KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Mar 30 2012

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Why sales has a bad rap in the k & b business

Editor’s note: We’ve added a new blogger, Nick Ritota, CKD, CBD, who is director of sales & marketing for CompanionCabinet Software, LLC. Ritota will be sharing his insight on cabinet sales and other issues related to the business of kitchens and baths. Here’s his first post:

Ask most kitchen designers to describe salespeople and you’re likely to get responses such as overbearing, used car salesman or even pond scum. We tend to think that the science of selling is far separated from the art of design; I beg to differ.
We all need to sell to have successful careers in this industry. While there was a time when design was king (let’s call that pre-2008 when they were beating the door down to get in), it was a mistake then to view the world that way. Think about it, if we were effective salespeople back then, we would have closed even more when times were good. We simply lost the ones we couldn’t manage due to the volume of qualified buyers.

Some shops solve the problem by having experienced salespeople up front and relegating design to the back room. While the salesperson may not know everything about design, they do know enough to package a sale for the consumer. And if you have a qualified drafter in the back (think visor, elastic around the cuffs and quill pen), you can correct the design before any error gets sold.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that pretty much reduces a designer to a commodity. And in this world, commodities are easily found and relatively low in value in the overall scheme of things.

So what do we have to change to succeed in the new world order? You guessed it, we need to learn how to qualify and close: two foundations of selling. Had we been thinking about the sales process back when the market was good, we would not have experienced the fall-off we have today. We would be taking share from those who didn’t know how to sell.

What we have to do differently:

Qualify prospects. Knowing when the customer intends to pull the trigger, what their budget may be and how many places they have already shopped for the remodel flushes out most tire kickers.
Actively listen and sell to the why. If a customer is trying to upgrade just to sell their home, it is a much different sale from someone who is staying put and wants a chef’s kitchen.
• Get into the home. The first one that gets into the home usually has the best opportunity to close.
Avoid version hell. Your presentation should include a good, better, best approach based on your active listening; less versions means more opportunity to sell
Quantify the project. Present your three plans and ask where you missed
Qualify the desire to buy. Ask, “If I understood your needs correctly and brought back this plan with your changes, do you feel as though you would buy from me?”
Close the deal. Ask for the sale…too often we think that any pressure to close makes us bad people; it is absolutely what you need to do to sell your project!

Finally, consumers aren’t interested in the minutia of the sale. Showing features, functions and benefits and racks of door styles confuses the buyer; and a confused buyer never buys. If you are listening to the consumer, you should be able to put recommendations together and advise them on what would work. Here is where your design expertise should be front and center.
Selling involves a pre-calculated, repeatable, systematic approach that leads to a predictable percentage of closing rates for you and your business.

This entry was posted on Friday, March 30th, 2012 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1.  Pete Walker |

    How do I disagree…let me count the ways…wait, I can’t count that high.

    OK, seriously:

    This neatly defines the short-term vs. long-term thinking that has recently been illustrated by the difference between Apple and Micosoft.

    Bill Gates is ridiculously wealthy and boring as dirt. Clearly a good man, doing his best to give his wealth away, but still…

    Steve Jobs had a much more, shall we say “colorful” career, and yet in the long term his almost sociopathic insistence on quality over money, art over business, humanity over a more capitalist approach has made Apple one of the most amazing businesses probably ever. Most importantly, he simply refused to give any ground to people who tried to say “it’s good enough”.

    Accountants are not cut out to run businesses. They should be given a comfortable office, told what is expected of them and that they are not allowed to have an opinion about how to actually run a business.

    If you want to know how Rick Wagoner bankrupted GM, one of the key issues was he let the accountants tell engineering what to do.

    CBS and Mike Wallace lost a great deal of their credibility – permanently – when CBS Business tried to quash the CBS News story about the deliberate addition to known carcinogens to tobacco.

    History is full of these examples, and they all boil down to the same lesson: You have to have a fire in your belly for the core of the business. Selling is ancillary to every business. It’s a key function, absolutely, but it’s a subordinate one.

    You can teach sales. You can teach accountancy. You can teach techniques of the installation of various things like cabinetry, counters, appliances etc. You can (as I am quietly preparing to prove) teach design TECHNIQUE.

    You cannot, however, teach talent. You can’t really teach the internal fire that makes some of us able to make the leap to a new approach or to create actual art.

    So, Nick, I am sorry, but bad rap comes from the salesperson’s lack of knowledge of the actual issues at play; their utter failure to understand that this is a design-driven business.

    This is a design-driven business.

    This is a design-driven business.

    Sorry, I sort of felt the point needed to be made.

    Ultimately design has to be about creating some form of interesting difference for the client. Not interested in minutiae? SALESMEN aren’t interested in the minutiae…usually because they can’t understand it. The successful designer can explain the way some detail is important, how one appliance is better than another, etc with almost no effort, because the KNOW WHAT THEY”RE TALKING ABOUT. Core issues are core issues, and without them, you have the kitchen department at Home Depot.

    Do we as designers need to know sales techniques? Absolutely. Do we need to understand accountancy? Certainly. But a little common sense and an honest conversation with an interested client will put me ahead of a salesman any day of the week, because of the simple fact that the salesman isn’t capable of incorporating the very thing that informs every word a designer utters: HELLO…DESIGN!!! To the degree your client can observe that there’s never a hesitation when you answer a question about how you’re going to solve a problem, you’ll close her. Yes, you don’t want to say something stupid and blow the sale, and this is where sales techniques come in handy.

    I have always had the clients work with me on design, and had them work out the details with the salesman (think of a guy making phone calls so the designer is free to do his work OR think visor, elastic around the cuffs and quill pen), who is there only because he possesses the minor social skill to sort out the minor issues of price.

    OK, let’s get back to the point (sorry for the rant there). The simple reason there are so many god-awful kitchens out there is because there are no irreducible principles, codified, organized and promulgated. There are a bunch of rules, and this is NOT design. It’s what happens when the bland lead the blander.

    One thing we agree on, is that any enterprise need an organized, systematic approach. Sales does, business does, even art does, but not in the way we think of systems in business. The main “system” in Art is simply self-disciplne on the part of the artist. Education needs it, government needs it. households need it.

    But to say that one of the components of a business (sales) is more important than the reason that business exists?

    Sorry, but that sounds like the tail is wagging the dog.

    Having said all that…I still want to learn everything you can teach me about sales.

    Thanks for reading.

  2.  Nick Ritota |

    I agree that you have to have the core competency as a designer. I don’t know where in the blog you read that I didn’t think that was important.
    What I want to emphasize however, is that the core skill set of selling is also as important.
    I’ve heard it from hundreds of cabinet shop owners from coast to coast. Learning how to qualify, listen to the why, create versions that matter, not because we love to draw and then close the job are what I want us to focus on. And yes, all the while maintaining our high standards of design.
    I am not separating the two; I am advocating an equal awareness of the sales aspect.
    Otherwise, you’re right, we just become a big box designer that’s paid to sit and draw pictures all day…