Retail Sales Training: Staples - A Window On Awful

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Retail sales training must give the employee–the salesperson–a selling system so they can approach and engage a customer with an open heart.

Being genuine on the sales floor

This training instructs the salesperson to forego jumping to conclusions, to beware of having dollar signs in their eyes, and to not become a robot.

In short, while great retail sales training is about following a system, it is mainly about being genuine. Then, you need to monitor how your retail sales training is carried out on your bricks and mortar sales floor, checking key performance indicators (KPIs), coaching, and continuous training.

As I developed my selling system, I studied the greats, and I tried their “proven” selling techniques-most of them developed during the ’50s and ’60s.

There was the alternative of choice close, in which I said to the customer, “If I can have it delivered on Tuesday or Friday, which would you prefer?” When they chose one day, I had closed them.

Or there was the reduction to the ridiculous close in which I said something like this:

“You say this item is $500 too much; am I right Ms. Customer?” I waited for her to confirm.

"And you figure you’ll have this for about 10 years; is that right?” I waited again for the Yes.

“So that's really about $50 per year, right? And that's about $4 a month, right? And that's about a dime a day. Isn't your happiness worth about a dime a day?”

Or, how about the phony reaching for a customer’s hand as they enter the store saying, “Hi, I’m (your name) and yours is?”

I hate any retail sales training that tries to manipulate the customer or the employee like some type of puppet. The very worst is when they do both. It’s awful.

And according to the New York Times article, Selling It With Extras, Or Not At All, that’s just what you can find at Staples. You should really read the article to see exactly what this feels like for both employees and customers, but here's the gist of it…

Staple employees are trained to lie in order to maximize performance

Staples’ KPI, which they nickname "Market Basket", tracks how many dollars worth of add-ons each employee sells. Their average needs to be $200.

According to the article, if underperforming employees don't meet that add-on goal, they’re counseled, given nights or weekends, hours are reduced or they’re terminated.

“Upper management instructs store management that staffers who think they won’t be able sell $200 worth of add-ons should tell the customer the computer is not in stock.

Staffers who don’t want to walk customers have another option: they can escort them to an in-store computer and tell them how to place orders online.”

From the article, Staples appears to train employees to openly lie to their customers.

  • Is this how you want to make your numbers?
  • Is this a way to treat another person - either your customer or your employee?

Discover: Bob's retail sales training seminar for your business.

But Ms. Shah, an employee stated, “If they buy it online, we lose the sale, but we don’t have the Market Basket problem.”

Maybe trying to juice the KPI system in a big box is necessary. Staples’ recent quarterly revenue was down 5.5% on a year-over-year basis.

At Best Buy, a common complaint is that the employees are more interested in selling an extended warranty than the actual product.

Retail sales tactics like these should go away


Because it dehumanizes everyone.

The customer is just someone to shake down. The employee is incented to load up the customer, and the brand is focused on keeping its numbers up for investors.

It legitimizes the very worst fears of customers who come into a retail store thinking: "you’re just trying to rip me off".

For me, it’s the short-sided view of the customer as a one-time sale.

The function of a sale

The function of a sale is much like a headline for an article. The headline’s job is to get you to read the next paragraph. The function of the sale is not only to get today’s merchandise sold but to get the customer to want to return to your store.

The sale needs to create the desire for the customer to drive past a competitor who might be closer, who might have more convenient hours, or who might have a more curated selection, and spend their hard-earned money again with you.

If you want to truly grow retail sales in your brick-and-mortar locations, you have to treat your customers and employees as humans.

Yes, a salesperson can upsell and should. No customer wants to get home missing a necessary accessory or without crossing everything off their list.

But the big picture is that in this decade, both our employees and our customers must be treated as humans.

For customers to unlock their wallets, you've got to get them to drop their defenses enough to share and engage with your well-trained retail sales associates.

That will only happen if you treat your retail sales associates as humans and teach them how to come to a customer with an open heart, free to engage, and ideally, share an element of fun in what they're doing.

That’s how people buy more.

This type of retail sales training is not for everyone


  • With so many places to buy so much of the same stuff;
  • With so many rotten retailers out there ignoring their customers;
  • With so many retailers saying one thing and doing another; must stand out and that starts with approaching retail sales training in human terms.

Make it more robotic, more manipulative, and your customers will not just ignore you. They’ll tell their Facebook friends, blogs, and maybe even the New York Times.

Keep it human.

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