needs and wants, then develop a solution that fulfills their dream for the room within whatever physical or financial limitations they may have. Therefore, to complete this trilogy, we will present some of the elements in the needs analysis and development process we use to train our clients to provide for their customers.

This great observation from Stephen Covey summarizes our approach:

“An effective salesperson first seeks to understand the needs, the concerns and the situation of the customer.  The amateur salesperson sells products.” 

Defining Needs Analysis

Needs analysis is not qualifying.  Qualifying customers is a concept of the past.  The idea that there are a few questions whose answers can tell us all we need to know to help a customer has been largely responsible for the dismal performance of our industry for decades.  There are no such questions and few of us are trained to qualify anyone. Needs analysis and development, by nature of the very words, is a far more expansive process.  The goal of needs analysis and development is to satisfy our primary mission to help our customers understand how to use our products to enhance their quality of life and not just how to buy them. Needs analysis is a mission-driven process and lies at the very heart of being a professional salesperson. 

Let’s consider how other professionals work with their clients.  For example, how does a good doctor, lawyer or dentist do their job?  Their business is referred to as a Practice because it is based on a group of clients that they develop over time by providing successful results to them.  These people rely on them for advice, recommendations and results that fit their individual needs/wants. However, the steps they go through are exactly the same as the ones sales professionals must go through. 

Certainly they have to greet and establish trust with their prospective clients.  Next, they proceed to the critical phase of needs analysis and development to determine what treatments or actions will deliver the best result for their clients. To do that they ask a great deal of questions and do tests or research to make certain that they understand the situation and determine the real needs. Would you become a client of one of these professionals if they merely gave you a quick answer before understanding your problem? It would be like a doctor saying “Take two aspirin and call me if you don’t feel better tomorrow.”

Retail customers need to give a professional sales consultant a lot of information in order to help them solve the issues the consumer brings to the store. In most cases, just like with a doctor, most customers do not know what information the sales person needs to have. So, as with these other professionals, our sales staff must have a method of discovering the real truths. A doctor asks questions about symptoms to determine the root cause of the problem.  We also have to ask questions to find out the real needs and wants of our customer.

Our business is driven by the needs of our customers to create beautiful homes. Therefore, the need lies in the home, not in the store.  Solutions can be found in the store, but if your staff is ever tempted to think of a customers’ need for some item or a thing in your store – have them STOP and THINK of this basic principle.  The need is in the home.  In order to understand the need and offer a solution, you must deal with the home first.

Getting Started

In order to get started, it is often helpful to ask some key questions about where the customer is in their buying journey. Getting an idea of what they have already done and seen will help the sales person catch up with them and be more of a partner as they go forward. It can also shorten the discussion time needed by determining if they have actually found something they like or at least have a good picture in their mind of what it could be. The following questions are examples of what has worked well for many such as; “Have you been shopping long?” and “What stores have you visited?”  Or, “Have you been online?”  “Whose sites have you visited?” and “Did you visit our website?”  Other questions to ask are; “Have you seen anything you liked?“ “Where was it?” and “What did it look like? Do you have a picture or can we bring it up on the screen here in the store?”

These questions will help us determine not only where the customer is in the shopping/buying process, but how she is approaching the task of finding new furniture.  Many customers already have a good idea of what they want when they enter the store. If we can determine this early in the process, it can make the rest easier, particularly if the customer can give us specific guidance about what she is looking for by showing pictures from a magazine or website.  If not, they can often accurately describe it or even give us a brand, style name or number that can be researched. In fact, many may even have gone on your store’s website and selected products to look at prior to visiting your store. The quicker we can find that out, the better. 

However, do not assume that they will tell us! Remember the fears and lack of trust they bring with them to the store. We will usually have to find a way to get this information from them, it will not automatically be volunteered until they trust us and we ask them these questions.

Making the Key Needs Analysis Request

After learning where they are in the process and determining if they have already found something they like, no matter what we learn, the best way to really dig into needs analysis is to ask the customer to tell you about their room.

This is the starting point of all product needs analysis. It can only happen after we have earned the right to ask for this information, by virtue of completing a successful greeting and earning a level of trust from the customer regarding not being sold something she doesn’t want or that isn’t right.

This is what is called a “high-gain question”, which means that it is one simple question, which will return a lot of important and useful information to us.  In addition, it will reduce the total number of questions we have to ask to get all of the information needed to help this customer achieve her goal.

Sketch the Room

We feel very strongly that the most effective needs analysis tool we have at our disposal is the sketching process. Only by making a visual representation of the room can we share a common understanding of exactly what the problem is and what the customer wants to have happen. You have heard that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and that has certainly been proven true here.

Sketching is a very detailed process previously addressed in the June 2015 issue of HFB in an article titled “Sketch to Build Sales”. I highly recommend that you go to our website ( and click on the magazine tab and dropdown menu for past issues to review this information so you have a better understanding of this important element of the needs analysis process.


My intent here has been to give the reader some ideas about the importance of Needs Analysis and offer a few tips about the steps involved. This is by no means a complete dissertation on it, merely something to get you thinking about how it is currently being done in your store and what you might want to do to make it better. Your best solution will always be to bring in an outside, professional trainer that can help your staff improve in this critical area and take better care of your customer’s needs. By the way, if during the interview a trainer doesn’t ask you a lot of very pertinent questions about your situation and what you want to have happen, before they tell you what they will do - don’t hire them!

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