Teach Yourself New Sales Skills

"Explaining features and benefits, style and price points is much more effective if you can place it in the context of a story.”

authors  | March 10, 2020

If you’re the kind of person who believes that good salespeople are born and not made, save time and turn the page now. If not, I hope there are a few ideas here that can guide those who specify or sell decorative plumbing and hardware to become better at their job.

Due to the democratization of education, access to learning is easier and more affordable than ever. In fact, much of this educational content is free. We just have to make the commitment to include learning into our daily routine. And it doesn’t require hours a day. Just focusing on some new idea or skill a few minutes a day will accrue benefits over time.

We can become better storytellers, more competent persuaders, more familiar with the psychology of the affluent and even versed in the basics of neuroscience. Social media has made personal branding a powerful tool – and being able to present our own story to our clients better establishes our authority as educators and guides.

The business environment for decorative plumbing and hardware is healthy but is experiencing its own form of disruption. Ecommerce, demographic evolution, buying groups, private label, consolidation, generational turnover, commoditization and shifting views of luxury are a few aspects of this change. Our consultants and design professionals are more challenged than ever to distinguish and defend the value of higher priced products and services when potential customers are watching HGTV, researching on Amazon and playing with Sketchup.

Clients come into consultations with both information and misinformation, making it more important than ever to be prepared with knowledge and skills beyond experience, product knowledge, creativity and technical ability. That means we need to continue to become better salespeople.

That term may bring to mind characters from movies like Used Cars, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Boiler Room – fast-talking, manipulative alphas unimpeded by morality. But our world is not so transactional. It’s consultative and, at its best, collaborative. We create and curate spaces where people live and care for themselves and their families. However, learning the fundamentals of sales technique can only strengthen existing knowledge and talent.


Over the years, our company had the good fortune to employ, work with and learn from many talented sales professionals. Employees were given access to books, tapes and CDs about sales techniques. Noted sales trainers with binders full of knowledge presented at national sales meetings. While the education of employees is a desired goal of businesses of all sizes, too often the cost, both in time and money, prevents owners and managers from providing these valuable programs. Fortunately, we can now search sales techniques on video platforms, podcasts and audio book databases. One I’ve recently listened to is “Exactly What to Say” by Phil M. Jones, which simply presents a series of phrases that can help promote successful sales conversations. It’s short, the information is presented in easy-to-digest pieces and the writer is a very good speaker and presenter.

Another subject of study that takes sales technique a little deeper is persuasion. Like selling, persuasion may feel like manipulation to some, but the best salespeople do not manipulate, they motivate. All professions require effective communication to be successful, and they benefit from understanding and utilizing persuasion effectively. This includes ways to build rapport and, through rapport, trust. Look up “building rapport” or “effective persuasion” on your video, podcast and audiobook services and you can learn from the best for little investment beyond your time. You can learn about physical techniques like mirroring or survey the study of neuro linguistic programing – information that will help you create greater rapport and trust with clients.

Along with building trust through technique, one wants to gain respect from clients for one’s expertise. You should be seen as an authority in your field, a trustworthy guide toward the best service and solutions. Along with sharing stories about products, be sure you know and can share your own story. This includes years in the business and specialized training of course, but also something personal. A good place one can start is to consider and even write out a work autobiography. Not simply a resume, a work autobiography is a person’s professional story, including types of work done, challenges overcome and lessons learned along the way. Identifying these experiences confirms your value and differentiates you from competing resources.

Storytelling itself is another subject of self-study that improves our effectiveness with clients and adds value to products. Our brains are built to process information in story form. Explaining features and benefits, style and price points is much more effective if you can place it in the context of a story. The most important story is, of course, the clients, and when a product or design is shown to serve their story, it creates emotion, which creates perceived value. Look for the stories behind products and see every client’s project as a journey with you as their guide. There are great TED talks on the subject and, of course, many books. “Building a Story Brand” by Donald Miller is one that provides a clear explanation and a simple process beneficial to both businesses and individuals.


