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Retail education: Winning with alternatives

by Kelly Kramer

Second of two parts

In the first part of this column I explained how I solved an apartment complex manager’s problems with a few alternative flooring choices she had never been presented with before. By finding the real problems and concerns with my customer interview, I was able to re-direct product choices to more economical options that won me an account many would die for. Providing alternatives for the most common choices to your potential buyer will make you not only look smarter, but also make a lot more money.

Digging deeper

The average customer usually walks into your store and says, “We’re looking for wood flooring.” So, you walk her to the hardwood area and ask which part of the house she is considering. Your sales pitch starts with how great your prices are today and you push for a quick sale, like you were taught to do. Then the customer utters the dreaded, “Thank you. We’ll have to think about it.”

And why not? You treated her like price was everything and gave her no reason to show you understood her real wants and needs. She moved on to the next clerk, which may be her fourth stop.

The first thing I want to know is what she knows about the product she is looking for. What has she seen? Which mistruths has she heard? Mostly, is she really looking for the best product for the situation? Just because she says she wants hardwood does not mean it’s the best product for her living situation. It could be right, but maybe no one has ever questioned her correctly. What’s even worse is she may have been given improper information by your competition.

Instead of hearing the word hardwood and running off to the races, slow this process down and get some ammunition—use the customer interview. Start by learning her real needs. Start by asking:

  • What is she trying to accomplish
  • Which rooms are being done?
  • What problems has she had in the past with her current flooring?
  • Is there hard or light traffic on the floors?
  • How many years does she want the new flooring to last?
  • Which design and colors is she leaning toward?
  • What has she seen and which questions does she have?

In almost every case when I’m done asking these questions, I can guarantee she has never been interviewed like this before.

Before I show even one product, she must know I understand her situation fully and gets the idea I can advise her properly. My best advice is often an alternative flooring choice.

Customer interview

Why is the customer looking for hardwood? If it is due to high traffic and big dogs, why not try ceramic tile or a laminate style that looks like stone? Explain the product features and benefits you’ve been taught—you will be heard and understood. Your buyers may be looking for the best product already, but how will they know until you talk it through? Now is the time to read faces and listen for a new set of questions.

Never bid on the same differentiation your competition has presented. It shows the only differentiator you have is price and nobody wins in a low-price game. When you show every alternative, you open eyes and possibilities. You become a trusted advisor. My books and training manuals are all about becoming a trusted advisor.

Thanks for reading.