Retail Sales Training

With the proper program, employees can learn the behavioral skills to quickly build rapport with customers

Retail sales training is the process used to train your store associates in how to engage a stranger

and how to build rapport and trust, how to show a product and demonstrate its features and (more importantly) its benefits, how to contrast and compare products, how to overcome objections to sell value over price, and how to close each and every sale.

Custom Botanical Dispensary

The CBD industry is growing like crazy, even in states like Texas where cannabis remains illegal for the vast majority of residents. In July, Sarah Kerver brought several hemp and CBD brands together to create Custom Botanical Dispensary, a retail shop in Austin that allows Texas-based CBD businesses to rent retail space and collaborate with each other.

“The CBD industry is relatively new, and with so many products starting to flood the market there is a lot of misperceptions and misinformation,” Kerver says. “Therefore, choosing the right CBD product can become an overwhelming prospect for many individuals. I created the Custom Botanical Dispensary so consumers would be able to receive CBD education in the same place where they purchase their products.”

There are a lot of sales training programs out there for all types of products, from cars to insurance, from luxury aircraft to timeshares, from real estate to software. But retail sales training is different.

Where some products have sales cycles that take days or weeks or even months or years, retail shopping in a store takes only about 20 minutes. It is a short transaction that usually involves only one visit and one decision maker.

While someone looking for new software might have submitted a form or signed up for a trial, and the salesperson then knows a lot about them — enough to research their prospect on LinkedIn or other social media — a typical retail salesperson is blind; they don’t know who their shopper is, what their needs, wants or desires are, and what their level of interest is in buying any of it.

That’s why retail sales training is so important. Your associates need to find and relay as much of that information as possible — and in as nice a way possible — to keep each shopper engaged enough to buy from that salesperson in your brick-and-mortar store that day. And without a discount.

The 3 Elements Of Retail Sales Training

Retail sales training contains three different elements.

Onboarding or new hire training is first. It is your baseline training about how to open and close a register, how to ring up a sale, how to ship, how to stock shelves, how to pick web orders, etc.

The second element is product knowledge training. Product knowledge training has to go further than just what’s in the box or how it works. This specialized training should include knowing who this product is for and who it is not, what situations it is good for, competing products in the marketplace and how to facilitate a hands-on trial. That education helps every employee understand the benefits of the features of a product to be able to inform shoppers.

The third — and most important — element of training is behavioral retail sales training, the soft skills of how to engage a stranger. After all, the most cutting-edge payment technology coupled with all of the product knowledge in the world is useless if your sales associates don’t know how to greet a customer with an open heart.

Why Is Retail Sales Training Necessary?

Without a great retail sales training program, many brick-and-mortar retailers settle for crumbs when they could have the whole feast.

That’s because, left untrained, employees will do little more than point to where something is located, read the features off the box and stand behind the counter waiting for the next request.

With a proper retail sales training program that includes training on the behavioral skills necessary to greet a stranger and how to build rapport to a level that gains the stranger’s trust, all of your product knowledge can be presented with laser precision that differs from shopper to shopper. That results in higher conversion rates, more units per transaction (UPT) and fewer markdowns.

The thing working against most brick-and-mortar retailers is they are selling someone else’s product, hoping to make a cut. Think of them more like an agent for a celebrity. For many years, the celebrity (the product) has been unavailable and the only way to make a deal was to go through their agent (the retail store). That’s all changed. The very brands independent retailers and big box stores carry are trying to go direct to consumer via pop-up shops, apps and their own websites.

That means it will take more and more to get a shopper to even come into your store, much less buy it from you at the price you need to stay in business.

Instead of offering more discounts to try to make the sale, smart retailers take the money they would have gifted shoppers and put it into retail sales training for their crew. That training pays back every moment of every day and with every customer.

Retail sales training is the only sustainable marketing program for brick-and-mortar retailers, because untrained employees drive down your overall sales — it takes them longer to sell something than a trained employee. Those associates are inefficient and passive when it comes to driving a sale. That leads to lower conversion rates and lower overall sales.

