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

It’s Holiday Time, Yipee!

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
I hope everybody had a lovely Thanksgiving.  A wonderful holiday allowing American families to pause for one day to celebrate the passing year’s blessings. Then consume mass quantities of delicious food.   

As Thanksgiving fades into memory, Christmas Day is on its way.  The massive barrage of advertisements for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday have passed and they have been replaced by a consistent torrent of emails, ads and banners telling me that I can only have XX% off if I buy now!  It is all so annoying. 

Outside of that noise, I do enjoy holiday shopping.  I love to discover just the right gift for my family and friends.  Each gift I select has deep logic behind it, and I know it is something they never would purchase for themselves and will treasure for years.  I hope to watch them peel back the shiny paper and see a bit of delight on their faces when they discover what it is.  I love that look!  Then sometimes they unwrap the gift and look at me, what the….?  Off to the return counter.

The important thing is that my time searching, not dealing or discounting, is time that I spend thinking about the wonderful people in my life and in small, very small, way give them a bit of Holiday joy.  
 
Happy Holidays!  
 
Ohh, P.S.  As the 2019 Holidays pass, all will turn to talking about 2020.  Before that happens, find a moment and congratulate yourself, yes you, for all the hard work you did in 2019.  Every once in a while, it is good to look in the mirror and say, great job, well done!  Cheers
A version of this article appeared in the December 20, 2019 issue of DPHA Connections.

Tinder In My Showroom?

“I like that but could I see it in this tone of yellow?”  How often have you heard this on your showroom floor?  

This is a question that has been haunting showroom salespeople for decades and, I think, we just might have the answer.  At the 2019 Lightovation show at the Dallas Market Center, a leading luxury lighting manufacturer had strategically placed 4’ x 3’ interactive touch screens amongst its spectacular products.  The screens were programed so the user could simply swipe right to easily move from image to image.  Even amongst hundreds of beautiful lighting fixtures, these screens, with their larger-than-life images, were the draw.  An EXPERIENCE garnered more interest than the actual product.  People would stand and swipe to their heart’s content as the images were quickly delivered from its huge database.  Yes, it was a large screen that was the star of a show attended by the purchasing agents from the top lighting showrooms in the United States and Canada.  Not a specific fixture, product series or brand, but a SCREEN.  Are we focused on our screens or what?

Brick and mortar showrooms are not going away, but if a physical luxury showroom does not incorporate a 21st century experience, that will hurt its image.  Imagine a customer walking into your showroom and heading straight for the interactive screen.  In a matter of minutes, they are flipping through your products as fast as they can swipe.  Customers travel to your showroom to interact with the actual product and still want to be able to see everything imaginable.  They want to experience the best of both the physical and digital worlds in your showroom.

When a customer asks what this faucet looks like in another finish, no problem.  You can show it to them on your 4’ x 3’ screen.  You cannot physically show it all, but you can show a large image of your customer’s dream look by simply accessing your mighty, mighty database. 

The answer is to bring the internet power into your showroom.  Slap a screen on the wall and voila, millions of product images are alive!   Unfortunately, it is not simply plug and play.  It will take some programming, and access to properly configured vendor databases to make this dream a reality.   

When I returned home, I did a little digging and discovered these two “Kiosk” companies.  It seems kiosk is the preferred terminology in the self-serve retail world, as opposed to large touch screens.

Also note, these company’s understand that your screen needs are different from McDonalds and they have programers ready to deliver what will surprise and delight your customers.

I believe kiosks (screens) will be a big showroom draw and expand showroom offerings to infinity and beyond…

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2019 issue of DPHA’s Connections

Is Everyone Ready for Your Sales Call? Really?

It is the third Tuesday of the month and as usual, this outside salesperson will be visiting account ABC at 9am, DEF at noon for lunch, LMN at 2:30 and finish the day at XYZ at 4:00.  

This looks great. During a full day of outside calls, you have the chance to tell your brand stories to your targeted customers. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s hit the road.  One question: are you prepared?   

Some interesting questions to ask before you schedule any and all outside calls: 

  • Do they know you are coming?
  • What do you want to accomplish at each call?
  • Do you have plenty of samples to share?
  • Have you checked the companies’ websites and social media posts to know what they are working on and promoting?
  • What happened on your last call there?  Did you review your notes?
  • What have been your company’s interactions with each customer since that last call?  Do you need to bring any parts or soothe any ruffled feathers?
  • DO THEY KNOW YOU ARE COMING?

