Several years ago, a woman walked into our showroom dressed to
the nines and looking to buy a faucet. The salesperson scanned the
woman from head to toe and directed her to one of the most
expensive faucets available. She was taken aback by the price, and
selected a much less expensive faucet instead.
The salesperson said, “You are wearing $650 Gucci shoes, a
$5,000 Armani suit and more than 20 carats of diamonds. If you want
to buy that faucet, you will have to purchase it elsewhere. I’m
going to sell you this faucet [pointing to the more expensive
Then, there was excruciating silence followed by laughter and a
sale. Much to my surprise, the woman purchased the more expensive
In the Southwest, an average-looking customer walked into
another showroom to purchase a new bathtub. He explained that he
wanted a sophisticated, free-standing air tub that he subsequently
purchased along with a decorative swan faucet and all of the
trimmings. The total bill amounted to more than $20,000. Before
leaving, the customer stated, “Next year, I’ll come in for the
shower. We’re looking at a double-wide.”
FAILING TO QUALIFY
Both of these true stories illustrate a common mistake in the sale
of decorative plumbing and hardware: Salespeople often prejudge
customers or fail to adequately qualify them. Brash, arrogant,
prejudicial and risky are apt descriptions of the salesperson’s
approach in the first example. The salesperson erred by determining
the customer’s preferences and budget based entirely on
In the second example, listening to what the customer wanted
instead of being prejudiced by an address led to a sale that more
than likely would not have occurred had the customer started a
conversation by saying, “Hey, I live in a mobile home and want to
buy a new tub.”
A failure to determine customer or project needs is a major
shortcoming in decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms, claims
DPHA president Jeff Burton, of The Bath and Beyond, in San
“Sales professionals need to determine who is the buyer is, the
budget, delivery schedule and special circumstances,” Burton
states. “Too often, a showroom is used for a search-and-seek
mission, with the exclusive purpose of price shopping or obtaining
bids. This is perfectly fine provided that that information is
obtained at the beginning of a conversation. But, we don’t want to
waste our time with third parties who don’t understand, appreciate
or want our technical expertise and customer service.”
Qualifying customers helps determine the best sales approach.
For example, if a client wants to purchase a product for a home
that has yet to be built, it may be better to discuss concepts
instead of specifics, because pricing and selection will differ by
the time construction begins. Similarly, if a product is needed
immediately, salespeople should direct customers to products that
are available from the showroom’s inventory.
Jerry Norton, of Designer Hardware by Faye, in Oklahoma City,
OK, suggests that the qualification process enables sales
professionals to distinguish themselves. “Often, we end up serving
as consultants instead of salespersons because it’s necessary to
help customers achieve their goals,” he says.
At Union Hardware, we encourage sales professionals to answer
questions with questions because, too often, the customers don’t
offer enough information to make an informed decision or they don’t
actually know what they want.
Some commonly made mistakes in the sales process include:
- Failing to Clarify Product Applications: Sales professionals
need to clarify product applications as much as they do customers
and their projects.
“There are many facts that a showroom is not privy to unless the
customer provides the information,” comments Marilyn Hermance, of
Westheimer Plumbing & Hardware, in Houston. “Our role is to
encourage the customer to explain unusual applications and
Hermance instructs her sales professionals to ask questions ranging
from the location and age of the house to timelines and budgets.
She also has found that customers do not understand the technical
nuances of decorative plumbing and hardware. “There’s a common
misconception that one fixture can fit all applications,” she says.
“If you don’t ask the customer to describe an application for the
product they want, there’s a likelihood they’ll purchase something
that cannot work.”
According to Hermance, a recent quality assurance audit of
Westheimer’s business found that change orders were responsible for
a large percentage of errors.
“It’s not uncommon for a designer to change the finish on a light
fixture that would require changes to the faucets, accessories such
as cabinet knobs and possibly door hardware,” Hermance comments.
“In response, we’ve developed a formal procedure to track change
orders. Problems have decreased significantly as a result.”
- Providing Too Much Information: Many sales consultants get too
wrapped up in technical details such as a product’s dimensions,
available finishes, style nuances, design lineages, environmental
impact of manufacturing processes, and the like. While these are
all important issues, there’s a fine line between effective
salesmanship and techno speak.
We instruct our staff to disseminate information in usable bits
without overwhelming customers with information that they do not
want or need.
- Providing Too Many Options: Offering too many options is
another common sales shortcoming. In our showroom, we minimize this
problem by displaying inventory by style instead of by
manufacturer. Products are segmented into contemporary, traditional
and formal styles.
You can improve the efficiency of the sales process by asking,
“What style are you looking for?” and “When do you need it?” The
responses typically will eliminate at least two thirds of a
showroom’s inventory from consideration.
- Avoiding the Money Issue: Money is an issue that sales
professionals too often tiptoe around or do not address at all.
Burton claims that as many as 50% of his clients don’t have a fixed
budget. The guidance he provides his sales staff is to discuss
budget in positive terms. The message that’s then conveyed is that
the showroom cares about costs.
An effective technique to turn cost from a potential negative into
a positive is to explain the reasons for price variations, such as
materials, finishes and the originality of the design.
- Failing to Ask for the Order/Inadequate Follow Up: Sales
professionals spend hours reviewing priorities, providing options,
detailing performance features and developing specifications and
bid quotes and then do not ask for an order. Bath and Beyond
addressed these problems by developing an automated tracking system
for outstanding quotes that issues frequent reminders to sales
professionals and requires that they respond.
- Failing to Manage Expectations: Effective sales require
effective expectation management, according to Tony Carter, of
Carter Hardware, in Beverly Hills, CA.
Carter explains that attention to detail cannot be overstated. “The
nature of our business is such that time frames are unrealistically
compressed. There’s so much pressure to deliver yesterday that
often the simple details get lost or ignored.”
Carter instructs his sales staff to avoid absolutes when discussing
lead times. “We don’t make a delivery commitment until we’ve
received an order in writing with an explicit approval of the
schedule we’ve detailed,” he says. “Once received, we provide an
estimated delivery date, knowing from experience that we need to
spend as much time on the back end as the front end, expediting and
then inspecting the material before it’s shipped to a
Training in both the technical aspects of our industry and the art
of salesmanship can help avoid most of the common problems made by
DPH sales professionals. Business owners, managers and sales staff
should review their operations to determine sales techniques that
should be implemented, changed or eliminated to increase
profitability, quality and professionalism.