Selling skills are crucial to the success of a showroom business - or any business!

In my May article this year I shared that I had written a new workbook for the American Supply Association (ASA), and had developed an eight-hour workshop that follows the book. The book and workshop are titled “The Essentials of Profitable Showroom Sales.” I have facilitated about eight of the all-day workshops this year (for both ASA and wholesalers) and have two more scheduled. If you’d like to learn more about this, call ASA or send me an email.

I developed a lifelong passion for selling skills way back in the 1960s when I was working for one of Supply House Times’ early “Wholesaler of the Year” companies (Raub Supply) in Lancaster, PA. I had completed college, a stint in the Army and graduate school, and was hired into one of the industry’s first college grad training programs. It was billed as a two-year training program with stops in the warehouse, counter sales, inside sales, etc.

I was into the program about four months when my boss called me in and said, “Congratulations, here are the keys to a used Ford Falcon (does anyone remember those?), a list of plumbers you can’t call on because they’re someone else’s account, and here’s the Yellow Pages that you can use to seek out new plumbing contractors that will be your accounts.” Wow, I was a salesman! Hurray! Wait a minute, I thought. What really is a salesman and what skills will I need to be successful?

I bought a couple of books on the subject. One wasHow to Win Friends and Influence Peopleby Dale Carnegie. He was the first person to articulate that selling is a learned skill. It’s truly an art and science that must be learned. Mr. Carnegie’s book is still one of the best that’s been written on the subject…and there have been more than 10,000 books written on selling skills.

I’ve learned that there’s a number of “myths” that exist about salespeople. Here are a few of them:
  • Good salespeople are naturally born that way. The truth is that just isn’t so! Good salespeople have learned the basics and succeed via practice, practice, practice!

  • Good salespeople have a God-given gift of gab. Again, I disagree! Good salespeople have learned to be great listeners and how to ask smart questions - not just be talkers.

  • The best training is “on-the-job” training - learn as you go! Wrong! The real professional salesperson has had formal sales skills training via workshops, reading books, listening and watching tapes, CDs, etc. 

    Over the years I have amassed a library of books on selling skills. They’re all good. However, they all say pretty much the same things. The authors put different spins on what they believe is important - but the fact is the basics are all the same. 

    For years it has amazed and disappointed me that very few companies do any sales skills training for their salespeople. It’s an absolute fact that nothing, I repeat nothing, happens in a business until someone sells something. Everything starts with the sale. In my opinion salespeople are the single most important people in the business - any business!

    Yes, I get excited about the subject. I wish more of you would. But the main thing I wanted to cover in this article is the area of learning to “sell” value. Most of you allow price to be the dominant factor in selling. Yes, your customers, especially the contractors, are continually beating you on the head for better prices. For the 16 years that I was a professional manager in the wholesale distribution business, I flat got worn out with “price, price, price!” It hardly mattered what value, services or relationships you brought to the table. If you didn’t have the lowest price, off they went! You know there will always be someone who will meet or beat any price. I hated it then - and still do!

    When I started my showroom business I made teaching selling skills a priority with all of our sales consultants. We taught the techniques and we did role-playing to practice what we had learned. You should be doing the same thing at your business. We also identified the many value points that we offered that made us better, different and more unique than our competitors. We learned how to sell these value points, which make price become less important. Ours was an independent (non-wholesaler) showroom and we achieved a gross profit margin in the high 30s.  The only way we could do this was by offering a unique product and service package, having the best sales team and by making our clients know what tremendous value we offered.

    In the October 2006 of Kitchen and Bath Design News, Leslie Hart wrote a great article titled Mastering the Art of Pricing Based on Value. In the article she refers to a book titled, The Art of Pricing by Rafi Mohammed. The author describes pricing as an art, not simply an accounting exercise that involves understanding and capitalizing on the fact that different customers are willing to pay different prices for the same products and services. It depends on how much they value what you offer.

    In the selling skills workshops I facilitate, we spend time on learning how important it is for a salesperson to learn how to “sell” value. (Yes, “sell”!) This would include articulating the value you bring to the table. It includes your years of experience, your product knowledge, the fact that you are 100% honest all the time and that you will do what you say you will do. It also includes all those other valuable things that make you very good at what you do!

    In addition to learning how to articulate your personal value points, you must also “sell” the many value points about your showroom business. Things like the number of years you’ve been in business, family owned, widest selection of quality kitchen and bath products, etc. Of course, you have to sell the value points about your vendor partners and their products also.

    There’s a great new book out called, Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It by Peggy Klawss. Let me ask you this, if you don’t brag about you, your company and your products - who will? I seriously doubt if your competitor down the street will. Plus, they haven’t learned the art of “selling” value. When you learn how and start to practice it - it will put you giant steps ahead of those folks down the street.

    Here’s an absolute fact of selling: When you add value you make price become less important. The sooner you can learn to make value, quality, service, features and benefits the focus of your selling, you’ll find that price, price, price will no longer be the main thing on your clients’ mind.

    Pricing strategy is all about getting inside the heads of your clients and learning what’s important to them (everyone will have a different set of “hot buttons”). Remember, it’s not what you think has the most value - it’s what the client believes has the most value. A product may have a list of great features, but if those features don’t relate to great benefits to the customer you might as well forget it. Move on to features that are important to that individual client. Your job is to ask great questions, be a great listener and determine what exactly is important to each individual client. It will vary - and maybe vary a lot.

    In The Art of Pricing book, Mr. Mohammed states, “No matter what product or service you sell, every pricing decision you make should be based on the value the customer places on those products and services.”

    You’ve heard me state over and over that most of you sell your showroom products and services too darn cheap. Your gross profit margins are much lower than they should be. In my opinion you have allowed the “wholesale pricing mentality” to infiltrate the showroom side of the business.

    It drives me nuts! It also tells me that most of you showroom sales consultants who are working your hearts out haven’t learned how to sell value. You’re great at helping clients make product selections, but you fall short when it comes to the confidence to price products that will allow you to achieve 35-40% and more gross profit on the sale. You offer too much value to be selling so low - so stop doing it!

    Be proud of the VALUE that YOU, YOUR COMPANY and YOUR PRODUCTS contribute to the sale - and don’t be afraid to charge for this value. You deserve it!