That’s Rich! By Rich Lindblom

Before retiring recently, I was tasked with training the person who would be filling my shoes.

As the sales manager, I didn’t work the floor nearly as much as my salespeople, but I still sold customers on a regular basis. And my successor was very interested in learning how to sell appliances. 

He asked me what the most important trick to selling appliances was. The answer for me was easy. “Get your customers talking,” I told him, “and they will tell you exactly what they want.”  At first he didn’t quite grasp what I was saying, so I went a little deeper into it. I told him you need to engage the customer in a conversation about what they wanted. You need to ask them leading questions that don’t have simple yes or no answers, and then actually listen to their responses. And don’t ever talk over them; let them finish their thought before you speak again.

I told him to ask leading questions like:

  • “What brand was your old washer?”
  • “How old was your old washer?”
  • “How many people are you washing for?”
  • “What kind of loads do you do?”
  • “What features on your old washer did you really like?”
  • “What didn’t you like about your old washer?”

If you can get the customer to converse openly with you, they will almost always tell you exactly what they are looking for. Knowing that, you can show them the model that best fit their needs. When you do that, you won’t be wasting their time or yours, and you are more likely to earn their business. 

One day the trainee was shadowing me on the sales floor and a perfect example presented itself. A 40-something-year-old man came in looking for a washer and dryer.  I asked some leading questions to qualify his needs. I learned that he had bought a new home; that the woman with him was his mother, who was helping him make the purchase; and that she was a previous customer of ours. We chatted for a short while as I asked him some of my standard queries. In the course of the conversation he said, “I do really big loads.” Mind you, he said lots of other things too. But seizing on that, I headed him over to our largest (and most expensive) washer. Fifteen minutes later, he and his mom walked out the door after spending over $2,000 on a laundry pair.

I asked the trainee if he now understood what I meant about getting them to talk, but he still seemed a little uncertain.  So we walked backed through the interaction and I recapped the questions I asked and the answers I was given. The light bulb finally went off over his head.  By getting the gentleman to open up about his laundry practices, I was able to lead him to the washer that would best suit his needs. And in the process, I earned his trust and made the sale. 

You need to have about six questions that you ask every customer for each of the products you sell — questions designed to get them to interact and open up to you. Because once you get them talking, almost every single customer at some point in the conversation will eventually tell you exactly what they are looking for. Armed with that information, it’s that much easier to make the sale.

All you have to do is get them talking, and then listen to what they have to say.

Rich Lindblom is a former principal of Advanced Maytag Home Appliance Center in Schaumburg, Ill. He recently sold the 64-year-old family business and retired after four decades in independent retail. You can reach Rich at