Be prepared when that new customer walks through the door.

Photo courtesy of Tom Taylor/Tom Taylor Photography


The first 20 minutes with a client, especially a new client, is probably the most important time you can spend with them. 

There are lots of things that should happen in that first face-to-face time with the client. However, before I delve into them, allow me to share an experience I recently had that triggered the thought for this article. We needed four outside wall lights and two post lights. We decided to try a relatively new lighting fixture store fairly close to home.  We did this in lieu of the “big box” that was even closer. The store was in an industrial park area, but the storefront was appealing and the parking was easy. Remember, this was our first visit to the store. 

We entered, did the look to the left and the right like most folks do and walked deeper into the maze of hanging lights, floor and table lamps, and accessory items that filled the space. In the center/rear of the showroom was a large counter. The multitude of vendor books were in a bookcase behind the counter and there was a sales lady standing there talking on the phone. She nodded acknowledgement that she saw us and we kept on walking.

The space was broken out into three rooms. We found outdoor lighting in the last room. After perusing the selection on display and deciding that what we wanted wasn’t there, we went back to the counter area.

The sales lady was off the phone doing paperwork. She had completely ignored us and we were the only folks in the store. At this point she asked what we were looking for. She said that what we saw on display was it. But, she had several vendors that sold outdoor lighting and we were welcome to go through their catalogues (without her offering to assist us).

So with her standing behind the counter doing her thing (whatever that was), we browsed through the books, found what we were looking for, wrote down the specs and left. No other words from the sales lady. When we got home, a pretty quick Google search told us where else we might buy the product (not via the Internet) and a phone call later, the order was placed. I’m sure it was the easiest $1,000-plus order these folks would get all week. 

I’m a pretty loyal guy when it comes to shopping. If someone works to get my business, I do everything I can to give it to them. But, if they’re not interested enough to find out who I am, why I’m there and if I’m a viable prospect, then I feel no obligation to “give” them the business.

So here’s the deal. The owner of the store had invested a fair amount of money doing the showroom build out, putting product on display and marketing the business.  But, it had an employee that either hadn’t been trained, wasn’t motivated and didn’t give a hoot about customer service, or probably all of the above. When friends ask, “Where did you get those great looking fixtures?” what do you think I’ll tell them? “Go anywhere but ‘X’ lighting because their service stinks!”

Don't be afraid to train

This disappointing experience took me back to the days when we owned our own DPH showroom business. I knew how very important it was to meet and greet clients properly and how those first 15-30 minutes with the client would be the most important time spent with them.

We did staff meetings every Friday at 8 a.m. About half of these meetings covered product knowledge; the other half was spent on company policy and procedures, direction of the business and sales training. So at least once a month we would practice meeting and greeting customers, going through the qualifying process, presenting products with their many features and benefits, “selling” value points and all the other important parts of helping our sales team become the very best in our marketplace.

I had even written a suggested greeting for clients coming through the front door. It went something like this: “Good morning…Welcome to The Plumbery. Thank-you very much for coming in. Have you been here before? Since it’s your first time, let me tell you you’re about to have a great experience. My name is Hank Darlington. May I ask what your name is? (Shake hands). What project are you working on today?” Never, ever say “May I help you?”

My experience is that most folks will share their name and will tell you why they’re there. Let’s face it, getting in the car, finding your store and coming into the showroom makes it a destination stop. There is a specific reason that has brought them there and your job - early on - is to find out what that reason is.

So let’s assume that the initial meeting and greeting went well. You’ve exchanged names and you know that they are contemplating a master bathroom remodel. Your follow-up conversation might go something like this: “Wow! A master bath remodel! That’s really exciting. Helping folks like you in this important process is what we do very, very well. May I get you a cup of coffee (or some other refreshment) and tell you just a little about myself and our company?”

About half the folks will say “Sure, that would be great.” You can lead them to a comfortable area, get the refreshment and then continue with the conversation. The other half will say “No thanks” to the refreshments and say they would just like to look around. You respect this and go away for two to four minutes.

Then you might approach them and say, “Aren’t some of these new products for the master bath terrific? May I show you how we work with clients doing an important project like yours? We have a takeoff form like this (show them) that we use to mark down the products that you like. It’s my job to help you select the style, colors and finishes that you want, and to help keep you within the investment that you plan to make. May I ask where the project is located and what time frame you’re looking at? If the project is 1,000 miles away and they’re looking at doing it two or three years down the road, you may not want to spend as much time with them right now.

You should have a takeoff form and pen to write down all their answers. It will make you look professional and help build the information that you will need to proceed. Early on, you need to decide whether the time spent will be worth your time and theirs. Time is money for all involved. Too often, sales consultants will spend an inordinate amount of time with clients - almost all of it helping select product - and then  find out they don’t have much of a chance  getting the order in the first place. 

Questions to ask

There are several very important things that need to happen in the first face–to-face minutes with a client. You need to find out who they are and why they’re there. You need to start telling them why you and your company are the very best at what you do. You must start to build some positive rapport with them. They have to feel comfortable and confident with you and your company and yes, they should even start to like you. 

I don’t have room to go through the whole selling “pitch,” but I do have room to list the various questions you should be asking and the various value points you should be weaving into the conversation. First the questions:
  • What is your name?

  • What project are you working on?

  • Have you been to our showroom before?

  • How did you hear about us?

  • Have you been shopping anywhere else?

  • May I ask where?

  • Where is your project located?

  • What is your time frame?

  • Do you have a contractor (plumber, builder, remodeler)?

  • Are you working with an interior designer?

  • Do you have plans for the project?

  • How much of an investment are you planning to make in the project?

  • Who will be the main decision makers for the project?

  • What do you like about your bathroom now?

  • What are you hoping to change?

  • Have you experienced other remodel projects?

  • What might you be looking for in working with us?

Please notice that I have not touched on style, colors or finishes or anything to do with product. This should all come after you have answers to the above questions.  Certainly there will be a lot of time that you’ll be talking product before you’ve had a chance to fill in all of the above blanks. But having the above information will allow you to do the very best job possible.

Like most things in life, “practice makes perfect.” Good selling!

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