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Friday, January 14, 2011

5 Quick Tips to Get Your Clients to Make An affirmative Buying Decision

Whatever you’re selling – be it cars, furniture, homes…whatever… you are really in the “Decision Making Business.”

A confused mind always says, “No.” So, your job is to guide the buying process, by getting your client to make small decisions along the way, until they get to the point where they feel confident making a buying decision.

I’m a professional development consultant for the furniture business. So these quick tips are geared toward getting the client to make a decision on home furnishings.

1) “This one or that one” – Instead of showing lots of options at one time – just show 2 at a time. Get the client to make a decision of which one they like better out of just those 2 options. Then compare the “winner” of that round to the next choice. Repeat until you have it narrowed down.

2) Get them to look at the options with “fresh eyes.” Sometimes staring at all the options just gets more confusing. Encourage your client to take a quick break – go for a stroll around the store, enjoy a coffee/snack break (preferably inside the store), or simply get them talking about something other than the decision at hand.

Usually, when you revisit the choices, you and your client will have a better “gut reaction” to what they like or dislike. At the very least, you may be able to absolutely rule out one of the choices.

3) Get the customer “thinking out loud.” Ask key questions which will force them to really think through the decision-making process, such as, “What do you like best about this fabric?” “Do you think this will coordinate well with the other pieces you have in the room?” What don’t you like about this fabric?” You’re almost playing the role of a design “psychologist.”

4) Collect your “Yes”s. If you know your client wants it, but they are just a little hesitant to finalize the buying decision, ask them questions which will create “Yes” responses, such as,

“You said this fabric will coordinate nicely with the area rug you currently have in the room, right?”
“This sofa is the most comfortable one out of all the ones you’ve tried, correct?”

Each “Yes” is what is commonly referred to as a mini “close” in selling – getting you one step closer to being able to “ask for the sale” at the end of the sales process.

Because my philosophy is more client-focused (rather than sales-centered), I call these “Yes”s small decisions that get you one step closer to getting your client to make an affirmative buying decision.

5) If none of the above techniques work, offer a housecall to take out swatches, samples, and catalog pages so you can both view the samples in the environment that the piece(s) will be placed.

Want to receive my daily tips on success in the retail furniture biz? Just “Like” my Facebook page: FAB Results with Cathy Linard

Monday, January 10, 2011

Be the best you can be wherever you are right now and doors will open for you leading where you want to go.

A couple Sundays ago, I was flipping through the channels before prying myself out of bed and caught a glimpse of Joel Osteen’s sermon. I’m normally not a fan of T.V. evangelists, but his words always have great meaning and lessons that seem to apply to everyone’s life, no matter what your religion.

He was speaking about reaching your dreams and goals in life. He said being the best you can be wherever you are in life right now will make doors open for you leading to where you want to go. He went on to say that people you may not even be aware of will show up at the right time with the right opportunity for you. It made me think about my unlikely path from a design consultant with no formal interior design education to the exact job I wanted (but didn’t really think I’d ever get) as a professional sales & design trainer in the furniture industry. Joel’s words described my experience perfectly.

You can get all my background in my previous blog post. But here is a quick recap. I left my salaried advertising agency job to take a commission-based sales position at an upscale furniture showroom franchise, with only my natural talent, one 2-day training session, and some sales videos to help me out. By exactly following the specified sales program outlined in the training and videos, I managed to become one of the top design consultants in my area. Within 3 months, I was made the manager of the store.

But management wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I mainly took the position for the increased pay, the learning experience, and to prove to my parents that I made a good decision by leaving my corporate job; kind of like, “Look Mom & Dad, I’m the manager now.”

What I really wanted to do was become a trainer like the one that had visited our area during my first week in this new career. She conducted a 2-day training seminar on furniture construction, interior design skills and selling techniques. And it was fun! We played games, worked in groups, and even got cookie breaks. That sounded very appealing to me – hosting these fun training sessions (that were more like little “learning parties”), traveling to different cities, helping people become more successful in their design careers, and getting 3 or 4 days off between trips.

But honestly, I just didn’t know how that could ever happen for me. I was new to the business. Surely there were plenty of other people that had much more experience than me. Plus, I didn’t have an actual interior design degree.

At age 24, I was doing my best to maintain the daily operations of the store, hire and train a new team (seeing as there was almost complete turnover when the “new girl” became the manager), and handle every customer issue that arose, all while keeping up my own personal sales, which usually fluctuated between 30 and 50k.

It was a tough road and I wanted to throw in the towel several times. There were many days when I was so busy “putting out fires” in the store, that I had to lock the doors at closing time and stay there until 4am to get a presentation done for my own client.

