Having managed decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms for many years, I have spent hundreds of hours helping sales teams understand that they have the power – at their fingertips – to combat the ongoing and growing problem we have all faced: showrooming.
We all know what this is – potential customers working with the salespeople under the guise of “shopping” – to see, touch and feel products live, and to soak up any information they can from sales professionals. Only later does the salesperson learn that the “customer” purchased the products from somewhere on the Internet. I have faced this reality time and time again. The good news is that with a little coaching, conditioning, and creativity, we can reduce the amount of showrooming we see daily.
Step 1: Keep Calm
It’s easy to keep calm, right? Wrong. When sales teams are busy with various calls, emails, text messages and walk-in customers all day long, they are always on the go and in the flow. And when a busy salesperson feels like their time is “being wasted,” they go crazy inside and move away from those situations, which in turn leads to angry customers. And angry customers never hesitate to complain (to a manager or on Yelp) about a bad salesperson. It’s a slippery vicious cycle – the customer evades because they are “just looking,” the salesperson disconnects, the customer perceives the salesperson is rude and concludes that the showroom does not care about their business, and subsequently leaves to write bad reviews and tell others about their terrible experience. This of course justifies in their mind why they wanted to buy on the internet. So what do we do?
First, we have to prepare our teams properly to keep calm. Each salesperson needs to be in the right frame of mind if they are going to convince customers to do business with us. During sales meetings, start the meeting with everyone a minute of deep breathing. Remind everyone to do this many times throughout the sales day. Ask them to do it just before the showroom doors are unlocked, and every few hours if not more often. And when they feel they are with someone “wasting their time,” it is essential for the sales person to realize that is exactly when they need to take a deep breath or two. This simple act will counteract the rush of adrenaline and serotonin we all experience when frustrated. t will help each sales person to slow down and remember to keep working to keep trying to engage the customer. Any employees who do yoga or meditation should be the ones to lead the group in deep breathing practice.
Second, it’s our job to help strengthen everyone’s “sales stamina.” Just because a person walks into the showroom does not mean they are ready to buy from us. This means that we need to help our sales teams build up endurance and patience to stick with a potential customer because when their guard is up and they think they can get a better deal online, it takes longer to get to the good stuff – the opportunity to build a little trust and rapport. I found that teaching simple mantras (yes, mantras) help increase that patience. Thank you Zen Buddhism! Repetition of a positive phrase like “I care about your project,” or “We will find the perfect solution,” helps strengthen the patience muscle. This also creates a positive mind-set and in turn, it takes longer and longer before frustration sets in, and opens the salesperson up to finding new ways to help customers.
Third, prepare a written list of “go to smart questions” to engage the potential customer. Role plays those questions during sales meetings. Laminate the questions and distribute them to your teams as a tool the salespeople can use when they need it. This does two very important things – (i) it helps every salesperson feel confident knowing they are prepared to react to and handle a “showroomer” and (ii) it primes the pump for the sales team – they have something to start them off when customers hesitate to share information or refuse to allow the salesperson to build any rapport. A calm and prepared salesperson is the one we want working to engage today’s more knowledgeable and sophisticated shopper.
Step 2: Stop Showrooming
Now that we are ready and in the right frame of mind, we can get to work on engaging the hesitant potential customer. Here are just a few techniques that have proven successful:
Always give options to empower the customer and build trust
As I have written before, today’s customers are afraid that the showroom is somehow a “worse” deal than an internet deal. Our teams must earnestly demonstrate that we are worthy of the customer’s trust.
For example, when a customer is looking at a faucet, which would you rather the first question the salesperson asks be: “It’s a pretty faucet, isn’t it?” or “We have a few variations of that style faucet on display, each at different price points. I’d be happy to point them out to you.”
See the difference? We can remind customers that we have choices, we have ways of helping them save money, and that we can do that without sacrificing a look or style. These are very powerful messages that need to be conveyed up front. It puts the power in the customer’s hands by letting them know they have choice, and that we are not here to sell them the most expensive item in the showroom. Let’s give today’s savvy customer an immediate reason to have just a moment of trust in us.
Ask smart questions
Asking the right questions that immediately convey a sincere desire to help and useful information are critical in fighting showrooming. Here are few of the questions we often posed to a reluctant potential customer in the showroom:
“We display thermostatic, pressure balance shower systems, as well as some combination versions. It can be very confusing and each one has pros and cons and of course they range in different prices. We carry all the options and can help you select what makes sense, depending on who is using the bathroom.”