The good news is that when you have crafted a retail sales training strategy around an excellent customer service experience, every interaction is mapped, every encounter outlined, and metrics can be placed to analyze how well you are doing at creating an exceptional experience. That goes much further than “how much did we do today?” or “how did we compare to last year?”

What Should Retail Sales Training Involve?

A great retail sales training strategy gives you a roadmap to the future of who you want to be as other brick-and-mortar retailers fail. While they’re losing customers due to their own poor customer experience, you’ll be gaining new customers (and their customers) as you upgrade your own.

Sweet Flower

Despite the many hiccups in the California market, Sweet Flower is moving full-speed ahead in its quest to become the top cannabis retailer in the competitive Los Angeles market. The company already has licensed locations in Studio City, Westwood and the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, and it has provisional approvals to take the next steps toward licensure in Culver City and Pasadena, which granted only six licenses out of a field of 122 applicants.

The Pasadena and Culver City licenses remain contingent upon final approvals.

“It’s a privilege to be building and operating a responsible, licensed, premium cannabis business in the largest legal market in the United States,” says Tim Dodd, CEO of Sweet Flower. “We look forward to working together with Culver City, the city of Pasadena, the city of Los Angeles and neighboring cities to expand our independently owned and responsibly operated cannabis business, and to deepen our engagement with our customers and the communities we serve.”

A great retail sales training strategy should include the following:

– A customer journey map that includes the path from your website to your front door, from the first engagement of the shopper by an associate to the close of the sale, from the delivery of the product to the follow-up and re-engagement.

– Specific onboarding materials and training that answer a new employee’s top questions. A good idea is to poll them prior to their start date so you are ready to address those concerns.

– Product knowledge training on your top 25 most popular products. What are you known for? What are the opportunities to add on? These are all important, as is the ability to compare and contrast, know what competitors offer and how to overcome common objections.


One of New Mexico’s leading cannabis companies has expanded its retail footprint with a new dispensary in Farmington. PurLife Management Group now has more than 85 employees working at its six medical cannabis dispensaries and two state-of-the-art grow facilities in the state, with plans to open three additional retail storefronts by the end of the year.

“Part of our mission is to identify markets such as Farmington where there is not sufficient access to top-tier alternative medicine and introduce our platform to the community in order to fill that void,” says PureLife co-founder and CEO Darren White. “We’re proud to open our sixth location in our home market of New Mexico and look forward to continuing to serve the communities where we operate.”

In conjunction with its business partners, PurLife also expects to open dispensaries in Ohio and Louisiana during 2019.

Behavioral retail sales training has to cover the step-by-step engagement plan you have adopted. I train the five parts to a sale:

1. Greet a shopper like they’re coming to your home.

2. Find something in common using a “Window of Contact.”

3. Use one question that gets them to tell you their wants, not just their needs.

4. Features and benefits. We don’t buy a knife for what it has, for example, but for what it lets us do with less work. And there’s always an opportunity to upsell or add on an additional product.

The close. You have to ask for the sale.

Without a training plan, you’ll be floundering from trying one idea you read online about how someone sold something on Instagram, to yet again another blowout sale that slashes profits, to laying off employees to try to get labor costs down to a lower percentage of sales.

You need to staff for the traffic, not the schedule, and make sure those employees have every bit of training possible so they can confidently help your shoppers to buy from you. Miss that and they’ll actually repel customers — even those who were once loyal.

Customers aren’t fickle; they just want to be treated as someone of value in a store where they are paying their hard-earned money for a product or service.


Bob Phibbs is known as one of the world’s leading experts on brick-and-mortar retail. He is an internationally recognized business strategist, customer service expert, sales coach, marketing mentor, author of three books and motivational business speaker. He started The Retail Doctor in 1994 and his client list includes Bernina, Brother, Caesars Palace, Hunter Douglas, Lego, Omega, Hearts on Fire, Husqvarna, Vera Bradley and Yamaha. Phibbs will be the keynote speaker at Marijuana Venture’s third Retail and Dispensary (RAD) Expo this October in Portland, Oregon. 


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