So, I was extremely thankful when I was given the opportunity to attend two different training sessions with the franchise's Director of Training, Jim – the guy from those videos I watched in my first couple of days on the job. I needed all the help and information I could get!

The first time I met Jim, I really wanted to make a good impression. I studied our training manuals from front to back, just incase he called on me. I was dressed very professionally and feeling confident. On my way to the training room, I bumped into him just as he was exiting the restroom.

I decided to be assertive and quickly introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Cathy Linard, the Strongsville store manager.”
He responded, “Hi. I’m Jim and your zipper’s down.”

Ugh! I could have died from embarrassment! But I tried to act like I wasn’t fazed by it. During the class, I attempted to make up for this wardrobe malfunction by answering as many of his questions as I could.

A year later, I was able to go to his “Train the Trainer” class that instructs store managers on how to make fun, beneficial sales meetings for their staffs. We all had to come to the meeting prepared to conduct a 5-minute training segment on a topic of our choice pertaining to the retail furniture biz. Since creativity is one of my strengths, I thought I would do well at this.

In fact, planning great sales meetings was my strongest management skill. I would sometimes work until 3 in the morning getting materials ready for the next day’s meeting. If my staff was going to come into work 90 minutes early for a “professional development” meeting, I better make it worth their while.

I decided to make my 5-minute meeting about the importance of social conversation. Specifically, how you can use it to “Break down the brick wall” the customer has when they enter your store.

My plan was to start with a game of Pictionary to create the “visual aid” of a brick wall. Then I’d go on from there to talk about different social conversation tips followed by a skill practice in which the participants would make quick conversations with the person sitting next to them. Then we’d wrap up by quickly sharing what we learned about the person we talked with.

However, it started out a little rocky when my audience wasn’t able to figure out what I was drawing. So I had to make a joke about my drawing ability saying something like, “And now you see why I dropped out of art school.” It got a laugh but I wasn’t sure if Jim was impressed with my presentation.

He gave everyone 3 compliments after their segment was done. I still remember mine:
1. I wasn’t afraid to make fun of myself.
2. I was extremely enthusiastic and energetic. “How could a group be bored with that kind of energy?”
3. I addressed everyone in the group by their first names even though I had just met them all that morning.

(Now, I can look back and know that these are 3 characteristics of the best trainers: humor, enthusiasm & making each participant feel important.)

Up to this point, my almost 2 years of management were filled with long work weeks (50-80 hrs/wk) and tons of stress. And now I had a baby on the way. I decided to relinquish the role of manager in favor of a part-time design consultant position when I came back from maternity leave.

This worked out well for about 3 months. I was able to make almost what I had earned working full-time because I had built up a good clientele during my 2 years as a selling manager.

But I could tell that the new manager felt threatened by my presence. Although I loved the balance of family and work life that this part-time arrangement gave me, the work environment was becoming negative and uncomfortable. (A few years later, I’d find out I wasn’t the only one who had issues with her management style. Another design consultant would actually hit her in the face with one of those big, heavy furniture catalog binders. Now, as a manager, I may not always have been loved 100% of the time. But at least no one on my team ever bloodied my nose by whacking me with a catalog.)

Anyway, enough gossiping. So just when I wasn’t sure if I could stay at the store any longer, a “door” was unexpectedly opened for me, like I mentioned in the beginning of this blog.

It was on one of my days off. I was surprised to see that there was a call coming in from corporate headquarters. It was Jim!

He was calling to offer me a position with their Training Department; the job I, and so many other design consultants, had coveted. I’d go on a couple trips per month, most about 3 days long. The rest of the time I could spend at home with my new baby.

He was presenting me with the right opportunity at the right time. I didn’t even know I was on Jim’s radar! He’d only met me a few times. But I had worked incredibly hard for the last 2 years and didn’t give up when most people put in my position probably would have.

So being the best you can be wherever you are in life right now will make doors open for you leading to where you want to go. Give it your all!

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why I left my salaried ad agency career for a commission-only position in a struggling furniture store.

After spending 2 years at an advertising agency after college, I realized that this type of “office” environment just wasn’t a good fit for me. The workdays either dragged because I was working on promoting some industrial product that didn’t interest me. Or, I was totally stressed out dealing with ego-driven CEOs and marketing execs, print deadlines, and all the little critical details that go into planning an ad campaign.

I also wanted to be more creative. I always aspired to work at an ad agency for that reason – to be creative – thinking up tag lines, product names, clever headlines, etc. But I was pegged as a “suit” not a “creative.” And once you’re defined in that role, it’s very hard to crossover to the other side.

Plus, I became frustrated with the slow income-growth opportunity. I was making $26,000/yr and was likely to only get a $2,000 raise every year. With a new house to decorate (well, new to us) and other “grown-up” expenses, this income level just wasn’t going to cut it.

