Turn your showroom into a high profit "selling room" by offering sales training to your salespeople.

My Dad spent 41 years working for a large plumbing/HVAC wholesale distributor, so I've got this wonderful industry in my blood.

When I was gearing up to go to college (mainly to play baseball) I asked my Dad what major I should pursue. He said, "Business, with a strong emphasis on selling." When I asked, "Why sales?" he said, "Because nothing happens until the sale is made." Then he explained what he meant. A manufacturer may make a great line of products, but until someone sells them, you don't need manufacturing, inventories, shipping or accounting¿or anything! The entire process begins with the sale. I believed it then and I believe it now.

As I travel the country doing seminars and consulting work I am impressed with the quality of showrooms that have been built and the pretty fair job of product knowledge training that takes place with the salespeople. But I am amazed and dumbfounded that virtually no one spends any time, energy or money on sales training. That's right, developing professional selling skills - teaching people how to sell.

First, why do we call our showrooms - "showrooms?" Do we just want to show the products? I don't think so! We want to sell these good-looking tubs, toilets and faucets. So I submit that starting right now we should refer to our display areas as "selling rooms."

Secondly, why would anyone invest a quarter of a million dollars or more into a "selling room" and then not teach his people how to sell? It doesn't make sense!

For several years I have felt that there was a need for a seminar that teaches the basic skills of selling - directed primarily to "selling room" salespeople. That seminar has been put together and will be offered by The National Kitchen and Bath Association for its dealer members (nine times in 2001). The seminar is designed to be interactive. It is Kitchen and Bath specific - so it would be excellent for both plumbing and kitchen salespeople. For more information on these seminars you can contact me or NKBA.

Sales training makes a difference

In talking with showroom owners and managers I am amazed at the huge differences in productivity among showroom salespeople. I hear numbers ranging from $20,000 per month to $100,000 per month. The range of gross profit margin is just as dramatic: from the low 20s to the mid 40s.

Why are there these big variances? Pretty much everyone sells the same broad range of products - and the services offered are similar. Sure, the market place where your "selling room" is located makes a difference and how you market your business also contributes¿but in my opinion the big producers are flat out better salespeople.

So with that thought in mind, doesn't it make sense that everyone should be doing sales training? Not just product training, but honest-to-goodness how-to- sell selling skills! I have had the wonderful personal experience of working with and teaching people with no sales experience how to be professional salespeople. A couple of great examples are the housewife/baton-twirling teacher and the warehouse manager, both of whom had never sold anything in their lives and had to be "pushed" into sales. Both now are in the $100,000 per month range and in the high 30s in gross profit margin category. Yes, selling skills can be taught! Salespeople are not born, they are made!

I believe too many showroom salespeople see their job description as helping clients select products for their homes, putting this information into quote forms and hoping the clients will place orders. The main part of the job description should be to sell at a great gross profit and in that case, more is better.

There are over 12 million sales people in the USA and only one in ten is considered to be a real professional. Amateurs and pros may look alike in grooming and appearance, but there's a huge difference in how they work with clients. Amateurs are preoccupied with price and discount and worry about their competition. Pros focus on customer needs and benefits. Amateurs talk¿pros listen! Amateurs leave loose ends, pros follow-through. Real selling pros use knowledge and skills for the sole purpose of helping other people.

Which category do you or your sales people fall into? If the answer is amateur, then only you can make the commitment to start moving toward professionalism. Real selling pros use knowledge and skills for the sole purpose of helping other people.

There are all kinds of books, audio and visual tapes and seminars that teach selling skills. They all vary in content somewhat, but they're also very similar. That's because the basics of selling are all the same. In my seminar I have taken these basics and related them to our great industry.

Probably the first person to summarize in layman's language what makes for good selling skills was Dale Carnegie. He was the author of "How to Win Friends and Influence People," written in 1935, which is still the best book on the subject. His book dispels the myth that "the old way" of selling is outdated. Very neatly and simply he made the point that if you're a really good salesperson (one of the pros), you should be mainly concerned with what your customers want and less concerned with what you want to give them.

Dale Carnegie loved to go fishing in Maine. He said that his favorite food was strawberries and ice cream - but for fishing he had found that the fish preferred worms. So when he went fishing, he didn't think about what he wanted, he thought about what the fish wanted and put worms on his hook. He said, "Shouldn't we use the same common sense when fishing for clients?"

Why selling skills are important

You're probably starting to wonder, why's this "showroom" guy writing so passionately about selling? That's not his field of expertise. Wrong. Selling and teaching sales skills are my favorite and probably strongest area of expertise. When we operated our business we built great displays, hired great people, trained, motivated and compensated them well, but first and foremost we taught selling skills. We helped salespeople maximize their sales productivity.

What is selling? I would define it as "the process of moving goods and services from the hands of those who produce and distribute them into the hands of those who will benefit most from their use." Your fixture manufacturer makes the tub, then sells it to a wholesaler, who in turn sells it to a plumbing contractor, who then sells it to a building contractor, who sells it to the homeowner. It involves persuasive selling skills and the ability to develop relationships on the part of the person doing the talking. This is all supported by print, audio/visual messages that sell either the particular item or brand name as something the receiver would want to have.

Selling is like any other relatively simple skill. You have to learn to let go of your fear of selling, learn the basics and then practice these techniques. The biggest obstacle is usually attitude. If you think you can't, you won't!

Selling skills can mean the difference between getting or not getting - the order, the promotion, the raise, the guy or gal of your dreams. Life is made up of a series of "selling opportunities."

Many salespeople have a bundle of selling "fears" that they need to learn how to reduce or eliminate, such as fear of rejection, lack of knowledge, failure, competition, change, or fear of not being a "people person."

I truly believe that "selling room" sales is a terrific sales job. You work in a great environment with unique and different products, and have ever-changing styles, colors and finishes to show and discuss. Selling "higher-end" products brings in "higher-end" clients. You work on a lot of fun projects. You have time to build rapport with your clients. You can be creative and you are helping turn dreams into reality.

Too many people fail in showroom selling because they don't stay with it long enough and they aren't given the tools (sales and product training) to do the job well. As you learn and practice sales skills, you have more winning experiences, which raise your self-confidence, self-esteem and self-concept.

There are three keys to sales success:

1. Knowledge. Today's clients demand more detailed information on products, projects, styles and trends.

2. Selling skills. This means learning and practicing to improve every single day.

3. Motivation. A well-motivated salesperson will develop positive qualities like enthusiasm, self-confidence, persistence, determination and self-discipline.

In my next article we'll cover the important characteristics of a successful salesperson and the seven steps of making a sale - and it will all be "selling room" oriented.