This call routine was the first thing that was drilled into my head by my mentor, Al Dubin.  If I couldn’t answer all of these questions, Al told me to get back in that chair!  Unprepared salespeople were his number one pet peeve. R-E-S-P-E-C-T your customer and do your homework. You have to give to get.

I am still amazed at how often salespeople, sales managers and local representatives would stop by with no plan, no product samples and no idea of what was going on with our shared interests.  

They would show up when staff was busy selling, purchasing agents purchasing, designers pitching, plumbers fighting inspectors and builders trying to find subcontractors.  They would drop in at 11ish just to say hello and see if there were any issues or questions.  People, time is incredibly valuable for all involved and must be used effectively. Put simply, no one should call on anyone if they do not have an appointment and a beneficial agenda for all parties involved.  

Management has to be on top of this.  Every sales call made should align with your company’s focus and what your marketing team is promoting.  It is amazing what a company can accomplish when all the teams have the same game plan. 

Let’s stop unprepared calls; take that time and generate the quality and additional sales from your showroom visits that you and your clients expect and deserve.
A version of this article appeared in the December 6, 2019 issue of DPHA’s Connections

What Gifts Should I Send this Holiday Season?

Let’s think about walking into a showroom, a purchasing office or an interior designer’s studio during the holiday season.  What do you see?  There are large and small Christmas trees, twinkly lights, cookies and candy galore, tall rectangular lavishly wrapped booze boxes and holiday cards by the score.  Lots of people exchanging numerous gifts, thanking their customers for a great year and others trying to be remembered in the New Year.  So many companies and individuals trying to make an impression.  So what happens to all of those gifts?   

The business holiday season is a traffic jam of companies trying to be remembered by old accounts or impress new ones.  Is this where you want to spend your marketing money? Hoping that Johnny at ABC will recall yet another logo coffee cup that will motivate him to lead his next customer to your display?  How many gifts will Johnny receive?  Will yours be the one that is magically remembered?  It is a big HOPE.  But you don’t want to be that company that plays Scrooge and does nothing. 

I would like to offer an alternative solution for holiday brand building.  

I always tried to find a solid charity that offered a holiday card where we could place a picture of our complete team on the cover wishing Happy Holidays.  The money went to a good cause and when anyone asked a team member, they had a good holiday story to share and show where they are in the card cover image.

Doing this freed our holiday marketing money to use during a time when it made a more substantial impression.  By mid-January, a lot of people are back in the day-to-day workflow and miss the “entertainment validation” of the holidays.  This is a good time to take a target to dinner, bring in a catered lunch or hand out gift cards.  By waiting until the January holiday hangover, you will be the lone brand thanking key players and it just might wash away the gift they received from your competitor way back in December. Some companies that follow this plan have a large event in early spring to welcome the building season and rev everyone up.  

This plan also removes the stress of trying to do the best thing for your clients and allows you to better focus on your family’s holiday festivities.  Because isn’t that what the holidays are all about? 

P.S. Let’s never forget that HOPE is not a strategy.

This article previously appeared in the November 22 issue of DPHA’s Connections

How About a Walless Why?

Photo by Louis from Pexels

Remember when one of your children brought you something that had broken asking you to please fix it? Then they would ask, why did it break?  You painstakingly explained why and they would look at you again and ask why? They were simply searching for a complete understanding of the situation and trusted you to help them see all sides.  

Now, think back to the last time a customer returned with a defective product?  Our protective wall goes up and we ask, how did you do this? We are certain it was their fault, it could not be our product’s fault.  This customer must have done something careless to make it “break”. Then, once the customer is confronted, their defensive wall goes up and the not-my-fault battle commences.  How are we going to improve the product (and our reputation) with this not-my-fault attitude?

We have to create a comfortable space where there is no blame game, but instead a calm discussion of why this happened.  Then the actual incident can be reviewed and soon both parties know how and why the product failed to perform. Now the manufacturer can learn more about the product and the customer has a better idea of how the part should work.  All with no stress.

A little bit of listening and empathy goes a long way and offers so many benefits.

The 21st Century Customer Experience

Photo by Alexander Kovacs on Unsplash

21st century retail rule: upper-end retail can only survive by offering an amazing customer service.   

But a great customer experience does not have to be a blow your hair back carnival ride.

An honest, quality driven sales process remains a great customer experience.  Some customers will want a Flying Whoopee but that might not be your customer.

If you set up a solid process, hire smart people and work with good vendors, your customer service experience will be attractive to many.  

It’s not easy but do not make it harder than it needs to be.

