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Can You Embrace Meaningful Change?

Furniture World Magazine


A commitment to change is necessary for home furnishings retailers that hope to relate to consumers in the post recession period.

Have you ever paid for sales training or sales manager training only to have things return to the way they were in a few weeks or months after the “training” event ended?

The bigger the company, and the more stores there are, the more difficult it is to bring real long-lasting change to the organization. It doesn’t matter how important you thought the “new ideas” were, or how much you believed in them, there seems to be a force of organizational gravity that works in the background to maintain the status quo and return the organization to the state of balance – meaning mediocrity.

High performing organizations, those that thrive on continuous improvement, are not for everyone. You’ve heard, and observed that most people hate change, and resist it at all costs, to them and to you. And, because in our business, which is a one-to-one, personal selling business, people want to do things their own way. Many salespeople seek and live in their personal comfort zone for everything they do. From how they greet and engage with your customers, to how they handle maintaining critical customer relationships, they do it their way. And, as long as the door keeps opening and the next new customer comes in, they’ll keep doing it their way. How’s that working for you now?

Consider sketching rooms as a needs analysis tool. I think every sales trainer in our business teaches this, and maybe you paid for this kind of training. But, what happens on the floor, at the point of engagement? I see and hear this all the time: “They were taught to sketch, but not many of them are doing it.” This, from people who own the businesses where “they” work, who pay for the real estate, the building, the interior fit-out, the advertising that brings customers in, the trucks to deliver the merchandise, and the warehouse to keep it in. It’s almost as though the salespeople are working in some alternate universe over which the owner has no control.


Why doesn’t change stick? Why don’t people do what they’re taught to do, or told to do, even when it’s in their best interest to do so? Why don’t sales managers make it happen? Why don’t your people see that they have to change to keep pace with the changing world? Why don’t they see that they’ll make more money doing it the new way?

One word explains this: complacency, the killer of all change initiatives. The reason for complacency is a lack of a sense of urgency to change, and the reason for there being no urgency is usually that there is no compelling change vision that everyone shares. Leadership doesn’t walk their talk. Let’s face it, if you and your managers didn’t let organizational gravity take over, it wouldn’t.

So, as far as salespeople are concerned, it’s not their fault. It’s just the way things are in human organizations. People find ways to work together. A social equilibrium is established. Some people perform better, some not so well, and have you noticed that the great performers are always great, and the weaker ones are always weak? That, too, is part of the equilibrium, sort of like maintaining the pecking order.

There are a lot more reasons why people and organizations resist change than just a lack of vision and complacency.

These include: failing to create a strong leadership coalition, failing to create short term wins, declaring victory too soon, and others, all of which have to be addressed continually to make the new ways become “the way we do things here.”

The gravitational pull in personal selling is partly generated by the outcomes of the large majority of customer contacts. If close rates average 20% in your store this means that, depending on the size of your selling staff, you will have some people (your best) at around 30%, while your worst might perform as low as 15%. Remember, “Average” is the best of the worst. With such high failure rates ranging from 70% to 85% it’s no wonder a feeling of drudgery sets in for some people and causes them to feel there is no way they can control their outcomes, that it’s all up to the quality of the opportunities they get.

In most stores I know – and that’s a lot of stores – salespeople work almost completely on their own when dealing with shoppers. There is no interactive coaching, and no after-the-encounter review by management. The game just goes on with no effective way for owners to know what’s really going on out there on the floor. T/O (Turn Over) systems merely serve to annoy customers, and are usually employed too far into the customer engagement for the salesperson to learn anything useful.

This means that management has to change as well as salespeople, but we know that there, too, change initiatives don’t take hold. This is due to the same causes as all other change initiative failure – no sense of urgency and too much complacency throughout the organization. Sometimes, this is understandable when we give a manager who already has a full-time job keeping things going another full time job called coaching and performance management.

So, there’s another foundation principle of successful change initiatives – removing counter-productive roadblocks.

Our business, selling retail home furnishings, is facing a time of enormous change as our entire society changes in fundamental ways. The crushing wake-up call provided by the economic crash of 2008-2009 will have long term, far-reaching affects on how consumers think and feel about all purchases. More important will be the changes around how they seek information, use online methods for research and purchasing, and communicate with each other and with you.

You cannot ignore these things, but you’ll have to change the ways you think about, feel about, and act toward your customers and prospects. You’ll have to implement new systems and processes, new levels of accountability.

Managing change is a discipline you’ll have to master, and you’re going to have to do it around how your market, your customers, will change in the future.

When you do it right, the effort is worth it, and your company will be transformed from one where mediocrity is the norm, to one where high performance is valued and craved by everyone. Where new and better ways are sought continually by everyone. Where people love to work, and where they accept a high degree of accountability for performance – both theirs and the company’s.