Hank Darlington: Learing to sell high-end products
I recently had a very productive one-hour phone call with a long-time distributor client that operates six showrooms. This came after several back-and-forth emails. It started out as a conversation on how to put together a compensation package for the company’s dozen or so sales consultants.
The president of this well-run business shared sales and gross-profit numbers as well as annual total compensation for his showroom team. After punching numbers, I determined the average monthly sales and gross-profit figures were well below what I believe national averages are. However, the salespeople appeared to be fairly compensated for their productivity. The president and I agreed the size of the showrooms, the demographics of the geographical area and the amount of competition played a big part in their productivity potential.
As is the case with many of you, his sales consultants feel overworked and underpaid. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned facts didn’t bear this out. During the phone conversation I learned the company has adopted ASA’s printed job description for showroom sales consultants, but it hadn’t customized them to its business or its marketplace. Plus, I learned the company was not doing job-performance evaluations. Every employee deserves to know exactly what’s expected of them and how they are performing in their jobs. I feel very strongly about this.
I also learned the distributor spends quite a bit of time, energy and money training its sales consultants on product knowledge, but it does very little in the area of sales skills training. Herein lies part of the problem of lower-than-average sales and GP productivity. Several years ago I had the privilege of doing a full-day selling skills workshop for this company’s sales team. But due to turnover and other reasons, many of these folks no longer are selling in the showroom. As you might guess I encouraged the company president to please get back on track in this important area.
Unfortunately, I believe this company isn’t alone in its lack of not having a well-written, ongoing sales skills training program. This drives me crazy. Ours is a selling business. Nothing can happen until sales are made and many of you don’t give your showroom sales consultants the tools they need to be successful in their jobs.
This conversation and one I had a week earlier with another owner of a high-end decorative plumbing and hardware showroom made me think about how much our type of showroom selling has changed over the years. It used to be we would wave various flags to entice clients to walk through our doors. When they came in we would ask them “May I help you?” The common response was “No, I’m just looking,” and the showroom sales consultant would let the client browse and then hopefully go back to the client and try to find out what really brought them into the showroom. With the internet and more competition than ever, this “old way” of selling just won’t cut it.
I hope you would agree many of the products your showrooms are selling are classified as “luxury products.” They are the higher end of the products being installed in today’s nicer bathrooms and kitchens. Selling luxury products is very different than going into a Walmart or any of the other many discount stores.
Most likely the majority of the showroom sales consultants you have are not “up buyers,” so they probably don’t know how and may not be comfortable in doing the “upsell.” When we owned our business, we had a lady who was loyal, hardworking, had great product knowledge but definitely was not an “up buyer.” She couldn’t understand or bring herself to try and sell the more expensive products. As an example, let me use a faucet — hot on the left, cold on the right and water comes out of a spout in the middle.
She couldn’t understand why someone would want to spend $800 on a faucet when a $100 faucet would get the same results? We had to move this nice lady off the showroom floor and into a back-shop position. I believe this might be true of many working in our industry. They will sell in the same manner as they buy. Your responsibility as the owner/manager of higher-end showrooms is to teach your sales consultants to “sell up!” We all are aware the higher-priced products typically deliver higher margins and higher margins lead to higher net profits.
Starbucks is a great example. You can buy a good cup of coffee for $1.50 at any number of places. But, people stand in line and spend three times as much at their stores because of the “experience.” If you want to attract and keep the higher-end buyers, you have to look, act and talk higher end! That applies to how your showroom looks inside and out, and how your salespeople present themselves and the products.
It used to be if you had good product knowledge, you’d win the sale. Today that helps, but it’s not enough. To sell luxury you have to provide a different experience — a better and exceptional experience — one the competitor down the street doesn’t offer! The bulk of your higher-end homeowner clients are baby boomers. However, many of your sales consultants probably are Gen X or millennials. These younger salespeople shop differently than the older generation. They are discount shoppers and they have trouble relating to the boomers that make up 44% of the U.S. population, but represent 70% of the disposable income. A boomer may go into a jewelry store to look at a Rolex watch and the younger salesperson, unless trained otherwise, will take them over to the Swatch watch area. Heck, they both tell time don’t they? There’s a lot more I could talk about in this area, but I need to give you some hints on how to help your sales consultants be more successful selling your luxury products.
Teach your sales consultants to:
Understand brand hierarchy: You and your sales consultants must understand there are tiers of quality and value. There is good, better and best. You may be selling all three in your showrooms. Your challenge is to teach your salespeople not to push only the good and better. They should start with the best and work down.
Participate in vicarious joy: Your salespeople need to learn to revel in the experience of selling higher-end products to people who truly value and enjoy them, even if they can’t afford these products themselves.
Be cognizant of brand awareness: Observe what type of car, handbag, jewelry, clothes and watch your clients own. If the products are higher end, this will tell you they are luxury shoppers. The sales consultants need to be able to spot and identify previous purchases of luxury products.
Make the sales interaction personal: Today’s luxury shoppers are as interested in the shopping experience as they are in the products they’re shopping for. The client wants engagement, personalization and undivided attention.
Understand value: They must understand the value of the items they sell as a completely separate entity from the price of the product. Remember the $100 vs. $800 faucet example?
Encourage your sales consultants to “get past it:” Younger sales consultants tend to look down on the higher-priced products they can’t afford. This attitude must go away or they will transfer their skepticism to their customers.
Understand value vs. price: Again, younger salespeople are perfectly happy buying discounted products. They are more concerned with price than value, which is the opposite attitude of their target audience.
Make meaningful contact with their clients: Don’t stand around or just sit at the desk waiting for clients to come to you. Go to them! Engage clients in conversation, ask questions, be great listeners and learn all you can about the client and why they came through your front door. The goal should be to increase conversation.
Be careful of information overload: Inundating a luxury shopper with all the technical details of an item won’t seal the deal. Your clients want the experience to be about them and that means making the luxury item about what it will do for them.
Have an open mind: Don’t judge people that look like they can’t afford your products. This can lead to erroneous and embarrassing assumptions about that person’s budget. Be open-minded, curious and engaging.
Selling higher-end products means focusing on creating exceptional and personalized experiences for your client. The above tips are the natural outgrowth of that philosophy. It puts the customer at the center of attention. The right sales training will teach your salespeople all the techniques they will need to maximize that approach and maximize revenues for your showrooms.