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Staying Alive During Tough Times - Part 5

Furniture World Magazine


Part 5: You have an official written selling strategy, so why do each of your salespeople still have their own personal way of dealing with your customers?

Retail Management by Joe Capillo

Don’t you love that old saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”? It’s one of those clichés that speaks to our topic but is, in cliché terms, easier said than done. What does “get going” mean in the context of surviving in tough times? To me it means not doing the same things over and over and expecting different results (I am obviously cliché-ridden).

In the last issue of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine you read about the importance of having a selling strategy, a written description of your customer engagement principles, and your written set of “how to’s” for all of your staff members to follow when dealing with your customers. If you don’t have one, you haven’t a chance of influencing (controlling, in Peter Drucker’s world) the most important relationship in your business – the one between your customers and your salespeople.

Strategies are developed so that the processes of sales can be managed. Your strategy should be based on the things covered in earlier articles, such as measurements and results analysis. If, for example, you know that your closing ratio is 10% on first visits on a particular customer home furnishings project, but 60% on the second visit, your strategy cannot be based on closing sales the first time, but rather on doing things that ensure customers who don’t buy today will return a second time.

So, assuming you have such a strategy, have developed a training program around it, and have provided training to your sales staff, you’re good to go, right? Well, think about what would happen if an NFL team developed their offensive strategy – the West Coast Offense for example – trained all the professional players in the system, put the players on the field with another team (who also has a strategy) but had no coaching staff at all on the sidelines to oversee performance? I’m sorry about the football reference, but it really is a perfect example of what I’m trying to get across. In the end, even with a great strategy and professional players, without a coaching staff who observe, adjust, consult with individual players, and perform ongoing training, and who measure everything, the results will not be good.

Sales management in furniture stores should take place on the selling floor, with your customers, as your “game” is being played. You have one tremendous advantage over an NFL team, too – your coaches can actually get in the game and play right along with the salespeople, demonstrating desired strategic elements of your plan, showing salespeople what is expected and how to interact.

You have to have some sales manager/coaches who can do this or your performance will suffer.
There’s another major difference between us and our NFL team: our players are not part of a team when playing our game. They are, instead, individual players, more like sprinters or swimmers (except for relays, of course). Some companies do utilize T/O (Turn Over) systems, where customers can’t leave the store without talking to two people, one of them usually a "closer" (a floor or sales manager). This type of system is a strategy I personally reject because its affect on customers is almost always negative.

Hardly any retail home furnishings stores field active, involved, instructive sales managers on the selling floor to insure that their company’s selling strategy, explained so carefully and thoroughly in sales training, is actually delivered to customers. Usually, each salesperson has his or her own way of dealing with customers, and the company’s strategy be damned. There are also no effective management systems in place for “adjusting” deviations from proscribed methods, and no effective measurement system to provide managers and salespeople with accurate assessments of their performance. In contrast, The NFL runs one of the most high-tech video studios in the country. A permanent visual record of every game is made, studied, compared against the expected standard and used to coach individual players.

Most retail sales managers don’t understand how far “down the line” coaching has to go, meaning how close to the actual customer, engagement should be. In our business, the best possible coaching is done right down there with the salesperson and the customer. Sometimes coaching can consist of as little as a word or two, sometimes more, but always it must be done against the background of an established selling strategy. The written selling strategy is the standard of behavior against which all actual behavior should be compared.

Feedback is a critical element of coaching and it has to be current, and related to actual observed behavior. Your favorite question for salespeople when asking them to compare their behavior against the standard should be, “How could that have been better?” So when should you ask that question? Should it be at a monthly or semi annual performance review? Of course not! You want to ask the question as close to the actual sales performance as possible. Only then can you effectively reinforce a coaching cycle that consists of measure > train > observe > feedback > observe.

This is really simple. When you have a clearly defined and documented selling strategy and have built an effective training system around it, the only way to ensure you get the results you want is to provide your adult employees with on-the-floor coaching in real situations, and provide them with supportive environments in which to develop.