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Does Sales Training Matter?

Furniture World Magazine




Furniture World recently sent out a survey to find out if the average retail store owner thinks that sales training is worth the trouble and expense.

I didn’t start out in life wanting to be a mattress salesman. Even when I became one, I thought it was just a job to pay the bills until something better came along. Like many of you who are reading this article, I got over it when I finally realized the potential of my new job.

I suspect that hardly any of the people Furniture World readers employ to be mattress salespeople intended the job to become a career when they separated themselves from high school or college. Now they are selling mattresses and perhaps furniture. But are they prepared?


Furniture World recently sent out a survey to subscribers to find out if the average retail store owner or manager thinks that sales training is worth the trouble and expense. The results were not surprising; and they weren’t encouraging. I won’t talk specifically about any of the responses, but it pretty much confirmed what I already suspected.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a retail salesperson several years ago when I gave him a copy of my newly published book, thinking that he might show it to his store’s sales manager. He said, “Yeah, we would all like better training, but the store won’t pay for it.”

I understand the store’s predicament. They would like to have better salespeople, but personnel turnover is high and training costs time and money. Often this investment is wasted. The worst part about sales training, however, is the unfortunate fact that it rarely sticks. It often goes in one ear and out the other.

What Is Sales Training, Anyway?

Sales training can be broken down into two broad categories—technical knowledge and sales skills.

By technical knowledge I mean John Lawhon’s Five Groups of Knowledge:

Sales professionals are made, not born. And by made, I mean self-made. The store can offer guidance, training materials, tutorials, etc., but they will only be as good as the effort they put into it.
  • Knowledge of products

  • Knowledge of policies

  • Knowledge of advertising

  • Knowledge of financing

  • Knowledge of inventory

Plus, there are two more; knowing the competition and knowing the industry. Bear in mind that someone can have a virtual Ph.D. in technical knowledge and still be an ineffective salesperson.

Sales skills are a measure of how capable salespeople are at handling customers. Do they control the sale from start to finish? Do they lead customers to a smart buying decision and then close the sale? Do customers exit the store happy and satisfied? And, do they do this consistently?

Salespeople can not be effective without a thorough grasp of technical knowledge. Somebody may know how to sell, but if they don’t know about the products they sell, they will not be able to apply their selling skills. For example, I wrote a book on how to sell, but if you set me down in an unfamiliar showroom, I will be as useless as the worst rookie.

A good training program covers both categories, but training should start with the technical information needed to prevent new salespeople from making errors that could cost a store money or put it in legal jeopardy. If someone hasn’t yet picked up the basics of selling, they may be able to overcome a rookie mistake by turning the customer over to someone with more experience.

Learning how to sell is usually a more deliberate, drawn-out process. My rule of thumb is that it takes at least 90 days on the floor to be even minimally competent to handle the sales process. The real pros never quit learning, and continue with a regimen of self-analysis and self-training.

Practice Makes Perfect

Salespeople can thrive when they have access to good materials as well as competent coaching and mentoring. Practicing while paying attention is important, and some natural talent doesn’t hurt. Stores can offer guidance, training materials and tutorials. Sales professionals are made, not born. And by made, I mean self-made.

Your salespeople might complain if your store does not have a decent training program, but in most retail organizations, the burden to learn sits squarely on their shoulders. The internet is loaded with good information. There are plenty of Furniture World sales education articles to read on www.furninfo.com. In the realm of bedding sales skills my book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual” should be considered a must-read.

Like any other endeavor, practice makes perfect. Your store entrusts its RSAs with its most precious commodity—shoppers. You’ve invested thousands of dollars to bring them in. After that, RSAs are mostly on their own, responsible for serving thousands of ups each year. If they are good, they will think of each customer engagement as a unique laboratory experiment; a complete unknown to be probed, informed, tested and closed.

Competing With Online Sellers

Is there anyone with a pulse that doesn’t know that internet sellers have captured a large chunk of the nation’s mattress market? Up until recently, these companies did not employ even one capable retail salesperson. Instead, they did their selling with internet scripts and persuasive television commercials. Lately they have begun placing their products in well-known showroom settings. Certain retailers can take advantage of the name recognition these DTC companies built. For more on this I suggest reading an interesting article called “Next Level Training” in the November/December 2021 issue of Furniture World. Scott Morris stresses the need for retailers to use their websites to educate customers with factual and useful information to bring customers into stores. He acknowledges that many shoppers are wary of RSAs. So care must be taken once they enter the store to have salespeople who are capable and professional.

Anyone who has been in retail for more than two weeks
has perhaps noticed that there is a lot of down time, especially on weekdays. We should replace the term down time with available time or useful time.

