TALKING SHOP: Salespeople vs designers

Toby Griffin

Toby Griffin, general manager of kitchen and bathroom specialist Cambabest, asks what’s in a job title?

Having been in the industry for a good many years now I do a sense little bit of antipathy between those that regard themselves as ‘designers’ first (regarding the ‘sales’ people as being a bit crass and functional), and those that regard themselves as sales-people first (regarding the designers as being flowery and idealistic). And this clash of styles is one I find fascinating.

I’ve got a great anecdote I heard from the direct sales industry, in which a particular chap had a brilliant secret to making sale-after-sale. On arrival at the customer’s home (organised via a cold-call, I assume) this gentleman would immediately apologise to the customer saying that the sales-man was unfortunately not able to come, and that he – as just the designer – had been sent along simply to fulfil the appointment, but was pretty naive to the whole sales process. The customer, now believing that they have a creative technician instead of a smooth-talking hard-closing machine, invites him in and promptly panders to his every word. Two hours later the deposit is placed. A “wolf in sheep’s clothing”? Yes. A brilliant sales-man? Absolutely.

Name change

A few years ago, I was re-writing all our staff’s employment contracts, and decided that it was about time I reviewed the job-titles. The term Sales Person was a bit ‘old hat’ and gave a slightly pushy impression, but a straight kitchen/bathroom designer gave the impression to the (now former sales) person that design was more important than sales. I therefore plumped for a compromise of sales designer. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it does encapsulate the role from both a HR and customer perception point of view.

In my company our sales team consists of approximately a third from a design background, a third from a sales background, and the last third from other backgrounds including a couple of ex-fitters (useful for fiddly installations and when sub-contractors ‘try it on’). When we recruit the design-orientated staff they need to be taught to sell, and when we recruit the sales-orientated staff, they need to be taught to design. Funnily enough, though, the field from which the person joins us seems to have no difference on their eventual success. Selling is important In theory – and definitely in most clients’ point of view – the designer is the better person to deal with. They are assumed to have a deep understanding of the latest trends, can easily visualise the space and the layout, and will create unique pieces or features that will give the room ‘wow’ factor. So what can the salesperson do?……Umm……blag well……play tricky little games to get the deposit……be artificially obliging……that’s about it. Well, no! In fact, the more one analyses a good saleperson’s approach, the more one is impressed. You see, the sales-person wants to get the sale. In order to do this, they know they have to give the customer what they want (look, function, within budget, etc). And to find out what the customer wants, they have to listen. And this is the nub of it. Some customers want to be told what they want (design-led approach needed), others want to be told that what they want is right (sales-led approach needed); but as this is not immediately obvious on sitting down with a client, it’s difficult to tell which tack to take. So which is best, a sales-person or a designer? Or – even better – what about a mixture of both? Rather than a being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, maybe a “Labrador in sheep’s clothing” is the best approach.

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