Mar 30 2021

Episode 1: What matters most: Taking Stock

Digital selling is on the rise. But hand on heart: are you prepared? Or are you still hesitating? Wherever you are: In a new series, we take a step-by-step look at the topic. Our expert Leif Kania will make you fit – or even fitter! Let's start with a stocktaking.

Digital selling: this is how it works! 

"You can't sell our sofas online. You have to try them out!" If you find yourself mentally agreeing, you should read on. And if you don't, too. Because digital selling is a complex topic with many facets – and opportunities that are much more far-reaching than you might think. 

Recognising opportunities and overcoming hurdles is the daily bread of Leif Kania, who as a coach pays special attention to digital selling in the furniture trade and works online himself through his academy. The expert accompanies us step by step through a new series of articles, for which this is the starting signal. Our goal is to enable you to jump on the digital bandwagon before it is too late. 

What is digital selling? 

With digital selling, many of us – not least because of the lockdown – probably first associate online consultations via video chat. Then there are perhaps configurators and, of course, webshops. But that alone would be too short-sighted. 

We are talking about all elements of the customer journey that customers consume digitally, including social media, (live) videos, the website, a blog or newsletter and very banal things like emails, voice messages or phone calls. Digital selling is a complex system of many parts within a previously defined process. This in turn usually also includes analogue elements such as sending samples or an on-site measurement. And as with so many things in life: It's the right mix that makes the difference!

Structure is often missing 

Leif Kania advises not to rely on just one channel: "Especially with kitchens, I recommend doing the needs analysis on the phone, not by video. This only happens during consultation and planning and needs to be well prepared so that it works. The whole process has a lot to do with building trust and emotion.

If I have different positive points of contact and maintain contact in a well-dosed way and through different channels, the customer feels valued and professionally looked after. The bond becomes stronger and that increases the likelihood of making the well-calculated deal." 

The problem: Often the structure that ensures a smooth process is missing. Kania cites the topic of leads as an example: "If I generate customer contacts online, I also have to be able to process them with a certain quality. Some houses do this very well, but many others do not.

I often hear that the leads are unqualified. If you take a closer look, it turns out that the leads were not followed up at all or not in a target-oriented way. Why? Because the process was not clearly defined. So the leads fizzle out and sales fall by the wayside." 

Corona as an opportunity 

The fact that processes are lacking may be obvious in view of the Corona crisis with its wave of digitalisation, which has thrown many companies into the deep end. Yet the topic itself is - actually - not new. But because the changeover has been put on the back burner in many places, traders are now being forced into action. For all newcomers, however, the crisis is also an opportunity to catch up.* 

Jan Kurth, Managing Director of the German Furniture Industry Associations (VDM/VHK), confirms that this opportunity is indeed being used: "During the Corona crisis, online furniture retail received a strong boost. For the past year, we estimate the online share of furniture in this country at 18 percent.

Home office, homeschooling and home cooking created a high demand for furniture in many households. With German furniture retailers completely closed for weeks (in spring 2020 and from mid-December 2020 to 8 March 2021), many consumers took the opportunity to buy furniture online. 

In the first lockdown, 40 percent of our manufacturers reported a noticeable revival of their online business in internal association surveys. Online configurators, which our manufacturers are increasingly making available to end customers and retailers, are also playing an increasingly important role. 

According to our observations, the German furniture trade has further expanded its online consulting services during the Corona crisis. For example, video consultations and live chats from the kitchen showroom are offered for kitchen planning. Online planning programmes and apps, e.g. for kitchen measurements, are also on offer for furniture customers."

Fears and reservations 

So digital selling is on the rise. But Leif Kania knows from his own experience that there is still a lot of room for improvement: "When I suggested conducting sales talks online, a manager recently replied with the objection that all the specialist stores were closed and where could he get a webcam?

A classic! You look for an arbitrary, sometimes even unsubstantiated counter-argument, just to avoid having to admit it: Actually, I am the bottleneck myself." But this reaction is human. Someone does not dare to leave their comfort zone. Reasons for hesitation are then a dime a dozen - sometimes justified, sometimes not.

Kania explains it like this: "People are creatures of habit and are initially sceptical of new things. There is the fear of the unknown and of losing control - in concrete cases, for example, over data or over how one looks in front of the camera.

We are always anxious to come across in the best possible way and it is totally important to us how others see us. It just takes time to overcome that shyness, and not everyone is equally suited here. The best in-store salesperson is often not the best online salesperson." 

More open-minded users 

In view of these observations on the acceptance of digitalisation, it is worth looking at a representative Bitkom study from last May. Almost 75 percent of those surveyed see the technologies as an opportunity - and the trend is rising. But even if the group of opponents is getting smaller, a quarter of the participants are still pursuing an avoidance strategy. One in five is critical, has reservations or fears. Despite the advantages that the Corona crisis clearly shows us. 

The conclusion for the industry is: if more and more customers are willing to use digital offers, it is high time for all those who still have hurdles here to jump on the bandwagon. Otherwise, the wheat will eventually be separated from the chaff in the "new normal". 

Digital selling starts in the mind 

"If you don't move with the times, you move with the times," is how Leif Kania sums it up. The coach wants to encourage people: "The old phrase from Henry Ford also applies here: Whether you believe you will succeed or whether you believe you will fail: you will be right in any case. So the mindset is quite crucial." 

And what does implementation look like, assuming a positive attitude? It is important not to digitise wildly, but to have a strategy - as with every project: "Do I have the vision that my company will be one of the best digitally positioned furniture stores in Germany in ten years' time, or do I not have this vision?

If not, I can actually close the chapter at this point. If yes, I have to ask myself questions: Who will do it for me, what resources do I need, what processes do I have to introduce, what do the structures look like and so on and so forth." 

Rethinking the positioning 

With vision comes motivation, with motivation comes focus. And with focus comes structure. Kania continues, "It is important that the building blocks of digital selling fit the vision. If you want to set up digitalisation ideally, then the corporate strategy should be found here." 

Digital selling is thus also an opportunity to rethink positioning and sharpen one's own profile. What do I offer and for whom? What do I stand for? What problems do I solve, and how do I do it? What should the customer journey look like? How do I optimise processes so that I work efficiently and customers are well looked after? Those who set themselves up solidly here will be successful in the long term. 

We buy from people we like 

So it's time for a change of perspective: digital selling is not just about buying a camera or installing an app to communicate with customers online. Neither is rocket science, but just a small cog in the wheel that you can get working with the help of our expert. And it doesn't matter if the customer can do a seat test. After all, it's mainly about identification and inspiration and about charging your own brand emotionally and positively. 

Leif Kania sharpens the focus on the essentials: "I tell seminar participants: You should understand that the customer buys you first and then your product. Online you have the opportunity to sell yourself in the best possible way, to inspire, to offer added value - from person to person. Because people buy from people they like or who are the way they want to be."

Presenting in the best possible way 

To help you make a good impression, the sales pitch and facets of online counselling are the focus of this ten-part series of articles. We start with the basics. You can look forward to tangible tips on technology and set-up before we dive into the finer points of the process. Feel free to write questions and suggestions in the comments field! 

*This thesis is also advocated by Thomas Middelhoff and Cornelius Boersch in their book "Future missed?" - for all those who would like to delve deeper into the topic of digitalisation. 

Author: Christine Piontek

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