Then, one day while my husband was getting his hair cut, I walked into a beautiful furniture showroom a few stores down from the barber shop. It was not only visually stimulating; but it smelled like a combination of leather and freshly-baked bread from the Einstein’s Bagel shop next door. Although I knew I was not going to be able to afford a thing in this store, I still got butterflies in my stomach just by being there.

I ended up filling my new nest with inexpensive upholstery, flea market finds, antique store curiosities and even garage sale furniture. But guests to my home would always compliment me on how nice it looked. I felt I had a natural talent for decorating. But what could I do with it?

That furniture store experience stayed with me. My visceral reaction to it was telling me that this was an environment I enjoyed being in. But I thought for sure you would need a design degree to work there. It was my husband who urged me to at least call the store to find out how their hiring process works. The fact that he thought I would be good at this, too, gave me the confidence to make contact with the store manager.

After going through a couple interviews and design tests, I was offered the job – at an $11 an hour draw against commission with a 90-day “trial” period during which I could be let go for any reason. Plus, even after the first 3 months, I could be fired if I had several months of not hitting my sales quota. O.K. is that even an actual job offer?

But something was telling me that I would really enjoy this – talking to people about their rooms, coordinating fabrics for them, and going out to their homes to put together a whole room plan. Despite having no experience doing this, it didn’t scare me at all.

But going on a commission-based structure both concerned and excited me at the same time. I tried asking the manager on different occasions, “How much do you think I will make working here?” Her response was always the same, “It’s up to you. What you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.”

I asked for a few days to think over the job offer. But now the time had come when I had to make that call back to the manager to give her my decision. Problem was, I still hadn’t made up my mind. Should I take a risk doing something new that I think I would enjoy but came with almost no guaranteed income or long-term employment? Or, keep my steady, salary-based job that bored me to death and totally stressed me out.

In that moment on the phone with her, I decided to just let my mouth answer and whatever came out, I would do. “I’ve decided to…” then I paused for what seemed like an eternity “take the job.” The store manager was so excited. I was actually surprised she still wanted to give me the job seeing how unsure I was about taking it.

My parent’s wanted to take me out to breakfast to discuss this job change. It turned out to be more like a career intervention. Basically, my Dad told me he didn’t send me to college to sell sofas. I had job security and a salary at the ad agency, which, in their eyes was better than the promise of commission.

I was lucky that there just happened to be a training session going on in my area right before I was scheduled to start my new job. To prepare, I tried to memorize the catalog the day before the training session so I didn’t look like a fool due to my lack of furniture knowledge. Despite my research efforts, I remember being in the class when an unfamiliar term was mentioned - a camelback sofa. I thought “What in the world is a camelback sofa?” That’s how little I knew about the industry.

My first week as a design consultant, I was literally thrown on the floor to start taking customers after just 2 days of watching some sales training videos. Wow! So much for that intensive training program I was told about. I guess it’s going to be more like trial by fire.

I just tried to do everything I was taught in the class and videos – make social conversation with the customers to build a bond, sketch their room as it is now to get a good understanding of their furnishing needs, ask for the sale, and if you don’t get the sale, at least take their contact info so you can continue to follow up with them.

During my first week, I mentioned to my new co-workers, “I can’t wait to get my first commission check!” They all laughed and told me that no one in the store makes commission - the store is in a bad location, the people in this city can’t afford good furniture after just buying their big houses, there are 5 other stores within an hour’s drive that sell the same furniture for less…” The list of reasons was ongoing. But there was no option for me. I had to make this work.

I did begin to get a little nervous, though, when 3 weeks went by and I hadn’t sold a thing! My first upholstery sale cancelled their order the day after they placed it. My first full room design client never showed up for their presentation.

Then finally, I sold a pair of candlestick lamps for $600. That same week, 3 customers came back in and bought from me. Plus, I sold a $5,000 sectional to a first-time-in customer. My first month’s total was a little over $20k – not a record-buster by any means. But in a struggling store, it was a great first month.

I even made commission on that month and continued to do so every month after that. When the other design consultants would ask me what I was doing differently than them, I had no idea how to respond. So I just said, “I’m just doing what they tell me to do.” “They”, meaning my manager, the videos, and the trainer. I knew nothing else besides what I had learned from them.

In my third month,December - which is typically a slower sales month - I had sales totaling $30,000. Not “Super Star” status yet, but being new in a struggling store – it was pretty fabulous.

That’s when I was offered the store manager position, as my manager was being moved to a different store. This was another hard decision to make. Management would mean working a lot more hours and loads of responsibility and headaches, especially considering I was so new to the business. But I wasn’t sure if this opportunity would present itself again in the near future. Plus, making more money was appealing. So I took it.

