Closing the sale is the most important step in selling, but first know how to qualify the customer.

I am absolutely having the best time of my professional life, teaching seminars, writing articles and doing consulting in and for an industry that I love.

My last column identified the seven basic steps in selling:

    1. Prospecting,

    2. The original contact,

    3. Qualifying the customer,

    4. The sales presentation,

    5. Addressing concerns,

    6. Closing the sale, and

    7. Getting referrals.

The hardest to learn seem to be steps 3, 4, 5,and 6, so that's where we'll spend our time in this column.

Closing the sale is the most important step - because that's what pays the bills. But the next most important phase is qualifying the customer. That means finding out in the first five minutes of talking with clients why they have called or come into your showroom, what their project is, when they will need the product and how much they plan to spend. The qualification process determines whether you and the client should proceed.

Every company should develop its own opening pitch, a well-rehearsed but not "canned" series of questions and comments to lead the salesperson and the client through the qualification phase. A friend of mine who operates one of the best showrooms in the United States calls this the "IQS," or Initial Qualifying System.

Here's how it works. A client enters your showroom. A receptionist or salesperson greets the client by saying, "Welcome to our showroom. My name is _________. Are you working on a project that I might help you with? " Never, ever open with "May I help you?" The answer most likely will be "No, I'm just looking." Always ask open-ended questions that require a sentence or more to answer as opposed to closed-ended questions that can be answered yes or no.

Now you want to find out exactly why the client is there and will it be worth both yours and the client's time to proceed. The IQS teaches you to ask at least five open-ended questions and to interject pertinent facts about you, your company and your products.

Here's a list of easy, non-threatening questions that you need to ask within the first five minutes of the client's visit to your showroom:

1. Who

    a. Who are you?

    b. Who is your builder/plumber?

    c. Who will buy the product?

    d. Who will be making the buying decisions?

2. What

    a. What is your project?

    b. What is your budget?

    c. What is your time frame?

    d. What is the style, color, finish that you like?

3. Where

    a. Where is the project?

    b. Where did you hear about us?

4. When

    a. When do you hope to begin the project?

    b. When will you need the product?

5. Have

    a. Have you been to any other stores?

    b. Have you been in here before?

At your next staff meeting do some simple role playing. Have one person act as the client and another the salesperson. Start by meeting and greeting the client and then going into the IQS. Practice this until it's as comfortable as saying "good morning!" You will have taken a giant step towards improving your professional selling skills.

Once you've qualified the client you will move into the presentation phase. This is where you talk about your products and your services.

Your clients want to know about the features and benefits of your products and services and what they mean to them. This is your chance to sell yourself, too! For instance: let's say that you have 10 years of experience in showroom selling. (That's your feature.) To the client this means that you are experienced, have excellent knowledge about the products, are better trained, and that you are better prepared to help them. (This is the benefit.)

Another great staff meeting topic is to list the many features and benefits that you, your company and your products offer. Make this an important part of your sales presentation.

Listening is the single most important thing you can do to develop a relationship with someone. Good listening skills require the ability to gather appropriate information, frame the right questions, and know when you are winning or losing the client. How about this interesting fact? Selling is 70% listening and 30% talking. Are you a good listener?

It's important to let your customers know that you are interested in "partnering" with them. This is done by periodically summarizing what you heard them say. Taking notes demonstrates that you are listening and that they are important.

Get agreements from your clients. When their heads are nodding up and down (indicating "yes") you have started the all-important closing process. You are now earning their trust and respect and they will continue to share their thoughts and ideas.

When clients enter your showroom they are there to buy more than just the products you sell. They are also buying:

  • The convenience, comfort and ease of the products.

  • The special unique look of the products.

  • The long-term use of the products.

  • The quality of the products.

  • The knowledge and experience that you offer.

  • The reliable service, warranty and backup of your vendors and your company.

And the biggest factor of all, they're buying you. You are an important part of the added value of the sale.

To make the sale you have to out-value your competitors, who are trying to out-price you. Be the value, not the price.

In virtually every selling situation the client will have some concern or objection. Objections are just part of the selling process. They are signs that the client is considering your products but not quite ready to move forward. Interpret objections as questions requesting more information.

Closing the sale

This is what the exercise is all about: writing the order!

The closing process actually starts very early in the presentation, by asking questions such as, "Does this make sense to you?" or "Is this what you had in mind?" or "Does this meet your design need?" Each of these questions will receive either a positive or negative response. If positive, you have started the closing process. If negative, find out why, and respond.

Every closing should be planned. You should have an agenda. Take some quiet time and list the features and benefits the client likes. List the "mini-closing" agreements you have reached. Have the contract or sales order ready. Some other requirements for closing the sale are:

  • You must be positive, enthusiastic and eager in your closing.

  • The client's requirements must be clear to you.

  • The client must understand what you are offering.

  • The client must also understand the value of what you are offering.

  • The client must believe in you, your products and your company.

You can have the biggest, best showroom in town, but if the salespeople aren't trained to sell, you will never maximize the return on investment to its fullest potential.

Call or write me for more details on the Showroom Selling Seminars I am doing. I can also customize a program specifically for your company.