The First Law of Listening

“An experience makes its appearance only when it is being said,” – Hannah Arendt 

And if we do not hear it, it disappears. 

We are told again and again, that the art of listening is the most important talent a person can have.  To be able to really hear what other people are trying to share with us is an advantageous skill.  Now we must ensure that the person or people you are listening to are comfortable so they will share their true thoughts.  They must know that they are speaking with someone that is genuinely interested in what they have to say because, if that’s not true, why meet?  When people are comfortable their true insights emerge, and we learn so much more. Honestly shared information from diverse backgrounds builds the foundation for the best new ideas. We want people to share what they really believe so together we can all get better. 

For example, you have arranged a meeting at a trade show with a key vendor to discuss projections and the pricing schedule for the upcoming year.  Now this meeting will require focus.  Your vendor has been meeting with dozens of people from all over the world, each with unique challenges and cultural concerns.  You have been skipping from booth to booth also talking with people from different countries and investigating everything from drains to crystal handles.

To make this meeting as productive as it must be, time clocks must slow down and all attendees need to be reset to focus on the opportunities to be discussed.

Let’s start with making all involved feel important.  If it is a one-on-one meeting, shake their hand, look straight into their eyes and thank them for sharing their time.  Make sure they know you are looking forward to this conversation.  If it is a multi-person meeting, welcome everybody and take a moment and introduce everybody.  Even if the group is familiar with each other, still take the time to bring them into the meeting by simply acknowledging each person directly.  

Now, with everyone feeling comfortable, it is time to get to work and hear all of the amazing conversations.  

A version of tis article appeared in the January 24, 202 issue of DPHA’s Newsletter, Connections

You Got This Cold… Are You Sure?

Most of us are familiar with the Müller-Lyer Illusion that teaches us that what we think we see is not always correct.  It is an illusion that the top line is longer than the bottom and if we had not been told that they are the same length, we would have walked away thinking the lines are not equal.  Sometimes we simply need to slow down and take a good measure of the situation we are reviewing.

The key to these “tests” is to remind us to take time and bypass our fast, save our B-Hind thinking process and use the other part of our brain to press pause and think the situation through.

This takes on greater significance in our business.  We all know we know the most knowledgeable folk in our individual businesses.  In fact, if the Supreme Court required an expert witness to testify on anything about your industry, you would be number one with a bullet on the list.  But this “insider” knowledge does not preclude us from making errors. Examples such as these two simple arrows ought to remind us to take a moment and slow down.

“Looking back over the last decade, I have made many good fast decisions, but I have nearly never made good rushed decisions. The former can be made from a place of calm, whereas the latter come from a place of turbulence and blurred judgment.” Tim Ferriss, 1-20-2020 Blog Entry

A few reasons that you might want to STOP and review your decision

  • This decision might be for a customer that has specific unique demands.
  • This bid just might have unique opportunities that have not been addressed.
  • This product is for a custom job with a lot of bespoke products and regular sizing might not work.
  • This product line does not look great but the team behind it really talented

No matter what we know, it can and will change.  So everytime you see interesting brain teasers like the Müller-Lyer Illusion illusion, remind yourself that the brain teaser is not the focus, it is training you mind to stop for a moment and make sure your “easy’ decision is correct and complete.

Suggested reading: Thinking in Bets, Making Smarter Decisions Ehe You Do Not Have All The Facts by Annie Duke

In 2020 Is Our Luck Only Bad?

The football gods were not with us today.  

The world is not ready for my creative.

Talk about bad luck…

It seems today that luck is only bad.  When we meet miss-fortune we shout to the heavens, Why am I so unlucky.!

When we win, Wow, we did it…

Can we all agree, win or lose, profit or loss, luck is a big part of both sides.  No matter how bright and industrious we still need fertile ground and chunk of luck to win the day.

Our real victory is celebrating the hard work we do that puts us in the best possible position to win.  That work is what our customers pay us for and helps define who were are.

We should embrace our work and always strive to improve our individual process.  

That is winning.

Is Everyday Discounting Good For Your Brand?

Why would anyone purchase anything at list price?  Today’s marketers continually believe the best way to move merchandise is to put it on sale.  Stories no longer seem to be thought viable. And we all thought Amazon was to blame for the price dropping game.