What Does All This Mean to the Average RSA?

Most of this article might not mean much to your average RSA. It’s those salespeople who desire to be exceptional who will benefit. Real pros should know everything that can be found in any internet article or on any TV infomercial, and much more. Let me give an example of why this is important. A lot of our higher-level learning institutions have shifted classes to online formats. But anybody who has gone to college knows that online learning is neither as effective nor engaging as being present in a classroom with a knowledgeable, personable professor. There isn’t a substitute for quality personal interactions in school or on the sales floor.

We all know that a high percentage of customer/RSA interactions are not quality personal interactions. Sales beginners as well as professionals should take this observation to heart. Moving from average to exceptional takes practice. Your salespeople have an advantage over online DTC companies because they have products to demonstrate. But to present products properly, professional RSAs must have a deep reservoir of knowledge.

How Do They Get Started?

Anyone who has been in retail for more than two weeks has noticed that there is a lot of down time, especially on weekdays. We should replace the term down time with available time or useful-time. Then, plant the idea in the heads of our sales teams that it’s a smart idea not to waste it.

Daily planning is not easy for people who work in retail. Salespeople hope to be busy with buyers all day long. Since that hope is not always realized, salespeople who want to become exceptional should show up at work with an outline of what they want to learn or review for the day. A weekly plan is better.

Ideas for Using Available Time

Day 1: Review product knowledge for all bedding (or furniture) products. Salespeople should know the complete names, floor locations, specifications, backup availability, delivery times and stock availability. All this information should be memorized. If they are with a customer and must look up this information, time will be wasted and they will appear unprofessional.

Day 2: Available-time should be used to review websites of as many mattress manufacturers as possible. Included should be websites of manufacturers whose products are sold in your store as well as those brands sold by competitors or direct to consumers. Taking notes to improve memory retention and prompt additional questions and ideas is always a good idea.

Day 3: Visit competitors’ websites periodically and take notes. Salespeople should not forget that their customers are checking out competitive stores’ websites as well as their own. One more thing; salespeople should review their store’s website at least once a week.

Day 4: Time to read. There are lots of books on selling. Read as many as possible and read the best ones over and over. I have read John F. Lawhon’s “Selling Retail” at least eight times. A colleague of mine claims he has read it 23 times. Every time RSAs read a serious book on selling, they will pick up and remember something new, especially if they take notes. And, if they don’t like to read, there are plenty of good YouTube videos available.

Day 5: Point them to Furniture World articles in the sales education article archives at https://www.furninfo.com/furniture-industry-sales-education- articles/4/25). they will never have enough available time to absorb all the information there.

More Ideas for Salespeople

After finishing with an “up,” whether a sale was made or not, keep notes on how the sale progressed. Ask themselves:. Was I strong or weak? Was I able to control the sale? Why did I make or not close the sale? Self-analysis is one of the best learning exercises.

1. Organize a group of fellow salespeople to discuss sales ideas and techniques. A group can be as small as two people. Serious sales discussions can be a great source of new ideas.

2. Review all the technical information the store provides. Review product knowledge, but also:
  • What finance options does the store offer?

  • What are company policies on comfort exchanges, warranty replacement, deliveries, ethics, etc.?

  • Advertising the store places as well as that of its competitors. Always assume that customers have seen the competitions ads.

  • Review store inventory. Do you know every close-out hiding in the back corner of the off-site warehouse? That item might just be the one that closes a tough sale.

3. If you sell furniture in addition to bedding, learn everything you can about design. By this I mean room design, wall design, outdoor living space design. The most successful furniture sales professionals develop long-term clients. If your clients have confidence in you and your design talent they will return to you every time they need new furniture or decorating advice.

4. Repeat all of the aforementioned exercises periodically. Repetition is the secret to learning. There are a million other ideas on how to use your available time. Whatever you do, don’t waste it, because wasted time never pays off.

Final Thoughts

So, does sales training matter? Of course it matters. It not only matters, but it means everything in the mattress and furniture sales business. You might ask, “But, isn’t everything eventually going to be sold online?” Some things probably will be, like soap and paper towels. When it comes to durable goods like furniture, mattresses, refrigerators, washers and dryers, customers still like to see, feel and better understand what they are buying. That happens only on a showroom floor, hopefully with a skilled, honest professional retail sales associate leading them every step of the way.




About David Benbow: David Benbow, a veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company offering mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) He has many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas.

He is the author of  “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual” that systematically presents a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It can be purchased at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.
Questions an comments can be directed to him at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or 361-648-3775.