Selling just comes naturally to some people. They have a knack for discovering people’s needs, finding merchandise to satisfy those needs, then introducing more items that may interest the shopper. In the end, customers leave feeling like they’ve just found a new friend.
Unfortunately, very few people are born with these talents. More than likely, people who are perceived to be excellent at sales simply have had good training. As a result, they appear confident and are not easily intimidated by others.
It’s not a good idea to hire timid, unsure people who avoid the inevitable confrontations that selling entails. On the other hand, if you hold out for natural salespeople, you are going to be chronically understaffed.
So what do you do? Select the people with the most potential and give them the tools needed to be successful.
As a specialty retailer, you can train people in retail selling principles and techniques; you can nurture qualities that will help them put those principles and techniques into practice; and you can reinforce those qualities and the results achieved if they act on those principles and techniques.
Training, nurturing and reinforcing are the three elements of a powerful sales-building triad. Each is equally important.
Adding the Sales Training Program
Suppose you see the wisdom of the training-nurturing-reinforcing triad; how can you put the program into practice in your operation?
The first thing you need to do is recall your primary responsibilities as manager of your business. Those responsibilities are to plan and lead.
When you decide to set up a people-development program in your store, your role will be to set the goals for the program, outline the limits within which the program will operate (including time and financial budgets) and designate the person responsible for carrying out the program.
If your store doesn’t have a manager between you and your salespeople, you will probably be the one responsible for carrying out the program. If so, make sure to allow enough time in your schedule to do the job in an orderly way. If you find you are constantly delaying actions or decisions related to the development program, look for someone on staff who can take over the job for you.
Setting Goals for Your Training Program
The goals and limits you establish for the program will depend entirely on your particular situation. However, we’d like to offer these general guidelines:
– Establish an employee development budget based on a percentage of your total sales. The percentage you establish is up to you, but keep in mind that it should be worth half the amount of your advertising budget. After all, it’s your salespeople who determine whether your advertising finally pays off in sales.
– Establish a minimum number of hours of formal training for each employee per month. Pay your employees their regular hourly rate for the time they devote to formal training. Include those wages in your development budget.
– Divide your training sessions into short units covering different phases of your business. For instance, you might have three or four merchandise knowledge units covering the most profitable parts of your business. Intersperse selling technique units covering primary sales and add-on sales.
– Make sure your employees understand and retain the information. One way to accomplish this is by giving written tests after each unit. Establish a minimum standard for satisfactory performance on the tests. If employees fail one test, have them study the topic on their own time and retake the test within a specified time limit.
– Evaluate your employees’ job performance as a result of the training. You may even consider setting up minimum standards of improvement in terms of total sales, average sale per customer and sales per hour. Make these standards reasonable. Set them up by department to keep them fair.
– Remember the three R’s of employee relations — respect, recognize and reward. Respect the selling attitude in your private comments to the salesperson. As each employee completes a training program, recognize the achievement in some way, perhaps with a certificate. When the results of the training begin showing up in the employee’s performance, reward the improvement with an appropriate bonus or pay increase.
– Make your training an ongoing commitment. Don’t run your people through a fast course, then figure it will last them a lifetime. Continue to refresh and refine their merchandise knowledge and selling skills.
We live in an age when there is really no excuse for retail owners to operate without a program of regular training and development for their employees. Hundreds of private companies devote themselves entirely to producing sales training and motivation packages.
Some of these programs are pure hype. But a lot of them are very solid programs that can help you immeasurably in your job of building a profitable sales team. Pick out a couple of good ones and use them in your training program.
You also can find some exceptional sales training programs in local schools and community colleges. These are usually quite reasonably priced.
Word-of-mouth will undoubtedly be your best source for finding successful training programs. Seek the opinions of other specialty retailers, executives and small business owners. You may want to contact your local Chamber of Commerce, state retail association or the Small Business Administration (www.sbaonline.sba.gov) — these are excellent information resources.
Some distributors may also have training resources available, particularly for merchandise knowledge. Also, vendors often offer good in-house seminars. You can obtain a lot of training from your suppliers for little or no cost.
Don’t rely on any one training resource for all your information. Rather, use the resource that seems most appropriate for the topic at hand.
Controlling the Cost
Don’t let cost be your sole criterion. Make your initial choice without considering cost. Once you decide what you want, you can usually find a way to bring the cost within your budget.
One way you can cut the cost of training resources is by setting up cooperative programs with other stores in your area. If you’re located in a strip center, you already have the mechanism for such cooperation in the shopping center association. Ask the center management to help you promote the idea with other stores and to devote some staff time to coordinating the program.
A training program can be a tremendous motivator for your employees. When you have a good training program in place, you can expect your salespeople to respond with lower absenteeism, longer tenure and greater productivity on the job.
That adds up to bigger profits for you.
Patricia M. Johnson and Richard F. Outcalt are certified management consultants and co-founders of The Retail Owners Institute. They are strategists for retailers, workshop presenters and publishers of a free and popular newsletter for store owners and managers. Sign up for The ROI News for free at RetailOwner.com. They can be reached at 206-623-3973.