Every marketer knows that email remains a powerful tool to build brand awareness and the email’s subject line is your brand’s calling card.  Do you really want it to be all about how much today’s discount is? Can your brand only motivate people to open your marketing emails by shouting your products are marked down? 

So after a consistent barrage of XX% off and free freight on any purchase, do you really think people are going to look at your brand as anything but a discount brand?  Even powerhouse home brands such as Restoration Hardware and Williams Sonoma seem to run 50% off sales every other day. Why do I want to buy something that no one else wants? 

Then think of the poor salespeople in the brick and mortar showroom.  The first thing they must do every day is check to see what is on sale today.  It is just like working in a supermarket and we all know how low their margins are.  It is not sustainable.

As long as sales volume and product turnover remains high, these companies can get away with thinning profit margins but when a slowdown comes and sales drop 5%, that low, discounted margin might not be able to cover overhead and viola, losses appear.   Then what happens? The markdown habit a brand gets into in good times are nearly impossible to break in bad times. Quarter to quarter planning is not a good play in the long game.

Vendors, May We Please Improve Training

The quality of training in the showroom business is all over the place. Training is not like selling; they are two distinct talents.  A few companies create solid content but have not trained their trainers on how to train (say that fast three times). Other vendors weakly educate the local representative and tell them to go forth and educate all involved. They send them in with catalogs and some samples.  Really, is that how a brand should be presented?

Here are some notes:

  • No one looks forward to product knowledge training sessions.  Showroom salespeople are extremely busy and do not want to give up the time during the day.  Also, no one wants to come in early or stay late.  
  • Abide by the Venture Capital pitch 30/30 rule.  No font should be smaller than 30 pts. and no presentation should be longer than 30 minutes.  In a perfect environment our minds can only stay focused for a maximum of 20 minutes. So build a solid 20 minute presentation and leave time for questions. Do not overreach, you will not gain a thing.  In fact, you will lose what you gained in the first 20 minutes.
  • Do not train on a product that is not yet on display or ready to ship.  The salespeople will forget all the information by the time you are ready to receive orders, even if it is just a week away.
  • Beta-test your training content in the field.  Present your new training program to a few local showrooms, then note and implement the feedback.  
  • Train your own customer service team first.  Present the training draft to them first and gain their feedback.  Then, when a showroom salesperson calls with a question that references the training, everyone is on the same page.
  • Do not hand out any reading material during the presentation. You want the trainees to look at the presenter, not at a price book.
  • Recap, ask questions and offer rewards during the 20 minute training.  Questions keep them engaged and rewards help all stay attentive throughout.
  • Do share actual product samples…LOTS of samples.  It is proven that if people have product in their hands they will remain engaged.
  • If offering food, save it for AFTER the training.  If they have food during the session, they will focus on that.

Finally, if you really want to do it right, hire a 100%, full-time trainer.  As we noted above, your talented sales people and representatives are not always adequate trainers.  Do you really want to get into an automobile with new brakes that were installed by a mechanic that was trained by the brake manufacturer’s local salesperson?  Then why do you ask talented salespeople to educate the salespeople that sell your brand’s story to design and building professionals?  

If your training content and presentation are solid, you’ll always get the best product knowledge training time slot and the showrooms salespeople will gladly attend ready to learn.

A version of this article appeared in the February Issue of Supply House Times

The Unique Customer Journey

Your company has been successfully working with this wonderful client for years, but today seems a bit different.  Do you handle them the same way as in the past?  Do you start asking questions to learn what is different or do you simply listen a bit harder and slow down.  I vote for the latter, you?  

Truth be told, we must always keep in mind that every time a customer visits your showroom, their path on every purchase path is unique.  Not only is this meeting unique, but every meeting pertinent to this one purchase will be unique.  Your customer still retains the trust, but time moves on and situations change.  Who knows what has happened personally or professionally to any of the players since you last spoke? 

Your main job is not to expose any issues, but engage them in a way that they know you are there to help, listen and learn.  If you start probing and expose issues, you will have to deal with what is exposed.  If that happens, the underlying issue is their trust in you. You are the outsider, therefore, the easy scapegoat. Be carful here.