Pay attention to how other categories where consumers spend are talking about value and, particularly, luxury. As the consumer mix shifts from Boomers to Gen X and Millennials, higher value purchases are presented less as a signal of status and more as a confirmation of the buyers’ own values. For example, the ad Genesis auto ran during the Super Bowl humorously declared a shift from “Old Luxury” to “Young Luxury.” Patagonia is a luxury brand in its category and promotes the value of spending more on quality because it will last longer, be repaired, reused and ultimately recycled. People buy Patagonia not only because its products perform and are well made, but doing so identifies them as holding a certain set of values. Luxury tableware brand Christofle is marketing to a new generation of consumers by highlighting how its products enhance and create great social experiences around the table. What do the products and services we provide do if not enhance and create great experiences?

Study how luxury brands in other product categories are presenting the value of their product or service. Are they highlighting the value of lasting quality over throwaway fast fashion, or the artisan craftsmanship that creates their products, or how their products provide or heighten an experience the buyer will have? Customers who value these characteristics in other high-value purchases are more open to seeing them in the products we specify and sell. Learn how leading brands in travel, auto, fashion, lifestyle and home decor are speaking to their customers and see how the new language of luxury can apply to our products and services.


Become aware of any exceptional purchase experience you have and how the person who provided it made it so. For instance, my wife and I recently purchased a new bed. While we were predisposed to look at a particular brand because it was a locally produced product, hand crafted with high quality sustainable materials (changing values of luxury), the gentleman who manages the company’s showroom created such a pleasant buying experience that as we walked to the car, my wife said, “Wow, I didn’t expect that buying a mattress would be that much fun.”

Spending a career as part of an organization selling and marketing luxury kitchen and bath products, one becomes a real fan of great salespeople, wherever you find them. Every time I learn from one, work with one or watch one in action, I think, “There should be a pro league for salespeople, with bubble gum and trading cards.”

Thinking about our mattress buying experience, I realized there were a lot of similarities between his business and ours. Like our industry, his is experiencing its share of disruption: consolidation in both product and distribution, legacy brands cutting quality but maintaining price, brands using technology to wow instead of quality and online brands selling directly to consumers. This company is succeeding by having products that are differentiated on a number of levels and salespeople who are confident in themselves and their product and create a pleasant buying experience.

Our salesperson built rapport effortlessly, shared a little about his background – a career in public education as a school principal – and spoke both to the technical and emotional aspects of the product and brand. He used the displays and other exhibits effectively but not as a crutch. He asked great questions and really listened to our answers, confirming decisions along the way. He identified the top, mid-range and entry-level price points and explained why each was a good value.

After narrowing our choices, he made an authoritative selection and wrote up the order, highlighting any discounts and items provided free of charge. It was pretty much a sales masterclass. Wherever you go, start paying more attention to how salespeople you interact with perform, and try to emulate what worked.

Our trade organizations are also doing a better job in harnessing their accumulated knowledge and presenting educational content packaged for those who aren’t looking for a certification but would benefit from establishing a good base of knowledge in a particular area.

The National Kitchen & Bath Association has launched a new Specialist Badge program where one can learn about cabinetry, design, remodeling, marketing, sustainability and more. The Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association also possesses a treasure trove of knowledge, including best practices, product info, sales, management, hiring, training and much more, developed by leaders in the industry and currently being refreshed and updated. There are also online learning platforms like Udemy, Udacity, Coursera and others that are starting to disrupt how people think about higher education.

Even if you’re not going for your MBA or learning how to program, a course in design could help a showroom consultant be more valuable to his or her designer clients, or a course in values-based selling can help a designer guide clients toward better quality products.

However we’ve come into this business, the good news is there’s so much more to learn that will help us to succeed. Education is accessible, affordable and adaptable to any system for continued learning. All that is required is the commitment to making learning a part of every day. ▪

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