(Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series. This month we look at how and why to learn product knowledge.)
The foundational element and focus of sales training for most consumer products is the product itself, for obvious reasons. You can’t intelligently speak about products you don’t know and understand, much less sell them effectively.
That’s especially true of mattress sales. More so than any other home furnishings product, selling mattresses requires a lot of training and a superior command of product knowledge. Most shoppers don’t want to know everything about a mattress; they just want the sales associate to so they can learn enough to make intelligent choices. This article will give specific ideas on how to enhance and expand product knowledge in a way that can facilitate the selling process.
How to really learn your product knowledge
While it isn’t necessary for sales associates to memorize every specification of every model, it’s important to know all the various components, materials and features of the products offered and to understand how each contributes to and affects the comfort, support and durability of each model.
Having said that, sales associates must keep mattress specifications at hand at all times and be ready to explain the details of any model at any time. Engineers sleep on mattresses too, unless they’re tossing and turning thinking about the specifications.
We know that most consumers think of mattresses as simple products made from simple materials, because, well they kind of are. Wood, steel and upholstery, that’s pretty much it.
But, while these are simple in category, realize that, engineers have devoted their careers to developing and improving these “high-tech” materials to provide maximum comfort, support and durability. Mattresses endure many more hours of wear than tires. Tires get replaced every couple of years, mattresses, every 7 to 10 years.
So sales associates must spend the time to expand their knowledge of the materials that make up mattresses, to learn how they’re made, what their function is and what their benefits are. Most of the information is available from the brands the retailer offers. But as always, the internet is a great resource for research and study.
Lying down on the job
After gaining a deeper understanding of the various components and materials, the next step is to make the connection between them and the support and comfort differences of the products. There’s only one way to do that. Sales associates must spend enough time lying down on floor models to really get the feel and learn how the specifications correspond to the various comfort choices.
“This one is really soft at first, but has a deep-down firmness. Oh, I see, it has two layers of Dacron fiber in the quilt, a layer of soft convoluted foam on top of high ILD foam and a compressed polyester fiber pad instead of a polypropylene mesh as an insulator.”
It’s important to focus on a few models at a time. Doing this in an effective manner will take time, but it’s worth the investment. The great thing about mattress sales is the downtime between ups affords the time to do it. During this analysis process, sales associates should record observations about each model to keep along with the specifications.
Once the process is completed, it’s important to continue the process of lying down on all the models, a few each day, to maintain familiarity. The more familiar one is with the floor models, the better they will be able to navigate the sales floor and be of greater service to shoppers.
Objectivity is mandatory!
Sales associates must go through the process of lying down on the mattresses with an open mind to extend product knowledge, understanding and familiarity to all the models to objectively get the feel with an attitude of discovery and discernment without making judgments about them.
Every bed on a sales floor is there for a reason. Potentially any given bed may be the right choice for your next shopper and there is no way of knowing which one that might be.
One of the great benefits of this in-depth learning of product knowledge is that it can help prevent common bad habits.
By following this process of learning product knowledge, sale associates can raise their level of competence and confidence and consequently increase their sales and grow their ranks of satisfied customers. To be of maximum service, mattress sales people must master the product knowledge and communicate the features and benefits in a way that shoppers can understand. In the next article, I will explain how to apply product knowledge in selling situations.
The perils of your staff not knowing what they’re selling
Sales associates lacking the confidence that comes with competence can unwittingly develop these bad habits:
- Create comfort zones for themselves. They show and pitch only a small percentage of the models, largely ignoring most of the sales floor.
- Allow personal preferences to influence shoppers toward the models they personally like and away from models they don’t; often this is subliminal, unintentionally showing some models with more enthusiasm than others.
- Create artificial best-sellers, by having “go to” beds they are good at pitching and having other sales associates jump on board.
- Often resort to creating a false urgency for shoppers to buy, using pressure tactics, hence the used-car-salesman analogy.
All these habits are destructive because they neglect the shoppers’ real needs. Each model on the floor may appeal to someone, and sales associates have no idea which ones they may be. Without that knowledge, they’re doing a disservice to shoppers—and their store’s bottom line.