Am I digging too deep on this?  Most luxury showrooms,, on average, close roughly 35% of its bids.  We can improve that percentage if we improve the way we engage our customers.  
Little things matter.  One little flub can throw a monkey wrench into hard won trust and confidence of an old or new customer.

I think you will agree that every sale is unique. Understand that each time clients enter your showroom they are on a unique journey.  Engage with them to learn all you can. 

I suggest taking a few minutes in your net sales team meeting and discuss this.  This simple awareness is important for your new budding sales heroes to understand.  New salespeople are wrongly looking for repeatable sales processes to follow, and that will not play well in the long run. The best salespeople approach each meeting with an open mind. Their experience has them ready to engage each fresh opportunity and the unique collection of issues that job will drop in their laps. 

Image Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

A version of this post appeared in the January 10 issue of DPHA Connections

Okay, What’s Next?

It is 10am and you have just finished a grueling white paper that you have sweated over for weeks.  Job well done…now what’s next? You could start on the next report, visit your team in the bullpen or any of a hundred other easily quantifiable tasks.  How do you choose?

Gary Keller emphasizes in his book, The One Thing, when we are in a situation where we can decide what to do next, we should ask ourselves what is the one thing that will deliver the best result over time.  That’s it. It could be any of the above or more. Simply take a moment to review your options and get to work on the one you deem the best for all involved.

Simple, right? But I would like to add one more option to this selection process that many of us forget.  Take a break. We all know that multitasking is a term that does not exist in reality but we also forget that we cannot be “on” 24/7.  Work is work and home is home and both require your constant attention. But we need down time. Anything from taking a vacation to just taking a minute to stare out the window.  Let your mind rest, let it go blank. After your break, you will be shocked how much more focused you will be.

So when you have finished that killer project and you are deciding what journey to take your brain on next, add rest as one of the options to choose from.

Some insightfull links:

Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

Where is the Space?

So much of bricks and mortar merchandising is about the products we sell.  We vehemently believe we have to have a lot of them. We have to have more than that other company  If we have some empty space, we find something to fill it ASAP. Imagine a pawn shop case versus a product presentation at Tiffany.  The product quality could very well be the same but the presentations are so very different.

Why do we do this??  Is more really better?  Is there to be no place for the customer’s eye to rest and download all these products? 

It is no wonder that people will continually buy the same products over and over.  With such an onslaught of products we are not able to notice something new, something that might be better for me and my needs.  

We have grown so used to going to the store to buy, not shop; we get just what is on our list and get out.  Never thinking to see what might be new and interesting.  

Instead of working to make sure every little space is drenched in product, why not focus on improving the presentations of what sells and where we make more margin.  Big brands are nice but I think making money is better.  

Why not incorporate an interactive screen where customers can swipe to see what is new in the store?  Why not mark new products where they sit on the shelf? The combination of the two will let customers know that you are the source for what is new and innovative.  

Anybody can show a lot and sell, sell, sell, play the price game and hope to survive on razor-thin margins.  If you work to tell your story and help you customers discover new products, you will set your store apart and above.  Your store will be THE source for product and information. The brand that attracts customers that are looking for new, better and different.  

These customers will pay a bit more for finding the new, the unique, the cool products…not the same old, same old.

Make Sure Everyone Knows

As we start out on our grand plans for the new decade.  Can we make sure to take time to thank all those that help us work to succeed.  We cannot improve in a vacuum. 

Over our journey we will encounter many interesting and talented people.  They will assist you in many ways, some of which never crossed your mind.

When you experience that helping hand, take a few seconds to look them straight in the eye and say thank you.  A simple, sincere gesture accented by two words can make another person’s moment a bit better.

P. S.  Even if they only crossed your life path, Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night or Hello is a nice touch.

Should We Wait Or Should We Go?

There has been a lot of speculation on how AR, VR and AI are going to change the way we do business and no one really knows where theses platforms will affect their business next. So, instead of waiting, let’s turn the tables and decide where we would like AR, VR and AI implemented in our businesses.  Where can these amazing toods help improve and simplify your business right now?

Take a moment and meet with your teams and make a list of where they think theses programs can make you better.  Once you have the list go out and talk to people that work in these worlds. Find out what is available, now or in the immediate future and start planning.

Is it better to reach out to learn or stay in the dark wondering what will hit next?

Photo by Marlene Leppänen from Pexels