Is your sales staff taking center stage?

August 2017—

Take control of the scene as soon as a customer walks through the door

I’m not really good at talking about Christmas when it’s 90-plus degrees out, so my August edition may seem untimely, but I’m going with it anyway. There are few facts I hold to be self evident that relate back to selling furniture. This one relates to other things of course but it works perfectly with our chosen craft. It doesn’t matter where in the USA you’re from either. You don’t even have to be born here. Once you get to America, something happens to your perception that changes you in a fundamental and rudimental way. I service an extremely diverse territory where a majority of my customers are refugees or simply come from somewhere else. I hear Farsi, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Hindi and Spanish all in the same day from people who came here from somewhere else to have a better life. Lessons are everywhere and this one I learned having dinner with a large group and a vendor at Las Vegas market many years ago.

We all want the best

My mother was born in Germany and grew up there. She met my father as a stewardess (as they were called back then) on TWA and never looked back. I’ve been to Germany many times as an adult—I did a summer program there while in college and have been back several times for business and pleasure. I speak the language well enough to have a conversation with an 11-year-old soccer player about how Schweinsteiger should have played at Bayern Munich and not Manchester United, and I can say that my mom, accent and all, is not really very German anymore. She’s an American through and through…sorry, Mom.

I tell this story a lot in product trainings because it’s relevant. One of my brothers in sales is a guy who’s climbed up the ladder at Simmons to a rather high level. He’s a hard worker and has a passion for sales and product and we developed a friendship based on an appreciation of selling and salespeople. I was part of his Ashley HomeStore brigade on the West Coast. There was always a great dinner he hosted in Las Vegas that served as an ersatz performance group; Ersatz because it included whiskeys from around the world and some pretty terrific wines. This particular year we had a large group so we had a private room at the restaurant. Rick brought his boss to supervise. When the waiter announced he was Giuseppe and the captain of the room, we had no idea what we had coming. Giuseppe introduced his waiters as Marco and Lucca and said we were going to have a great time tonight.

“We are gonna take good care of everyone,” he said in his thick Italian accent. “Don’t you worry about nothing tonight. Giuseppe is here for you.”

Giuseppe took charge immediately and asked if there was a host or a representative for the table to make some of the decisions. Giuseppe understood this was a business dinner and one that was going to be submitted for reimbursement and he went to work.

“What kind of a wine will we be drinking tonight?” he asked. “The Brunello di Montalcino or a da Vermentino? Both are from Italia and both are the best!” He went on for a few minutes about the regions of each wine and about the family that made each wine, dating back to the Roman Empire. “The Vermentino we have tonight is served in The Vatican at state functions,” he said. “I gotta have that,” I thought.

Our host, a senior vice president who took no gruff from anyone, had a basic knowledge of California wines, but was not learned in the ways of the Old World. We had white and red drinkers, and Rick’s boss looked confused and concerned. The poor guy was out of his depth and he knew it.

“Excuse me, sir” Giuseppe said. “You have a very a large table and maybe I pour a little of both for everyone?”

How do you argue with that? Giuseppe snapped his fingers and Marco and Lucca scurried off and wine glasses were clanking on tables, two in front of everyone and wine was poured. Everyone was a taster. The waiters all poured a little red in one glass and a little white in the other and waited for the reaction.

“Which one do you like?” he asked.

To be honest, you sort of had to like them both. The look on the face said it all and full servings of each wine was poured for each of the 24 diners at the table. Did you see what happened here? Giuseppe just upsold the wine from the “whatever” California cabernet and chardonnay to the more obscure and costly Italian varietal AND doubled the sale by making sure EVERYONE had both.

He was delivering an experience that was amazing and we were helpless to stop it. No one drinks just one glass of wine in Las Vegas, so more bottles came out and glasses were refreshed. God only knows how much those bottles were.

I’m sure you can all get a feeling for what ordering food was like. Giuseppe would not allow the injustice of a green salad to be ordered by anyone. Fried Calamari? Forget about it. The gorgonzola salad with Sicilian pears a la truffle vinaigrette was insisted upon, and the mandatory towers of seafood packed in ice that was swimming in the Adriatic just two days ago was paraded in.

The BEST!

The salad—the BEST!

The appetizer—the BEST!

One poor chap didn’t quite catch on to what was happening and he tried to order the rigatoni and meat sauce. That quickly changed to the osso bucco that was…. You guessed it… THE BEST.

Seriously, who doesn’t want THE BEST?

After dinner, Giuseppe only offered espresso and grappa to have with our pignolata and sfogliatella. Surprised?
Two hours had gone by and there was not an inch of room left in anyone’s stomach for anything more. Giuseppe presented the check with flourishing hands and heartfelt appreciation in his voice. We were the BEST party he had ever waited on and he was so happy he had the fortune to take care of us tonight. Before he placed what had to be a whopper of a bill in front of the poor guy who had to explain this one to accounting, he told us about the Italian culture of hospitality and that how once you eat together, a piece of you belongs with each other.

Giuseppe completely disarmed our host who couldn’t say anything about the cost as he handed his credit card over with the bill—done and done. Giuseppe made a $6000 sale that night and a mandatory 18 percent gratuity. Bravo Giuseppe. Well played.

I tell this story several times a year to sales associates because everyone can be Giuseppe if they want to. You see, we’re all on stage whenever we’re talking to someone else. We have the power and it’s sad to see so many sales associates just give it away when they ask if they can help. You give the power away when the first thing said to a customer that crosses your lease line is:

“Can I help you?”

“First time in?”

“What are you looking for today?”

“Can I steer you in the right direction?”

“I’m here to help.”

“I’ll be around, wave to me and I’ll come running.”

Blah blah blah.

The list goes on and on. My skin crawls when I hear people say this to potential clients. We can be better than that. We should be better than that. Then when I hear store owners say the internet is killing their business all I can think of is that they are just rolling over and showing their belly. Of course, the internet is killing you. Smooth seas don’t make skilled sailors. The trade winds are gone so now you really have to know what you’re doing to survive and figure it out.

Giuseppe took control fast and established his dominance early in a friendly and hospitable way with almost every sentence. He was a pro in every sense of the word, and I watched this clinic of selling and interpersonal communication first hand with a great meal. I’ve eaten at some great restaurants and never have I ever seen anyone like Giuseppe. He’s one in a million. He decided that he could set himself apart from all the other schmoes out there waiting tables and make a ton more money. What a concept huh?

As an aside, a few of us went to talk to the cast after dinner and learned that Giuseppe was really Jeszji and Lucca was really Lucasz, both from Poland and neither had ever been to Italy before. We were completely handled and we loved it.

About the Author

Jonathan Schulman
Jonathan Schulman is a member of the IHFRA executive committee. His coverage area includes Southern California and Hawaii. He has won several awards including Sales Professional of the Year in 2013 and can be reached at jschulman@breaklinesales.com.