Retail education: The blind leading the blind

Home Columns Retail education: The blind leading the blind

by Kelly Kramer

I have always thought the system we use in selling floor covering was designed backwards: In some ways it is like the blind leading the blind.

First, we have a customer who is looking to purchase a high ticket item that she may never have had to purchase before. That alone can be a very scary venture. If you’re a professional, you know it. If not, you are not sure if a house full of carpet is going to cost $500 or $5,000. You are not sure how to measure—even those who think they do are wrong in most cases. You have no idea what quality means. You don’t know who to trust and worst of all, there are so many clerks out there you should not trust.

This is the true meaning of a blind purchase. In most cases the first thing this blind buyer wants to learn approximately is “What is the price range for this purchase?” It is not like a new car where we know what an economy car, mid-size or luxury car costs.

Advisor’s blind side

Now we have this blind customer who walks into our showroom and needs a “seeing eye” sales advisor.

The problem is that us sales advisors are blind as well: We don’t know what this customer already knows. We don’t know what truths or lies she may already have been told. We don’t know her situation or what her motivation is.

And just like our customer, we have no idea just how large this project is, or have even a clue as to what it might cost.

Sounds like we are the blind ones now, doesn’t it?

The difference is we have the ability to open our eyes with the Customer Interview. This is where we find out everything we need to know simply by asking specific questions. We need to ask questions that tell us what we need to know and also tell the buyer what she needs to know. But besides the 5 W’s (who, what, why, when and where), I think it is important to give an uneducated buyer a ball park figure on what her job is going to cost.

Understanding estimates

To give you some background on how I learned the importance of this ball park estimating, let me tell you about the retail outfit I worked for when I first moved to Southern California. This was a large chain that had very hard and fast rules to which I had to adapt.

The hardest rule was that we, the advisors, were not allowed to go out on an estimate or measure without a 10% deposit on a committed sale. While I did not agree with this rule, I understood it from the company’s perspective. So, I learned quickly that a close guesstimate was very important to give my buyer some sense of confidence in just what this project was going to cost.

I learned how to ask questions that could get me close like approximate room sizes, making sure to add closets, hall ways, steps, etc.

Today, I very seldom get a deposit up front because I offer to do a pre-measure very early on in the process. My conversation goes like this: “Instead of guessing at the size of your place, let’s pick out some differently priced products you like and I’ll bring them out to your house for a real cost analysis. This way, I can give you a to- the-penny exact cost at your home and we can see what each of the samples look like in your daylight.”

Believe me, when I get to the consumer’s home and start advising her on site, it is no longer a blind item. It is now the well advised confident buyer seeing the light.

Thanks for reading.

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