“We have door hardware at every price point. We find that many customers like to pick something a little nicer for the main living areas, but try to save in other places like the basement. Let me know if you would like to see an example or two.”
“Do you have any architectural drawings or plans for your project? We review those at no charge and can give feedback on design and layout as well as good product options (some of which may have already been specified on them by your designers and architect. If not, I am happy to review some general options now, and revisit them in detail when you bring the plans in next time to review together.”
“Do you have anything existing they you are keeping or have you purchased any products yet that should be taken into account in picking out additional items? I want to make sure that we look at this project from all angles, and I don’t want to make any assumptions.”
“We find that many customers like each bathroom to have a bit of its own personality but that they like to see some repeating elements so that the house feels like it has consistency from room to room. I am happy to show you one or two examples of how we make that happen.”
“We are all on the computer all the time these days. Have you seen anything on Houzz or online that you liked? I would love for you to show me at my desk, so I can either show you that product here in the showroom or a few options just like it, so you can get a sense of what it feels like in real life. I am sure our pricing is either the same or less, and if it’s not, then you should get it where you feel comfortable buying it.”
Listen to the customer – They will tell you how to help
Back to my example from the showroom I began earlier. After the salesperson had taken a few breaths and returned to the customer (with me staying a few steps behind intentionally), we asked a few of the above questions specifically conveying our hope to help her find what made sense – but that it did not make sense to run from item to item and just spin her wheels.
The potential customer started slow, only sharing with us that she had already purchased some of the items for a powder room. We asked her if she would not mind sharing with us what she purchased and if she had the model number – so that we could see what finish and style and just help her find those items that would coordinate well with the faucet. She liked that we were helping her focus in, and she pulled out a file from her bag, and showed us the invoice from the website. This was great – a little more information.
First, we saw that the faucet selected was in a very particular aged brass finish. Given the very specific finish, we suggested that she stick with the same manufacturer for the bath accessories – even though we carried the line, it was not a particularly profitable line for the showroom, and we only showed one item from the collection. The salesperson noted that she would want everything in her own bathroom to match perfectly and saving a few dollars here or there on a towel bar was not going to be worth mis-matching brass finishes. The potential customer loved that comment and actually smiled. She began to relax and open up a little more. She could sense that we were trying to help her, not sell her.
Second, I suggested that we check the model number of the faucet purchased in the manufacturer’s catalog. The salesperson looked at me like I was crazy, but did it anyway. Remember the internet does not have those catalogs at the ready like the showroom does. What do you think we discovered? You guessed it – thinking she ordered a faucet, the customer had actually purchased a tubfiller less handspray. One thing today especially with internet shopping is that it is easy to lose track of the details. We pointed out to her that the images for the filler and the faucet were identical – which made it a bit confusing on the website. We noted the size differences between the tubfiller and the faucet when she asked why she could not use the filler on the bathroom sink. The customer was simply mortified. But what we did next defeated the showrooming.
Third, we recommended that she certainly go back to the website and ask to return the tubfiller. We mentioned in passing that our price on the filler was a little bit less (and that we often find that our pricing does beat online pricing), but that if the internet supplier only issued a merchandise credit that she should use that credit and buy the right faucet from them.
If they issued a refund, we told her we would be happy to sell her the faucet if she preferred – whatever made her happy. The salesperson then took it upon herself to go on the website of the internet dealer, print off the screen with the correct faucet and model number, and give it to the customer so she did not have to redo her research everything at home. That was a great move.
The customer was clearly a little speechless at first, but her guard was coming down. She then asked the salesperson if she would not mind looking at a few things she had seen that she liked for the other bathrooms in the house. I overheard her saying later that of course she would be buying everything from us – we had saved her bacon. We had pushed through the showrooming and were off to the races. The customer ended up spending well over $20,000 with our showroom and recommending us to all her friends and on social media.
Figure out what makes sense in your world for your customers
Every industry is different, but the dynamics at work are all the same. By putting ourselves in our potential customer’s shoes and being prepared in the right way, we can remove the fear that the showroom costs more because the salespeople are only here to “take as much money as possible.”
A calm and focused salesperson who is given the right training and tools is a powerful salesperson. They will be ready with smart questions that demonstrate that they care about the customer’s project as if it were their own. With just a little focus, we can stay calm and win the showrooming battle.