I would prefer a trip to the dentist over a trip to a furniture store. I loathe furniture shopping. I never seem to find what I have in mind, I’m always frustrated with the selection, and the salespeople annoy the tar out of me.

You know when you enter the store and they’re all standing on point, waiting for the next sucker to walk through the door. They immediately pounce on you, “Welcome to XYZ Furniture! Can I help you find something in particular today?” The obligatory response (say it with me): JUST LOOKING!

In some stores, they’ve gotten more sophisticated. They let you walk around for a few minutes, and then they pounce! But they’re never welcome. They’re always an interruption. A pest. Come to think of it, this seems a lot like a car dealership…

But something happened this past weekend that really got my gears turning. After visiting several high-end furniture stores in one day, and feeling worn out and disillusioned, I walked into one store that did things differently.

When I entered there were no salespeople, only a woman sitting at a desk in the back of the store. I browsed for a few minutes, and then I approached her (Imagine! I approached her!!) We had a very casual conversation. She asked about our style preferences and about our family (we had the kids in tow). She asked about our house. We talked her ear off about our new house and about our struggles with the designer. She then offered a potential solution.

“We have a wonderful designer here on staff,” she said. Really? “Sure. He’d be happy to come out to your house, take a look at your rooms and your current furniture, and help you come up with a design plan for your whole house, as long as you’d be willing to consider getting some of the pieces from us.”

Howdy Doody!

“Great! Where is he?” we asked. “He’ll be in tomorrow. I’ll have him call you when he gets in.”

Next day. The wife and I make a beeline for the store, loaded with pictures of the rooms and the current furniture and printed blueprints for the house. We eagerly wait for a few minutes to meet the designer. He listens closely to our story of trials and tribulations and battles lost with the previous designer. It’s a truly epic tale. He empathizes. He feels our pain. He relates. He cares. We begin to trust him.

He walks us around the store and we discuss various styles. He asks us questions about our tastes. He has us try out various pieces for comfort. He hand traces our blueprint and starts sharing some ideas and parts of his vision. He asks us to give him a couple of days, and then he’ll deliver a full plan.

Sometime during the three hours we spent at the store it occurred to me that this guy really isn’t all that different from the salespeople at the other stores. Gosh, maybe some of them had some design sense and could have made good recommendations. But they all presented themselves as salespeople. And we rejected them. They never had a chance.

But this “guy” was presented to us as an incredible designer, and we approached him with respect and eagerness, hopeful to find a solution. By the way, we never even mentioned our problem at any other furniture store. We waited patiently for him (something I never do). He listened to us, and we listened to him. And in the end, I know for sure we’ll buy a whole house worth of furniture from them. In the end, this “designer” will be the best salesperson of the bunch, without ever acting like one.

There’s a big lesson here.

First thought: the title on his business card was “designer” not “sales associate” – this is a pretty big deal. Further, he was introduced to me as something other than a salesperson, so his reputation preceded him. It completely changed how I received him. What could you call your salespeople other than “Sales (blank)”? And, what could you do to bolster the reputation of your salespeople before their first interaction with a customer? What would happen if your salespeople weren’t standing on the steps waiting for the customer, and instead, the customer had to wait for a minute or two for them? How would that change positioning and the balance of power?

Next thought: both the designer and the manager (whom I had met the night before) spent the bulk of the time focusing on us, not their product. They asked questions and they listened. They acted like they were interested, like they actually cared. How could your salespeople change the conversation they have with customers? How could they begin the relationship like no other salesperson? How could they demonstrate genuine interest? What would happen if they were focused on the customer, not the car?

I realize that I’ve presented more questions than answers, but this is an ongoing exploration. One that I hope you’ll participate in and be a part of finding a solution to. Let’s break the “Same Is Lame” sales approach!