Websites Only Take my Jobs on Price! Horse Pucky…

Earlier I wrote an article with the opening line, “So why is it that 47% of top interior designers purchase products online?” and most of your comments were that the websites offered free freight and lower prices.  Wake up gang, that isn’t the major reason designers are buying online. We are losing more business to digital savvy designers that are specifying and buying on the Internet. Jobs that we will NEVER know about. Sure, there are top shelf luxury designers that are price obsessed, but most are looking for easy access to information when and where they want it.  

Every time you lose a job to a low-ball bid, you hear about it directly from your customer.  It hurts badly and sticks in your mind! All that time, all that effort, amounted to nothing.  What about the job at that same design house that was completely specified and purchased online?  You knew absolutely nothing about it and were not involved at all. What is worse for your business, losing a job to a low balling #@!*#**, or never getting a whiff of a large job as it was all worked on online?  

After the recession, website companies remained unsophisticated and price was their key advantage.  The surviving sites, and new designer-oriented sites, offer an addictive combination of an easily navigable user interface and anywhere, anytime accessibility with live solid phone and chat support.  This is why talented designers are working on these sites. It has absolutely nothing to do with price. Do not mix these two up. Price competition is not going away, but in the luxury market it is not as big an issue as we portray it.  People will take the easiest path first.

If a customer comes in and says they want to order a $6,000 list bathtub from lowestofthelow.com, just let them.  Make a note on your calendar to check back when the job is trimming out and ask how that worked out.  I think you will remind them not to do that again. I suggest not fighting individual pricing debates, unless it happens often.  There will always be sites and stores that offer silly pricing. It is really not worth your team’s time, and you are worth your profit.  Take the energy and focus it on the future.

I was not aware how many talented designers were specifying products online until we started to receive RFQs that were 100% built on websites.  When we reached out to these good clients, they told us it was nothing against our team or showrooms, it was that our website was hard to work. So they matriculated their favorite brands’ websites that offered them the intuitive interface they craved.  Now that hurt. We did everything right except offer our good customers the tools they wanted.

We have to believe and think big.  Big like when you opened our business.  We knew everyone would come because our look was so damn good. Let’s take that same attitude and build magnetic web sites. 

Note: Please take another look at the proposed strategy in an earlier post.  “So why is it that 47% of top interior designers purchase products online?” It offers a few tips.

A version of this article appeared in the November 256 issue of DPHA Connections.

So Many Finishes! What’s The DPH World To Do?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

…because the human experience is as diverse and as unique as every one of us, individually. We’ve seen this borne out in the success of mainstream entertainment as well; one of the reasons YouTube and Google are as popular as they are is they allow us to find exactly the kind of entertainment and information we’re looking for.”

Christopher S.Penn. Chief Data Scientist of Trust Insights

Just a few years ago, key Euro-based decorative plumbing brands were standing firm that chrome and nickel were the only finishes that mattered.  That wall has since crumbled The Europeans are offering as many finish options as the finish-crazy California companies. Even though 60% of the market remains polished chrome with satin or polished nickel taking another 25%.  This new, across the board, wide variety of plumbing finish offerings will slowly eat away at those percentages. Why did this happen?   

Initially, even the best interior designers were afraid of the bathroom.  It was easy to specify simple, chrome and white and their clients knew none the better.  Today designers specify plumbing fixtures with the same confidence as they set a chair and their clients know color options abound.  Why shouldn’t plumbing fixtures offer the same wide palette as fabrics?

Secondly, today’s finish coatings and color-rich powder coatings are every bit as durable as polished chrome. There is no reason for a knowledgeable showroom sales person to talk the client out of the look they envisioned.  If they want the lavatory faucet in black and the shower fittings in brushed nickel, not satin, that is what it shall be.

Let’s face it, plumbing fixtures are now available in more than 100 finishes and colors and the offerings will continue to expand.  

So how does that affect the DPH industry?  

Showroom sales people, manufacturers and independent sales reps have to know how all their finishes look, how they will vary from product to product and how they compare with other DPH brands.  This is not an option and it is not difficult. Big or small, quality manufacturer’s plating lines have definitive go-no go finish samples that dictate the brand’s acceptable looks. This information needs to be shared with all involved, ensuring that the customers will be properly informed.

Also, there is no “standard” DPH finish.  That is a lazy answer. Each brand has its own look and it should be presented as such.

Designers and their clients know and want so much more from their trusted sources.  All of the DPH players have to stay in-the-know or we risk losing their trust. We must be prepared to hear anything and have the sourcing knowledge to deliver it.  To remain the best takes hard work on and off the sales floor and those that put in the hours will remain the primary source for the true luxury designers and their very rich client base.

This article was also published my LinkedIn page.