Three Strategies for Selling Flooring in a Recession

By Stephanie van Dam

It has been a turbulent period for the Canadian housing market and, by extension, for those who sell products like flooring that connect to that market.

What are best practices that will focus interactions with prospective buyers on value and not on the classic ‘race to the bottom’ question in a recession: Who has the lowest price?

Here are three strategies to consider.

Check your Mindset
Mindset is a more powerful weapon in a down market than many people realize.

The attitudes that initiate a conversation and the assumptions salespeople make about the market and a given opportunity have a huge impact on the outcomes they are able to deliver. There are all kinds of messages in the media that suggest people aren’t willing to spend money on flooring right now. That (false) messaging has no business impacting the salesperson’s attitudes or belief system.

There are always buyers in down markets. The issue is how to find and work with them. That may mean altering a prospecting routine. This is a constructive change and one professional salespeople need to be prepared to make.

Start from the premise there is money out there. Then ask: What kind of buyer does it make the most sense to seek out for a conversation?

The template of the ideal buyer may be a little different now than it was a year ago. That’s okay. Salespeople know changing with the times is part of what they get paid to do.

Get as much clarity as possible on the ideal buyer. The goal is to invest the right amount of time with the right person. Remember: Every market is different and every buyer is unique. The more you know about a given person’s motives, the better informed the decision about whether to spend time with that prospective buyer or not.

Prioritize Relationships where Expertise Matters
Once a salesperson has a sense of what their ideal customer looks like, they have a better idea of how that customer defines value. Value boils down to expertise. Make no mistake, expertise matters, especially in a tough market. The challenge is to identify what kind of expertise a given buyer requires.

People who look for expertise in making a flooring decision may do so for any number of reasons. The following two scenarios, in particular, are worth exploring and researching.

Scenario One: It’s the customer’s home and they’re planning to live in it when the job is complete, which means there is a major emotional component to the decision about whom to work with.

Scenario Two: The customer is planning to sell their home, so they want to install something of quality that will add value to their property but that doesn’t require a disproportionate investment. In other words, they want to get more in terms of increased asking price for their home than they will pay for the flooring that’s going to be installed.

The buying motives in each scenario are very different. It’s important to understand which category a buyer belongs in because what they value can vary greatly. Salespeople need to remember that it’s not their sense of value that applies to a situation — it’s their prospect or customer’s sense of value that matters.

For instance, in the first scenario, the buying decision is personal. Since the customer is going to live with their floor choice for years to come, they want someone to talk to if they have concerns or questions at any point in the process. They are looking for help, not just in choosing the right flooring but also in securing a qualified person to do the installation and deal with any issues that may arise afterward.

Now, if a salesperson thinks a customer has zero practical interest in expertise — in other words, the only point of the conversation is to obtain a quote that other businesses will be forced to match — they should ask the customer whether this is the case. If it is, the salesperson has every right to politely walk away in order to invest time and attention on another buyer.

Add More Spokes to the Wheel
Even in a down market, buyers want to communicate with someone who knows the score. So, level with them, early and often. Find out what they’re looking for and then search for opportunities to let them know whether their expectations are realistic. That’s a big part of what professionals do. They design and lead conversations about what’s possible.

Here’s a true story that illustrates the power of this best practice. A salesperson at a flooring store had neglected to ask directly about the pricing that a prospective customer was hoping to see on a walk-in closet project. The salesperson only realized their mistake when the initial estimate for the project came in at $84,000 — a figure they feared would alienate the customer and cause them to disengage and go elsewhere.

The salesperson needed help. Should they e-mail or phone the customer with the price?

Both options seemed likely to result in the customer not showing up for an in-person meeting at the store.

The salesperson’s coach advised to use this situation to create a professional, real-time conversation designed to set clear expectations. Ideally, this would have taken place in person but having multiple real-time conversations that set clear expectations was a good outcome, too.

The coach told the salesperson, “Think of the emerging relationship with your customer as being a little bit like a bicycle wheel. The more solid, professional conversations there are, the more spokes there are supporting the wheel. Use this call to add a spoke to the wheel.”

With that principle in mind, the coach gave the salesperson the language they could use on their next call to the customer. The suggested talk track went something like this: “I’m looking over our designs on your walk-in closet and I had a question: Did you have a specific price in mind for this project? If we come in higher than what you have in mind, I don’t want you to waste an hour coming in to look over the plans.”

It worked. The customer told the salesperson they had just completed a home renovation project that cost $104,000. As long as the walk-in project came in below that figure, and they liked the design and installation plan, they would be happy.

When in doubt, find ways to add spokes to the wheel. Every professional ‘touch’ strengthens the relationship.

Stephanie van Dam is principal of a Sandler training centre in Hamilton, Ont. Sandler is a full-service professional development and training organization serving large multinational companies as well as small to mid-sized businesses. Stephanie is a career problem solver with deep experience in residential flooring sales and a passion for empowering business owners to improve operational efficiency. She can be reached at [email protected].

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