16 July 2024, 21:51
By Adam Hankinson Apr 01, 2021

The biggest mistake a salesperson can make

What’s the biggest mistake a salesperson can make? Failing to overcome customer objections can be costly, so it’s crucial to make sure all the bases are covered, writes Furniture Sales Solutions' Adam Hankinson …

“Did you ask for the order?” asked Les Ewings. He was the assistant manager, around 60 years of age at the time, the top salesperson – and I was his protege.

At least, that’s what I thought I was. It turned out later that he thought I was a giddy and excitable 16-year-old pain in the a**e that needed training, but was probably going to cost him more money than I made him!

“Oh no,” I said confidently, “they were just looking.” 

Les was built like a 5ft 9in Silverback, around 18st with an almost-bald head, and large-lensed, thick-rimmed glasses. His whole head went purple. 

“You stupid little *****! They all say that …”. 

Les proceeded to ‘re-educate’ me over the next 30 minutes, by asking me all the questions that I should have asked the customer.

That was 39 years ago, but I can still remember his coffee breath penetrating my nostrils as he ‘explained’ things to me whilst standing two inches from my face. I laugh now, and I’m eternally grateful for this – my first, best, and strongest lesson in sales, I received (thankfully) at the very start of my career. The message stayed with me forever.

So, what is the potential cost of the inability to ask for the order and close the sale? We know that across our industry an average order is approximately £1500. If you have five salespeople and they all miss a chance to close one order per week over the year, that’s over £350,000 missed. Ten people means over £700,000, etc. You get the point.

How can you solve this problem? It’s simple, but not easy. We have to think about and agree a number of basics: agree that we might be missing some opportunities, and that it’s our fault (1); accept that sometimes customers will tell you that they need to go away and think about it when, really, they don’t (2); accept that sometimes they’ll say it and really mean it! (3); remember that it’s our job to find out what the ‘it’ is, before they leave, every time (4); and no-one ever died because they asked for the order (5).

Let’s discuss each point one-by-one:

1. By agreeing that there are some extra opportunities, it means that we have a positive challenge – to win additional sales. When we accept responsibility and don’t blame the customer, it’s the first step to finding a way of solving our own problem. This makes us think ‘Okay, what do I need to do differently with my next customer?’ 

This is the beginning of change and improvement.

2. Often, when customers say that they need to go away and think about it, they really believe that that’s what they need to do – and actually leave the building. What they actually need, though, is some time, and sometimes physical space, to consider the facts/options/pros and cons, etc.

We should definitely not just accept that they need to leave and give them all they need on a card or piece of paper (in effect giving them a ticket out of the store). We need to help the customer think clearly and feel good by asking them clarifying, qualifying and disqualifying questions. 

“Are you happy with x, y, z?” 

“You said you didn’t want a, b and c, is that right?” 

“You wanted your new sofa/bed/carpet to do d, e, and f? Do you feel that this product does that?” 

We are helping the customer clear the clouds of confusion from their mind’s eye.

3/4. With an industry average first-time visit conversion of less than 30%, we know that the majority of customers will want and need to ‘go home and think’ about it. Meaning – discussing sizes, finances, suitability, and any other relevant reason. Our job, as ever, is to learn more about what the ‘it’ is or are, and ensure that we’ve clarified with the customer their priorities, needs and wants.

We must create a checklist in our and our customer’s mind that we can both ‘tick-off’, first confirming these as their concerns, and then answering these concerns to the customer’s satisfaction. Always remember that it’s doubt and uncertainty that prevents these customers from going ahead.

5. Smile and ask for the order – every single time. If you have asked all the relevant questions and matched wants and needs, you’ve earned the right. 

Then just say: “How would you like to pay?”; “Let’s write up the order”; “Let’s go ahead”; “Let’s do it”; or “That’s £1500 please – are you paying cash or card?”

Have you earned the right?

How you ask is far less important than actually asking every time. Ask yourself the following questions to decide if you’ve ‘done enough’ to ask for the order:

• Have I been genuinely interested?

• Do I have a full understanding of the customer’s situation, needs and wants?

• Have I solved the customer’s problems?

• Is it affordable? (this is not a budget question)

• Have I discovered the customer’s priorities?

• Have I removed sufficient doubt in the customer’s mind?

• Is this the right product or service for the customer?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then you must ask for the order.

You have absolutely nothing to lose.Nobody ever got shot for asking for the order.

This article was published in the April 2021 issue of Furniture News magazine.

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