Are You Missing These 4 Key Retail Sales Training Tips?

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What are the best retail sales training tips? Those tips that make a shopper feel for a few minutes they are the most important person in the world. Those tips that make it easy for your associates to approach a stranger like a friend. Those tips that convert shoppers to buyers.

But let’s back up, in order to be successful, a retail sales training program must be built on these four fundamentals:

  • Excellent knowledge.
  • Practice.
  • Role-playing.
  • Accountability.

Your store culture mantra must be that training with accountability never stops. And if they can’t hold themselves to being accountable for what you trained, then you hold them accountable by letting them go. Period.

Here's what untrained employees do to your customer experience...

I had just gotten home from a 12-hour journey. I called and ordered a pizza from the local Italian restaurant. While I was a bit annoyed that I had to repeat myself several times, I was told my pizza would be ready in 15 minutes.

When I got there 15 minutes later, I went to the counter and asked for my pizza. I had to repeat the order and my name twice.

The counter girl yelled back to another girl with blonde hair, "Do you have the 1/2 meat lovers, 1/2 Hawaiian for Phibbs?" The blonde looked at the boxes, said No and asked a guy next to her when it would be out. He shrugged his shoulders.

After another 15 minutes, I returned to the counter and asked, "Where is my pizza? I ordered it over 30 minutes ago." The girl with the blonde hair asked me for my name again, scanned the boxes, then started opening them, finally closed one and handed it to me. "Here you go." It didn't have my name on the outside of the box.

"Wait a minute," I said. "I've been standing here for 15 minutes and you had it all along?" She retorted," It wasn't my fault."

At this point, I should let you know there were at least eight other teenagers also behind the counter, their faces looking confused. What did he say? Who's going to respond? Am I in trouble? they were all wondering.

The cashier jumped in, "We're all in training."

No, they were not in training. They were in catch-as-catch-can, using whatever methods or instincts they could. That is not training.

The most basic training they should have received on day one was to write the customer name on the outside of the box.

With that tiny but crucial lack of training, that business lost me and other once loyal customers. All due to poor training. 

It's time we be honest, retailers. You can’t train your retail sales staff until you've taken the time to craft a selling process and drill those retail sales associates on that process.

Until then, you're merely exposing employees to the materials.

It's like you just watching a golf game and then saying, "I know how to play golf." 

It's like you’re watching The Great British Baking Show and thinking you can open a shop making wedding cakes.

Exposure is not training.

I run into this fallacy many times when talking with prospective clients about SalesRX, my virtual retail training program. There are other sales training programs out there promising effortless and easy, a set and forget system.

But the best retail sales training tips revolve around commitment and accountability.

Yet many retailers from the largest chains to the smallest boutiques no longer hold employees accountable.

They let bored employees stand behind the counter, hands firmly on their phone, looking towards their crotch as they text while shoppers mill about their department.

You know the joke? Supervisors will say, "Well, they were trained!"

No they weren't.

Someone exposed them to a dusty old employee manual or had them watch a DVD or YouTube video, or had a trainer work with them to learn on the job for one shift.

None of that is training. It is still only exposure.

And that's why so many retailers approach training as something to get through, rather than something to master.

The best tip when working with sales staff is to approach training as something you do, not something you did.

Would you get in an Uber without knowing the driver had a license?

I doubt it.

Would you trust a restaurant that had failed a health inspection?

I doubt it.

Here’s what it takes to make sure every employee, both new and seasoned, are trained.

Here are 4 proven retail sales training tips:

1. Great knowledge. You can't have a successful training program unless you have a sales process that is easily duplicatable. The best training materials will come from someone who has actually sold merchandise in a retail store. I have that experience, and I am shocked by the level of inefficient materials out there put together by people who have never actually sold a product in a store before. Because they've never worked on the sales floor and had to sell the merchandise, they come up with retail training modules filled with platitudes like we value every guest and poor directions so sales associates never understand what their expected behaviors are supposed to actually look like.

2. Practice. Repetition is the key. What is taught has to be practiced over and over until staff no longer have to think about the steps they have to take to build rapport; they just do it. Breaking your training down to bite-sized pieces so employees can have quick wins while practicing each basic piece lays a foundation of creating an exceptional customer service experience.
It's a balance between sharing new information on new retail sales training topics and allowing your staff time to practice each one. There should be no shame in the associate taking lessons over and over until they can duplicate it on the salesfloor without thinking. We want them to be what we call unconsciously competent.

3. Role-play. Once employees have been taught the exact sales techniques in a lesson and have begun to master it, they need to have the ability to think on their feet. That's where role-play comes in. It lets them practice the What if someone came in with x and did y? Role-play only works if you have given them a foundation of what an exceptional experience looks like.

Role-play is best used by a sales trainer writing down a scenario for one of your sales people to act out. This can work well in a morning huddle where you pick two employees to role-play while the rest of the crew watches. Afterwards, you debrief and discuss how they did. Your main interest is to see, even if you throw them a bit of a curve, the selling process is intact. Until it is, your employees are still untrained.

4. Accountability. How will you know if they actually understood and learned the selling techniques? How do you hold them accountable? During the initial sales training courses, you must ask questions throughout to make sure they understand key points. You also have to test their new skills at the end of each lesson to certify their knowledge. But just testing isn't enough. And you can't, like many retailers do, settle for just showing them a training video; you have to hold them accountable for what was taught through testing and then again where it matters...on the salesfloor.

For example, if you train that after every purchase, the retail salesperson is to walk around the counter and deliver the purchase while saying Thank you and offering a farewell that invites the shopper back every time, and the associate only does it occasionally, that associate is not trained.

That employee is still simply exposed to the training; they have been shown what to do but aren’t doing it.

How many sales that should have been yours walked out the door today without buying from you?

It comes down to being brilliant on the basics and building a strong foundation if you want to increase sales.

See also, How To Get Employee Sales Training To Stick

In Sum

Unemployment is way down. Consumer confidence is way up. Gen Z is reported to be eager to shop in brick and mortar retailers just like Baby Boomers.

Unless you seriously approach training with great knowledge, practice, role-play, and accountability, your crew will be Meerkats, unable to deliver the sales you need to compete with online retailers. That's because their aversion to selling and customer service will dictate how they engage your customers.

If you’d like to discuss how my innovative retail sales training techniques - the same training that increased a luxury watch retailer’s sales 21%...

The same training that received the highest increase from the number one mall in America...

And the same training major brands have used for years with their dealer networks - let’s make a date to discuss my retail sales training tips for retail employees and the unique needs for your brand.

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