As a selling manager, I almost doubled my ad agency salary. And boy, did I learn a lot from all the hardships I endured by being 24 and running a million dollar furniture showroom. I also went on to bigger and better things which I’ll blog about in upcoming posts this week.

So, it just goes to show – my manager was right - you do the right things and the right things will happen. I followed my heart to find a job that I was passionate about. I didn’t let my lack of experience stand in my way. I listened to the right people and didn’t get sucked into the current staff paradigm that you couldn’t make money working in that store. And I put a lot of work into this new career– way more than a typical 40-hour work week between in-store time and housecalls.

Think to yourself, “What do I need to be doing in order to make the right things happen for me?”

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Serious about reaching your goals this year? This post will start you off on a successful path!

“Begin with the end in mind.” – Steven Covey, Author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and other best-selling books on how to be successful, fulfilled & empowered both personally & professionally

“When you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time” – Zig Ziglar, One of the most famed authors & speakers on the subject of professional selling & success.

These are both famous quotes by motivational gurus that focus on the importance of determining – and aiming for - exactly what you want out of your life and career. In other words, knowing what you want to achieve is the first step on the path to achievement. Your next step is actually declaring that this is what you want to accomplish and creating a plan of how to do it – goal setting.

Setting goals can sound boring and trite. Or, maybe it’s something that you’ve been forced to do with a boss or coach, so just the phrase “goal setting” gets your eyes rolling. You may be thinking, most people can’t seem to stick with goals anyway so what’s the point in setting them. This is probably true. But, most people do not know how to execute proper goal setting and attainment.

There are actually 4 simple steps to proper goal setting that will put you on a successful path to reaching your dreams.

1) Set big & small goals. It’s important to have a main goal you’d like to achieve by the end of the year; something that would give you a great sense of accomplishment and pride - maybe it’s reaching a certain sales level. However, if you weren’t able to do that last year, you are going to have to change something about the way you’re doing things in order to reach that big goal this year.

This is why it is also important to create smaller goals that will help you to accomplish the main goal. These are the little changes you need to make on a regular basis that will keep you on track throughout the year.

Remember, goals should be things that you can control, not things your customers or employees will do.

2) There is another critical component of goal setting that is summed up in this famous quote by Peter Drucker, a management guru that worked as a consultant with many big corporations such as General Electric, Coca-Cola, Citigroup, IBM, and Intel:

“What’s measured, improves”

Meaning, your goals have to be quantifiable and measurable. If there is no way to measure your goal, there is no concrete way to determine if you’ve achieved that goal.

For example, say your goal was to make more follow-up phone calls to prospects this year to try and get people that you’ve invested time in to come back and make a purchase. If you just set that as your goal – make more phone calls to prospects – come the end of the year, there is no concrete way to measure if you’ve achieved this or not.

Instead, you would set a specific number of calls you should make every day/week/month. Then, you’d develop a way to track the number of follow-up phone calls you make each day. Maybe you create a “call chart” binder where you can track the following things: Customer’s name, what they’re interested in, the outcome of the call (got answering machine, got a family member, left a message, said you’d call back, talked with the customer, etc.) and your next scheduled call to that customer.

Now, your goal is quantifiable & measurable because you have stated the number of calls you want to make and have a way to track if you’ve accomplished the goal.

3) As you work on setting your goals for the year, make them challenging, yet achievable. Don’t set yourself up for failure by creating a goal or plan that you’ll unlikely be able to adhere to.

For example, if you usually only have time to fit in 3 or 4 follow-up calls in between everything else you have to do, you wouldn’t want to set a goal of making 20 follow-up phone calls a day. Setting your goal at 5 or 6 phone calls would be more than you’re doing now – so it would be challenging – but not so much more than it isn’t realistic to accomplish on a daily basis.

If you fall short on one of your daily goals, don’t get discouraged. Each day is a fresh start – a new opportunity for success. You can always do more in the next couple of days in order to still hit your weekly goal – and stay on track with what you want to achieve.

Just like having one candy bar doesn’t ruin a dieter’s chances of losing weight forever, one day of being “off your game” at work will not ruin your chances for success.

4) Structure your daily decision making around reaching your goals. Keeping with our follow-up call example: If a friend wants to go out for drinks from 7 – 8pm, but this is the prime time to call your customers and actually get a hold of them, then you know you either have to decline altogether or suggest a later meeting time. Having your daily goal helps you make a good decision that keeps you on the right path to reaching your big goal.

Remember to recognize and celebrate your daily accomplishments. These small victories will keep you energized towards reaching that big goal.

Now, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” – Henry David Thoreau

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