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No Sleazing, All Pleasing
Everything You Need to Know About Sales Is In The Flooring Department
We’re remodeling our bathroom. Two weeks ago, all we had was a sample tile collecting dust beneath our soon-to-be ex-bathroom sink – and it was turning orange. The wife sent me off to hunt-gather the remaining tiles and grout.
I headed straight to Floor & Decor, our local flooring shop. For first-time homeowners like myself on the cusp of mid-30, staring at luxurious granite plaques is as close to kid-in-the-candy-store as I’m gonna get. The sheen, the clean, the abstract cross-cut patterns; it all promises a sophisticated life built from the ground up. But this was no time to daydream.
I knew what we needed: 26 square feet of marble hex in pale blue and enough grout to glue the suckers together. I found the tile and was once again struck by its price: $15 a square. Thankfully, the bathroom is small. At most, this would set my wife and I back a beautiful dinner for two on the river – with wine pairing.
Melinda, because I don’t remember her exact name, smiled and approached me. She must’ve felt sympathy as I met her gaze with the lost-husband-face I woke up with one morning on June 2nd, 2021. I asked where I might find more of the tile, and she showed me her secrets. She loaded up my cart with several heavy boxes found hidden behind the display.
If you’re a woman working a flooring store, you possess above-average strength. Melinda possesses above-average strength. My 100 pound cart creaked along as I followed her in search of grout. And around the topic of grout is where my lost-husband-face is an accurate one. She returns with a bag of the stuff and asks me whether I’ve already purchased protective coating.
Marble is One Expensive Candy
As it turns out, marble stains quickly and especially in dry high-traffic areas. My wife and I plan to move out and rent the place at some point, but we won’t be leaving behind a maid staff. The marble required liberal protective application every other year, and even the most expensive variety would not protect the marble from turning yellow over time.
And I recalled that our son would be the new bathroom’s primary tenant – a child who believes that any white surface can benefit from the cleaning power of toothpaste. Given his artistic proclivities, these tiles would become a kindergarten art gallery by January. No sale.
This is when my lost-husband-face turned to a panicked-husband-face, and Melinda could see it. My wife was hard-set on these tiles, but I implored Melinda to guide me to a sane alternative. We found hex porcelain for $10 a square of similar size and finish, but dissimilar color. Porcelain is durable and lasts, perfect for the kid-sized hurricane we were to unleash upon it.
But Melinda knew there was a problem, she could see it on my face; in it was the look of a man about to try to change his wife’s mind. At her suggestion, I got on a video call with Simona. Trying to spare Melinda the work, I took a stab at it. About four sentences in, Melinda could tell this dog wasn’t going to race today.
She took the phone and spoke to Simona directly. In less than 60-seconds, Simona was team porcelain. We hung up and looked at one another. Melinda had done me a solid, and I was in her debt.
I swapped out all the tiles, she helped me pick a new grout to match, and I went to ring up, overjoyed to knock that wine pairing off this dinner for two price tag. But why did I tell you this story? Everything about this transaction showed tremendous professionalism in sales. Let’s do a play-by-play of the strategies Melinda deployed to obliterate this sale with her above-average upper-body strength (I’m speaking of her mental strength, of course).
1. Prevent The Customer From Making a Mistake
Melinda read me right from the beginning. I presume many people my age and with similar levels of ignorance have no idea what they’re doing in a flooring store – she clocked me as one right away, but she never condescended. She merely asked all the right follow-up questions:
Did the 26 sq. ft already include the extra or did I need a spare tile or two?
What colors did I want to bring out in the tile? (This impacts your decision on grout)
Since it’s marble, do I need the protective coating or do I already have it?
Which to me was a polite way of saying, “did you know that marble will ruin your life?”
2. Solve The Customer’s Problem
Of course Melinda could’ve sold me the marble, she would’ve happily taken a greater commission, too. And as the marble mellow-yellowed under my step-son’s feet, I would neither remember nor blame Melinda for failing to warn me of the perils of premium floor rocks – she would’ve gotten off Scott-free.
But sales is about satisfying the needs of the person in front of you, not the person in front of them. Sometimes what the customer wants is not what the customer needs, and that’s because customers rarely know what you know; which is why the greatest salesperson is always an educator.
3. And Finally, Handle Objections
This one is never guaranteed to work, but the greatest salespeople handle objections with empathy. She knew I was staring down a barrel with that video call, so she took the reigns.
It takes guts to be a great salesperson. It means putting the customer’s needs above your needs. It means believing in long-term loyalty over short-term gain. And it’s a dying God-damned artform.
In marketing, we’re in direct competition with sales. We try to get the customer to sell themselves, no middle-man, or woman required. And we often deploy tactics with the same short-sighted tendencies.
We go for gimmicks, ticking-clock offers, discount codes, paid referrals, faux social proofs, and all sorts of psychological manipulations to stuff that conversion funnel full of dough. It’s the kind of behavior that lingers on a marketer’s skin long after a hot shower. It’s what convinces people that marketers are full of crap.
Sometimes we are, but all it takes to redeem ourselves is to remember what we’re really trying to do. It’s our job to educate people, not one-on-one, but one-to-many. We attract people whom we know to be suffering from the problems we solve, and we attract those who can use our products to elevate their lives.
When we start thinking about ourselves and what the marketing means for our sales numbers, we naval gaze. And that’s when marketing becomes exclusively about eyeballs, click-throughs, and conversion rates.
We can all learn about more than just tile from Melinda. As marketers, we need to think about the problems our customers face and the benefits they have yet to gain. Our job is to help them, as many of them as we possibly can, and in earnest.
You know what to do, get to it.