HIGH POINT — A consumer purchase of a mattress is among the most intimate, personal purchase of any category from a furniture or sleep retailer’s floor. Because of that, retail sales associates often need to approach the sale a bit differently than other categories, and many leading retailers have shifted their sales teams so that they have a sales team dedicated for selling mattresses.

From those first connections — often made online in today’s shopping environment — to welcoming consumers into the store to determining their needs and more, all of the pieces fit together like a skillfully cut jigsaw puzzle. Once pieced together, the sale is complete, and often, a longtime customer is made.

Today’s consumers are more knowledgeable and more savvy than ever before, and may come into a store armed with reams of research on mattresses and products available. For RSAs to be successful in selling the product, our panel of experts say it’s imperative to put the consumer at ease and develop a sense of rapport.
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Industry leading authorities in mattress sales training Alan “Dr. V” Vonderhaar, director of bedding for seven-store Miskelly Furniture based in Pearl, Miss.; Bob Muenkel, vice president of retail engagement for Resident Home, the parent of Nectar, DreamCloud and Awara mattress brand; and Craig Wilson, vice president of sales training for mattress manufacturer Kingsdown, each shared strategies on how RSAs — and retailers — can be more successful in selling sleep.

1 Consumer connection

The first step in mattress selling is making a connection with the consumer so that they feel at ease in shopping. The goal is to allay any anxiety about the process.

“Always assume that consumers have done their research, and use that as a way to connect,” Vonderhaar said, adding that RSAs can start with simple questions such as what research they have done and any recommendations from friends they may have received. “Embrace those pieces of information and use them to help them with their journey.”

The information gleaned from those first few minutes of active listening is gold to an RSA and helps to understand where the consumer is in their shopping process.

“If they’re just fact finding, you don’t want to come off as a push salesperson. On the other hand, if they’re near the end of their journey and you don’t help them, they will go to the next store to buy, and you’ve lost the sale,” Vonderhaar said.

The RSAs must begin with the welcoming process, added Muenkel, noting it’s key that consumers are made to feel comfortable that “they’ve made the right choice in walking into your store. Thank them for choosing your store and (let them know) you are here to help.”

Making that connection can include a welcoming environment and the reassurance that the consumer has come to the right place, Muenkel said.

2 Pillow talk

At Miskelly Furniture, bedding RSAs are trained to fit consumers with a pillow that then stays with the consumer throughout the shopping process. The pillow fitting is a relatively quick process that helps establish what Vonderhaar calls the three Cs: Credibility, Choice and Care.

“Fitting someone for a pillow has nothing to do with the selling a pillow and everything to do with selling a mattress,” he said. “It demonstrates that the RSA cares and is interested in selling a sleep system; it establishes credibility by demonstrating what I know; and we empower the consumer with choice. Once they understand the process of choosing a pillow, the decision-making process for a mattress is the same.”

Wilson said incorporating a pillow into the process is a must, and the key is to finding the proper pillow height to keep the neck aligned. Back sleepers tend to need a thin pillow, and side sleepers need a pillow height that fills the gap between the shoulder and the head to maintain proper alignment.

“The pillow is the mattress for your head,” Muenkel said. “Nearly every presentation should include the use of a pillow in helping the consumer select a mattress. A pillow should be used to help the consumer select a great sleep system. Even if the pillow isn’t sold, that’s OK.”

3 Sleep ‘grenades’

As part of building credibility with the consumer, Wilson encourages steering the conversation toward sleep. “We’ve always been proponents of helping educate consumers about sleep, and we see an increase in close rates and an increase in tickets when RSAs take that track,” he said.

Wilson cautions against getting too medical in the conversation and instead recommends the use of relevant sleep facts and statistics, or “sleep grenades.”

“They help elevate the RSAs and make them seem like an expert. They keep the conversation focused on sleep and not on specifications or price.” (See Sleep Facts box.)

Muenkel, Vonderhaar and Wilson all agree that often during a bedding sales experience RSAs default to industry speak – insider jargon that about foam density, spring count and ILDs that mean little to consumers while confusing and overwhelming them while shopping.

The goal is to share information that helps boost the consumer’s confidence in making their purchasing decision and finding the mattress that best meets their needs.

“For them to be successful in their search, you need to build their confidence in the outcome and eliminate the fear of making a mistake,” Muenkel said.

4 Ask questions

Learning about the needs of consumers is critical to success in selling mattresses. The consumer is typically looking to solve a problem — pain, old mattress, partner disturbance — and their current mattress isn’t delivering.

Muenkel points out key areas to explore while guiding consumers through the shopping journey: comfort, support and body alignment and sleep surface temperature. All of those impact sleep, he said. He encourages RSAs to ask if tossing and turning impacts their sleep. If yes, dig deeper and inquire how often. The conversation will flow.

Ask if they wake with pain, soreness or fatigue, and ask if they or their partner sleep too hot or too cold.

Those key areas, when asked, will generate a great deal of conversation and lead RSAs in the right direction.

“The best surgeons tell you in the simplest terms what will happen,” he said. “They give you what you need to know so that you are confident you are in the right hands. Then, after the surgery, they tell you what you need to know to be successful. Selling mattresses is similar. Consumers are looking for experts to guide them.”

5 Elevate sleep

Adjustable power bases not only elevate the sleep experience, but also help increase tickets. Plus, adjustable power bases are easy to demonstrate and consumers, who may not be familiar with the product, like the functionality.

Vonderhaar said the introduction of a power base differs from a power base presentation. With the introduction of the product, RSAs should try to uncover specific sleep concerns like tossing and turning, sleeping hot, partner disturbance or snoring.

“Feet should rise in every power base introduction,” he said. “Feet up first. It locks the consumer into position.” Once the feet are elevated, Vonderhaar recommends raising the head slightly but only after asking permission.

All of the mattresses on the Miskelly floors are shown on adjustable bed bases, and consumers are told that every mattress articulates.

“We’re only planting the seed as we like to talk about a complete sleep system,” he said. “If you treat the adjustable bed base as an add-on, the customer will, too. If you treat it as part of a total system, the consumer will as well.”

Wilson said selling the entire sleep system is key to increased sales and higher tickets.

“If they show adjustable bed bases, they will sell adjustable bed bases,” he said. “Even by simply making the base go up and down a little bit, RSAs will sell them.”

Give consumers the choice of raised feet and raised head and then return the mattress to no elevation. Ask which they prefer. The experts say most consumers will prefer elevated.

6 Zeroing in on comfort

This step is critical in marrying the consumer to the right mattress for them. The act of buying a mattress can be daunting for consumers. Give them a sense of confidence that they are making progress by eliminating options based on their reactions.

Vonderhaar calls it “the comfort roll down.”

“We’re fitting them with the mattress that provides them with the best comfort and support,” he said. “They have already given us enough information regarding their needs and preferences.”

7 Confirming choices

Reassuring consumers on their product selection is critical. Zero in on the features and benefits that address the consumer’s key concerns. Overcome any remaining objectives and concerns they may have.

8 Manage expectations

Setting the consumers expectations helps prevent returns and disappointment on anything from delivery, first night sleep and other issues that could pop up.

“Disappointment always comes from expectations,” Vonderhaar said. “We have to set proper expectation.”

RSAs can spend a great deal of time explaining the transition to a new mattress. Vonderhaar says it takes about three weeks to adjust to a new sleep surface. Delivery of a new mattress can also be a pinch point for consumers.

“I’m a firm believer in getting your mattress delivered by a trained team,” he said. “The best experience is having someone come in, carry it up your stairs, set it up and remove your old bed.”

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