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What I Learned Selling Furniture At My Dad’s Store

  • by Elay Cohen
  • September 14, 2015

What I Learned Selling – In the spirit of Father’s Day, I’m reflecting on the lessons I learned from my dad, especially the time selling furniture at his retail store in Toronto.

When I was a young boy, my dad introduced me to the world of sales. The image you see above is my dad’s retail furniture store, five years ago, right before he retired. The “store” played a big part in our family.

For years, I worked at my dad’s store on weekends; working the shop floor, negotiating, closing deals, and doing deliveries. I still remember my first day working at the store. I must have been around five years old. My job was to greet customers with a smile and let them know daily specials. I’ll never forget how nervous I was the first time I said hello to a customer who walked in the door. It was a big task and after being coached I was ready.

I’m struck how relevant the sales techniques I learned from my dad still are in today’s world. It’s ironic that the “back to basics” sales training taught by my dad in the ‘70s and ‘80s are even more important today than ever.

How often do you hear the words or theme “back to basics” in sales meetings, kick off events, and sales training? All the time!

Here are a few sales techniques my father taught me that are still profoundly relevant today:

Greet Customers With A Warm Smile: It’s almost too basic to include. Yet, a simple smile goes a long way. Customers feel the energy on a call, in a meeting, or when they shake your hand. We’ve all had that experience when we feel the other person on the other side of the phone or counter is having a bad day. I’m glad I learned the impact a smile has to creating a warm, welcoming environment for richer deeper, relationships and conversations.

Give Customers Space: I remember my dad telling me to let customers walk in and browse first. Say hello. Let them know you’re here to help. And then give them the space to explore. Their actions will tell you what they need.

Ask Probing, Conversational Questions: I learned to ask and practice probing questions grounded in conversation and curiosity.

  • How can we help you today?
  • What do think about that couch?
  • What brought you into the store today?
  • Tell me more.

Consider these questions versus closed ended questions like is there anything you’re looking for today? We know the answer to a closed ended question is usually no. It took a few times before I realized that a customer’s quick escape from the store was based on the quality of the open-ended question I asked.

Know Who Is Buying And Who Is Paying: I was taught to read body language and communication gestures to know who is buying and who is paying.   With families or couples, the person that sits on a sofa first or asks about colors is usually the one focused on comfort and design. There was usually a moment when the person buying would look at the person paying and smile or nod. The bigger the family the more influencers existed.  I learned how to begin to uncover decision-making process and evaluation criteria very early by reading body language.

Get Commitment: There always came a time when a piece of paper and pen would come out. I learned how to write down the furniture items of interest, confirm interest and validate what we discussed and observed. I’d ask the customer to sit down at a table with me to review where we are. If the customer didn’t want to sit down, it meant they weren’t ready and it didn’t mean they weren’t going to buy. I learned how to use a pen and a pad of paper, Glengarry Glen Ross style, to show customers what they were going to buy and get their commitment to move forward. Sometimes, I would skip the pad of paper and use an order form.

Make Customers Happy After They Sign: After I closed my first order, my dad said to me: “Jump on the delivery truck and make sure the furniture fits the family dream.” My father taught me about customer service and making customers happy after they bought. He shared that most of his business was word of mouth referrals from happy families telling their friends. It’s another simple concept that’s so profound and impactful, if done right.

We all remember our mentors and coaches. The good ones step us through and show us the way. They “hold our hands” through each step in a process. They make us feel ready to stand tall and deliver. They teach us how to greet customers and ask for orders with a pen in hand. I still remember the day my dad handed the pen to me and said now it’s your turn to get a signature. “You can do it,” he said.

I hope this article brings a smile to your face and takes you to a happy place like it did for me. I’m extremely grateful for the “sales MBA” I learned from my dad and earned, early in life, selling at my dad’s furniture store.

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About the Author
Elay Cohen

Elay Cohen

Elay Cohen is the author of SalesHood: How Winning Sales Managers Inspire Sales Teams to Succeed and the co-founder of SalesHood, a SaaS sales enablement platform and community for sales professionals. Elay is the former Senior Vice President of Sales Productivity at Salesforce. Recognized as the company's "2011 Top Executive", and credited for creating and executing all of Salesforce's sales productivity programs that accelerated its growth from $300M to $3B+ in revenue. The sales training and sales support innovations delivered over these years by Elay and his team to thousands of sales reps resulted in unprecedented hypergrowth. He also created the Partner Relationship Management (PRM) category.

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