Friday, June 18, 2004

George Mindling Column 6-18-2004

Sales Clerk Does All the Right Things


Almost like the movie 'Pretty Woman,'" my wife said, smiling as we walked across the parking lot headed for our car. We had just left a furniture showroom where a nice, polite sales lady named Elaine had just sold us our new leather couch. Elaine had done all the tight things, spending 30 minutes answering our questions and being a representative of not only the store, but of the furniture manufacturers as well.

In the movie "Pretty Woman," a young woman in a posh Beverly Hills boutique is brushed off by a sales clerk who has decided the potential client didn't warrant her time or effort. We weren't brushed off by sales clerks in a furniture store, just ignored.

Elaine's store was our second furniture showroom visit that Friday morning. We had spent half an hour earlier browsing floor displays at a different store without once being approached by a salesperson. Several had weakly smiled from distances that intentionally precluded conversation, but not one of them asked to help us.

After checking prices and reading tags by ourselves, we left the store, slightly confused and definitely unhappy. Our next stop was just the opposite experience. We were greeted at the door of the second store with a smile and a few basic questions by Elaine. We simply said what we wanted to see, but that we were just shopping, trying to define prices and what kind of furniture we really wanted.

We were led to the area we wanted and told just to call if she could be of assistance. It didn't take long until we had questions and Elaine came over. A line from Joan Campf's poem, "Selling Is" popped into my mind: "Selling is knowing/How to treat your public."

All sales are based on the financial qualifications of the prospective buyers. Qualifying a potential customer, however, is a skill developed not by guessing, by interfacing with potential customers.

In a unique twist of Alan J. Zells “(Dis) Qualifying Customers" selling guidelines, the first furniture store disqualified itself from our selection of suppliers simply it couldn't fulfill a basic rule of selling. Perhaps the first store had a policy of leaving customers at a distance until summoned: however, being invisible makes it difficult to summon anyone. No one is going search a store for a sales person twice.

Customers return to a given store for four main reasons: confidence, quality, selection and service. Stores that fail to understand the basics have far fewer customers, even if they have price as their main attraction. Price actually the fifth reason given by customers as to why they return to a given store over and over.

Not offering a capable, well informed salesperson to engage a customer had disqualified the first store. Whether the first store had product at the price we wanted became a moot point when we decided its idea of service differed from ours.

Maybe that's why Elaine doesn't work there.

George Mindling © 2004

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