Are Your Employees Confused About The Role They Play In Your Retail Store?

By Bob Phibbs

retail sales trainingI recently purchased a new sport coat from Nordstrom in Chicago.  

It was like a scene in a movie…

I told Wade, the salesman, that I had had to buy a sport coat in Indianapolis a few weeks ago because I had forgotten my best one at home.  

I told the salesperson at that store that the jacket needed to travel well. I was assured it would.

But on my next speaking trip, I discovered that jacket was a wrinkle-prone jacket...one I will never wear again - unless I’m in a play...and need to look disheveled.

I tried on an Armani jacket which fit like a glove.

As I took it off, he grabbed the sleeve and crunched it in his fist. He held onto it then he explained the wool fibers in this coat would indeed wrinkle.  After a couple minutes he let go. “See,” he said. The crumpled wool looked like the coat I wanted to toss in the donation pile.

“But after just a couple of minutes, you’ll realize the wrinkles have disappeared. And it won’t look like those generic traveler jackets. That’s why this is perfect for you.”

He understood from our conversation that as a speaker, wrinkles were no good, so he showed me how I could overcome that problem with this jacket. 

Let’s unpack that transaction as if it were a movie.

I was the protagonist, the main character. My quest was to overcome something – like get the girl in Notting Hill, get home like in E.T., get the money like in Bonnie and Clyde, get the bad guy like in The Untouchables, get respect like in Rocky.  You get the idea…

I had been thwarted by the antagonist, the force, the villain, the salesperson who kept me, the main character, from getting what I wanted… in my case, a wrinkle-free jacket.

Now Wade was the supporting character who helped me overcome the problem, to get my ultimate desire. He made sure I was able to continue my quest to be an unwrinkled motivational speaker.

In retail, all salespeople should play the supporting character.  

This is incredibly important to understand. Being a narcissistic employee doesn't do nearly as well as being one who can play the secondary role to the customer.

Some people refer to this as servant selling; you serve first and sell next. You have to gain someone’s trust, not expect them to trust you first.

See also, How To Sell To Difficult Customers

So many times I’ve seen perfectly nice employees feel they were the main character while they were on the sales floor. They didn’t approach the customer, they didn’t initiate rapport, and they didn’t seem to give a lick if the person purchased, walked away or dropped dead.

Why should they? They are the main event..

If a customer asks them a question, they recite every fact they know. Or they use big words that the customer does not know or have any context for.

It’s often a canned delivery too, devoid of emotion.

It’s all about themselves, the employee; the customer is to kowtow to the employee and be grateful for their scraps of help.

You might have been able to get away with that in the 60’s, but you can’t in 2015.

On the other end of the spectrum are those employees who act as extras in the movie of retail, who take up space, go unnoticed, and remain unrecognizable in the background.

Due to their lack of training, they stand, hands clasped behind their backs in felon pose waiting for someone to notice them. And if they do get noticed, it’s customer beware...

No wonder so many bitch about low pay, and no wonder many retailers begrudgingly pay them minimum wage.  

They add nothing to the scene.

But not everyone is like that…

I got a call from a young man who works for Dillards.  He had just been promoted to Men’s Shoes, and if he does well there, he will get a promotion to Women’s Shoes.  He wanted to ask me about using SalesRX.com, my online retail sales training system for himself. “I really feel I can make a good living by doing better at selling. I’m already top in the department. I just want to do better helping customers.”

You can build a brand on a guy like that.  He knows his role and is excited to work on perfecting it. He wants to be a great supporting character. 

He knows it’s not about him, it’s about how he can help the customer overcome the obstacle. Sometimes an associate doesn’t understand their role, and they become an antagonist.

If the salesperson can make a connection and discover a customer’s back story - the events that directly happened prior to them walking in - they can understand the customer’s (the protaganist’s) motivations.

Here’s how to make sure your supporting characters excel in their role…

When training your team on how to sell, emphasize the goal is to get the customer’s back story first, What obstacle are they trying to overcome versus What are they looking for?

That way you reinforce the idea that your salespeople are there to learn the back story of their customer to move them forward.

If the customer doesn’t take action, the supporting character did not do their job.

In Sum

In a world of I don’t care, of unfriending and virtual relationships that stay stuck in a sanitized world, movies help us make sense of it all.

If employees understand their role is as a supporting player, and not as a main character or extra, they will make more sales. As Zig Ziglar said it nearly fifty years ago, "You can get everything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want in life first."

To see me in my new wrinkle-free jacket, invite me to speak.

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