Ask, and You Shall Receive

In the June issue of NFT, my colleague Warren Tyler outlined five ways you can increase sales now. His fifth was: ďAsk for the order.Ē From years of watching salespeople in the floor covering business, Warren and I share one constant frustration: Many (otherwise good) sales pitches fail simply because the salesperson did not ask for the order.

ďAskĒ is a powerful word because it calls upon another personís most noble motiveóto serve. As a result, Iíve found that nearly all people will give when asked. You may recall the greatest teacher said, ďAsk, and it shall be given you.Ē I believe you can get almost anything you want Ö if you ask.

So why donít we consistently ask customers for their orders? Why donít we consistently ask employees to follow our standards? Itís difficult to pinpoint a reason. I mean, I teach this stuff and I have to admit that I donít ask often enough. Do we fear rejection? Are we adverse to conflict? I believe that when we ask with kindness and sincerity, we should not fear either. I encourage you to start asking today for what you want. We undermine our own happiness and our business when we donít.

This yearís growing inventory of unsold homes has turned the flooring business sluggish in much of the country. Throughout the good times many dealers recently enjoyed, it was easy to grow sales and earn profits. As Iíve said many times: ďSuccess hides a multitude of errors.Ē

But times have changed. Now the recent slump is testing every dealer. Itís forced us to review every expense and look carefully for waste. Savvy dealers are eliminating unproductive practices. There may be some belt tightening and a bit of anxiety, but make no mistake, in this sense we benefit from cyclical downturns in the business.

Itís saddening to hear that some retailers have closed their doors this year; more may yet walk away. This is because they simply donít know what to do when the climb becomes steeper. I saw one study that said nine out of 10 business failures are due to managementís ignorance of solutions that are readily available. I donít want that to happen to you. Thatís why I reiterate Warrenís important advice: Ask! And it is not simply asking the customer for the order; ask for help from someone who knows how to make your dealership more profitable.

Store owners tend to be very independent people and you may have a natural inclination to get through this alone. Of course self-reliance is a very admirable trait, but not if youíve tried everything you know and still fall short. If you stubbornly insist, ďI can do this alone,Ē you could end up closing your doors. And, please, do not assume others will consider you incompetent if you ask for help. As the poet John Donne famously said, ďNo man is an island Ö every man is Öa part of the main.Ē

All top performers in all fields ask for help at one time or another. In fact I have found that it can be the best strategy when you try something new or difficult. Two heads are always better than one. Or, as the Japanese say, ďNone of us is as smart as all of us.Ē Multiple heads create synergy. The results are greater than the sum of their parts.

Okay, you say, but where do I find the other Ďheadsí to advise me about my business? I recommend developing a network of advisors and perhaps even investing in a personal coach. Networking builds relationships with people who understand your situation and can help you. The most successful people network. Harvey Mackay, the nationally syndicated columnist who wrote Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive put it this way: ďIf I had to name the single characteristic shared by all the truly successful people Iíve met over a lifetime, Iíd say it is the ability to create and nurture a network of contacts.Ē

Networking is both tactic and skill. As a skill, it takes planning. Your local bookstore offers abundant books to teach you how to connect with people. Think about the places your colleagues congregate. If you have not done so already, join the World Floor Covering Association and attend local chapter meetings. Travel with your vendorsí reps. There you can play with, as well as learn from, the people who can help you. Attend flooring and retailing seminars. Join your local chamber of commerce. Become involved in community causes.

As you attend events, enter the room with confidence. Walk up to people, smile warmly and introduce yourself. If you are new to a small group, itís usually best to listen until you can contribute a worthwhile comment or ask a pertinent question. Or approach someone who is alone. Itís fairly easy when you have questions in mind. Ask them about their personal and business lives; about their challenges and solutions. When you show sincere interest in them, theyíll think youíre the greatest person and are more likely to trust you with useful information.

Work the room. Try to talk with everyone. Remember, itís always better to meet people before you need to turn to them for help. People are not strangers if youíve already met them.

In my seminars Iíve conducted, I often come across people who are skilled networkers. They often learn as much from each other as they do from me. They ask questions and study what others are doing. The best of them keep in touch with each other.

Investing in a personal business coach may be costly but if you choose a good coach your return on investment will far exceed the initial cost. As with any other investment, it is all about the return. If you can find a coach who already knows the retail flooring business, you are more likely to profit. Once again, there are those who may see this as an admission of failure. Actually the opposite is true. Even peak performers like Tiger Woods hire coaches. Why? They want to get better. They know their competition is constantly improving, so they must, too.

Sometimes we ignore our weaknesses because weíre fighting too many fires. A good coach can show you what to delegate and how to put out these fires systematically. In doing so, you will gain enough time to run your company properly.

Other times, we are oblivious to our weaknesses. If we canít see them, we canít eliminate them. Often, if you ask salespeople to rate themselves, even the average performers will describe themselves as ďgoodĒ or ďoutstanding.Ē The sad truth is, most incompetent people donít know that they are incompetent. Coaches can help us see our weaknesses, and learn how to turn them into strengths. Iíve said it before: Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Besides opening your eyes to weaknesses, strengths and opportunities, coaches can hold you accountable for change. You know how hard it is to get important tasks done when so many urgent requests are flying at you. It can take months to get to important things. But if you promise your coach you will report back on a certain date, youíre more likely to make it happen. Then, when you do make a change, you gain time to get to important projects.

Some dealers have dreams; others have discipline. A coach can help you develop both. The right coach can guide a flooring dealer on the right path. Itís not about a quick fix or a temporary reprieve from the doldrums, but a way of approaching you work that will consistently increase ROI.

Warren was right about asking customers for the order. My goal is to extend that mindset. To get what you want out of your business, donít be reluctant to ask for help. Take a minute at lunch today to think about where you will go for help. Think about colleagues you can turn to. Consider the possibility of bringing in a business coach. If your first reaction is to ignore this advice because you still think youíre okay on you own, remember this: you donít know what you donít know. Or, if you choose to ignore this because you fear you might seem incompetent, remember that every dealer needs help in some areas. As a flooring dealer you are part of a community. We all can collaborate to give customers better service and ourselves better lives.

It all starts when you decide to ask for help. For the sake of your employees! For the sake of your family! For the sake of yourself! ... Iím asking you to ask!!

Sam Allman, September 2007