How To Improve An Underperforming Retail Sales Team
By Bob Phibbs
Do you remember what it was like when you started your first retail sales job? The joy of finding out how you could do better, and especially sell better, was intoxicating.
But once you were at it awhile, you began to make assumptions, especially when it came to selling the merchandise. You began to believe you had superpowers and could read people just by observing them.
You instantly thought you knew:
She's not going to buy anything, she never does.
He's too cheap.
She's comparing Amazon.
He's just kicking tires.
As salespeople we become so certain of how shoppers will act that we become jaded.
And from that we begin to look at our retail job as not being about helping customers as friends but about stopping them as enemies.
Let me explain...
Because so many retailers have zero retail sales training, much less ongoing training, employees are left to their own devices - literally.
With fewer bodies walking in your door, your employees are easily being sucked into the virtual world of Snapchat, Facebook, and others.
When a shopper does walk in the door, they are interrupting the employee's virtual world. Your employees will want to size-up the shopper and decide if they are worth their time.
Hence their feeling they can predict if someone can or cannot buy within seconds.
But I have news for you, I don't have superpowers.
You don't have superpowers.
And THEY don't have superpowers.
The guy walking in with grubby jeans and flip-flops could just as easily buy your one-carat diamond ring as the woman dressed in a designer halter, flashy pants, and Jimmy Choo shoes.
You can't change people's buying habits, but you can discover what they truly value.
When you're willing to take the time and lay the foundation of the sale to build trust before you try to use some hackneyed tie-down selling techniques, you can be surprised at how easy selling can be.
But your retail sales team can't do that if they are jaded in both observing and listening to their shoppers.
How do you know if your retail employees are jaded?
1. You hear the exact same sales presentation from almost every salesperson which means their minds have turned off.
2. Your commissions and bonuses do little to move the needle of sales which means you're frustrated.
3. And you have one selling superstar which shows you the others are apathetic and not competing for sales.
How do you motivate an underperforming retail sales team?
1. Give them retail sales training.First, give everyone the chance to learn and start over. If one can't or won't, then have a sit-down with them and get their buy-in. Here are several articles on retail sales training, online sales training, and my own streaming training SalesRX.com
2. Fire one of them. If after you've given them new tools and training nothing has improved, fire one of them who consistently is not performing. Few things wake a crew up as much as realizing the boss is serious.
3. Fire all of them. Hire new people and train them. If your crew has gotten toxic and not willing to do their job, you have to take drastic action. I know that may seem brutal, but let's face it, those are your only choices.
If there are more than one stubborn employee, you just have to have the gravitas to say to yourself it's either them or me, and it's not going to be me. But without getting additional management training yourself, you are doomed to repeat your management mistakes.
Retailers continue to think their greatest enemy to making a sale is price.
A lost sale is never just about price, and it isn't just about the product itself. It's about how the employee interfaces with the shopper to reduce fear of purchase.
When you can remove risk and regret, your shopper is more likely to buy.
That's what you're paying your staff to do - to remove fear.
Do you know what shoppers fear?
Shoppers fear they can't afford the best; can't find the best option; the item won't do what they want; or their wife, husband, or significant other - you name them - will think they got taken for a fool.
For those reasons, each salesperson has to be open to their ability to solve what your shoppers fear. And each shopper is unique.
Let me give you a couple examples from my own shopping experiences.
I was looking to replace my 2014 Audi Diesel Q7 and had just test driven the 2017 Q7. I loved it, but I had researched it online, and this model was missing something.
I asked the salesman, "Does this have the adaptive cruise control with stop & go and traffic jam assist?" He replied with a laugh, "We have one in the back, but no one will ever buy it because it costs too much."
That phrase is the clearest example of a non-existent retail sales training program, but I made him go get the car and much to his surprise, I bought it.
I was walking down the street in Denver and spotted an A frame sign promising Aveda's cure for baldness. As a 50-ish guy looking at more of my hair in the sink every day, I was interested. I walked into the salon and asked, "Where is that product?" and pointed outside to the sign.
"You know, it's reallyexpensive," the young woman replied. I was shocked and said, "Do I look homeless?" She replied, "Well, I just wanted you to know it's really expensive."
What she missed - twice - was my fear wasn't if I could afford it, it was going bald. I would move heaven and earth to fix that.
As a twenty-something young woman with long hair, she couldn't see or take the time to understand why price wasn't my compelling reason to buy.
And if she had been trained to bond with me first before talking about her products, she then would have incorporated the price into the description with all the benefits. Think L’Oréal’s slogan, Because I'm worth it.
And you got it...I bought it...and the conditioner too.
And while we're on the subject of hair coloring, never forget how copywriter Shirley Polykoff's tagline for Miss Clairol, Does she…or doesn’t she? showed Shirley understood the key to selling the product was to reassure its buyers that the color they’d get from a box would be so natural, that nobody would ever guess. It was never that it was cheap. It was about removing fear.
I was looking to get back to exercising and went to the local bike shop.
The young man, still in his riding clothes, greeted me with, "How can I help you?" I replied, "I'm thinking of getting back into bike riding and..." He cut in before I could finish my sentence, "I know just what you need," and he pulled out a basic black bike.
I wasn't in the sale; he and that cheap bike were. After a few minutes, I politely said I'd thinkabout it and walked out of the store.
Picasso is quoted as saying, "If I knew what the point was before I began, why would I paint?"
Exactly! As salespeople, we have to be open to the discovery of the person in front of us, without trying to try to get rid of them because we think they are cheap or not worth our time.
The shopper hasn't changed. They still want to feel better when they meet someone in a store; they still want someone to help them; they still want to feel their money allowed them to experience a place where people took care of them and respected their time and money...
Not an experience where someone tried to get rid of them with minimum service levels.
But if that is all your store can deliver, those same shoppers are just as willing to stay home and order online, to not reward bad service, to not settle for crap product bought so it could meet a price point, to not feel worse for having gone to the effort to go to the store.
And then you close your doors and blame Amazon instead of your inability to deal with your struggling, jaded retail sales team.
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