The winds of change have continued to blow in the furniture retail sector, writes Brian Barfield, who feels that a focus on the customer has – quite rightly – come to replace greedy sales tactics. In the first of a series of articles focused on modern-day selling techniques, Brian explains how to identify the type of customer being dealt with, and outlines the benefits doing so can bring …

For many years the basic training on sales presentation has been based on the concepts of greeting, asking open-ended questions, overcoming objections and closing the sale. In retrospect, it was like the invention of the car, which made travel more efficient than using a horse and carriage – for many years it has provided us with a more efficient way to sell to our customers.

However, I propose that there is a way to sell more efficiently and effectively. To do so, you must learn to rewire your thought process. Your customer is no longer your competition. Reality has been altered – the customer is now your boss, and they have the power to give you their business or take it elsewhere. The days of playing mental chess with your customer to make a sale are over. You as a sales associate are working for your customer as well as your company. Take a minute and let that one sink in.

Secondly, you are there to serve your customer as well as entertain them. Every customer should be treated with the same enthusiasm, excitement and passion. If you truly want to be successful, stop sizing up your customer based on buying potential.

The trick is to build a large and loyal customer base – when your customer realises that you are looking out for their best interests, the sales process becomes very easy and often effortless. People respond to loyalty. Using this approach, you’ll find there are hardly any major objections after the bond of trust and lines of communication have been established.

And last but not least, your sales presentation doesn’t have to be a marathon. Most of my sales only take a couple of minutes once I have established trust and created loyalty with my customer. This is achieved by having a great understanding of who the modern day customer really is.

Over the years we have been trained to understand the four basic personality types. Some use animals such as lions, monkeys, giraffes and turtles – others use dominant, expressive, amiable and analytical. These training methods have been effective in understanding your customers and teaching you how to meet their needs.

However, times have changed, and with it so has the world around us – and the pressures of the modern day world can often alter many of our customers’ personality types. No-one ever seems to be the same at all times. Without a clear understanding of this, we find ourselves failing to meet our customers’ needs by using basic personality training. It only takes one bad experience to lose a customer for life.

I have discovered that all customers fit into four basic types, no matter what their personality type is – open minded, demanding, analytical and guarded. Learning how to sell each customer will allow you to build a large and loyal customer base.

“Your sales presentation doesn’t have to be a marathon. Most of my sales only take a couple of minutes once I have established trust and created loyalty with my customer”

The demanding customer is often the most feared by sales associates. They can range from high-maintenance time consumers to pushy and confrontational. Notice the different personality types – yet both can be categorised in the demanding customer field.

There are many ways to handle such a customer. However, there are two weapons that you can use that will work every time. Kill them with kindness and compliments. It is very hard for someone to be demanding when they are being treated well and feel respected.

Another beneficial way to sell a demanding customer is to keep things simple. Make your answers precise and to the point, and then move on. When the salesperson speaks, too much time is wasted and opportunities for discussion to take place are limited. Try these simple steps and you will see these customers are not to be feared, as they become a lifelong customer.

The next customer type is the analytical. This customer can range from a customer needing information to skilled geniuses who like to play a mental game of chess with you. The best way to sell to this customer is to know your product well and sell with confidence. Any sign of weakness or uncertainty can lead to a lengthy sales process. Be sure you make good eye contact and stay focused while engaging these customers.

Most importantly, make sure you speak to them on their level. You would certainly sell to an educated customer much differently than to an uneducated customer. Try putting yourself in their shoes. If you knew very little about cars, how would you feel going to get your car fixed? Pretty vulnerable, unless you had someone who took the time to explain in detail what exactly was going on.

Now we turn our attention to the guarded customer. This customer is the famous “I’m just looking” customer. For a variety of reasons, these customers have an invisible wall up, and you must earn their trust before they will open up to you. Trying to scale their wall without permission or tricking them can be disastrous.

This customer must feel that you are being 100% honest and have their best interest in mind. You do this by serving them rather than selling to them. Create an obligation of trust by offering a free service that is beneficial to them, or something as simple as a coffee. You will be amazed how quickly these customers will open up to you.

Finally there is the open-minded customer. This is the customer that is familiar with you and trusts you completely. Your goal with every customer you serve should be to turn them into an open-minded customer. Once you have given them excellent service and a bond of trust is created, these customers offer you little resistance. They know that you care about them through the marketing contact you maintain with them, and become the foundation of your success year in, year out. You are no longer just a sales associate, but their friend.

The next time you greet a customer, I challenge you to focus on these basic concepts. Make sure that every customer you sell to is given the proper service to meet their needs.

Next month, I will explain ways to connect with the customer like never before – this will be equivalent to the greeting process, but will be different from anything that you have heard before …

Brian Barfield is a two-time published author who specialises in retail sales training. His Modern Day Selling series offers a unique perspective in teaching sales associates how to reconnect with their customers and achieve greater success in their sales career.