Retail Success Within Reach: Why CEOs Must Embrace Sales Training

By Bob Phibbs

CEO retail success tipsIf you’re the CEO of a retail chain, the sales environment looks pretty scary right now.

Hardly a week goes by without news of another once-successful chain closing its doors.

Last week it was Jack Spade, the 22-year old offshoot of Kate Spade.

The chains that remain open are still reporting sluggish sales, despite an improving economy. While many solutions have been suggested, a lot of them are impractical or simply fail to address the underlying problems.

And those problems are best summed up with the title of the 90's movie...

They’re  just not that into you.

The Tech Revolution

Retail CEOs are being bombarded daily with the promises of new technologies. Near Field Communications, iBeacons, and CRM software all promise to improve sales by providing convenience and tracking customers. Unfortunately, these innovations can be unwieldy, especially if you’re using legacy POS systems or need to deploy them across multiple locations.

And, while they are the shiny new object, there’s no guarantee that they’ll solve your problems of engaging a customer.

In fact, in my opinion, they will make those problems worse; they’ll only be into the technology, not your brick and mortar store.

See also, How To Sell Your Boss On Why You Need Sales Training 

From Retailing to Warehousing

Another tactic that retailers are adopting is BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up In Store). Customers find products on your website, buy them online, and pick them up at their convenience. This eliminates the possibility of cross-selling or up-selling, and relegates your salespeople to the role of warehouse workers.

Their only responsibility becomes finding the item and handing it to the customer. This is hardly exciting and rewarding work for your employee and certainly lets your customer walk in and walk out without ever being engaged.

With a workforce comprised mainly of Millennials, a boring work environment is a recipe for disconnect.

Your salespeople will play on their phones, only looking up long enough to ring up a purchase, perform at a minimal level, and using their smartphone as the rocket, gravitate into their own digital world. They will cost you the loyalty of your customers and suck the life right out of your retail environment.

And your profits.

You've probably already seen that too.

And while I'm at it, why did customers take to BOPIS?

Those customers have suffered from years of frustration... from the lack of help in the store, from discounts seemingly offered on everything only to be asterisked as exceptions at the counter, and from loud and dirty stores that have led them to look at shopping as a chore.

You can’t compete on price, app, or widget. The customer experience in your brick and mortar store is your only important differentiator from online retailer. BOPIS only blurs this distinction.

A Top-Down Solution is Needed

As the CEO, you can be sure that other executives have seen these problems like I have...

They’ve seen the opposite of engagement even in a beautiful Nordstrom...

They’ve stopped by a Macys and seen employees leaning on the counters.

They’ve seen the sales help at Brooks Brothers standing with their hands clasped tightly behind their butts in felon pose.

They’ve seen the customer complaints.

They seen the traffic numbers dropping.

And they know that sales training isn’t a good idea, it’s necessary to stop your customers’ suffering and rebuild your business.

Reality Check

Unfortunately, they also know that trying to establish a training program from the bottom-up could take years and involve countless meetings and committees that water down the eventual training program to little more than an acronym.

And let’s be brutally honest, any program they recommend will have to come out of someone’s budget - and they don’t want it to be theirs.

As the CEO, you’re the one with the power to turn the tide.

Only you can adopt a training program that is already established, scalable, and most importantly, effective in this new retail environment. The old ways aren’t working anymore and a wait-and-see attitude will have your business following Radio Shack.

And if you’re one of those thinking your luxury brand excels at customer service, take my challenge, have me mystery shop your store.

I’ll bet you’ll soon discover that all the brand promises you’ve made, all the social media tribes you’ve coveted and all the mission statements about serving the customer don’t make a wit of difference on your sales floor - where it matters.

Being Brilliant On The Basics

What are your employees hired to do? To sell your merchandise to customers.

What tools do you give them to accomplish this goal? If you’re like too many chains, they get a day or two of register training on a tablet and then they’re tossed onto the floor.

They then walk around the store, watching new technology make their jobs less relevant. Once that happens, they check out and customer service goes further downhill.

You need a salesforce that is trained to deliver the experiences and the service your customers are seeking.

I’m not talking Wal-Mart here. I’m talking specialty retailers and chains whose average ticket is more than a dozen Frappuccinos.

Your employees need to learn the tools of the trade, tools such as rapport building, interpersonal communications, listening skills, and while product knowledge is always a good idea, they need to realize customers are probably armed with enough of it already.

In fact, product knowledge as a strategic advantage is going away.  Why else do customers bemoan they know more than the employees in the store?

To me that doesn’t matter.


Because there never was a way an employee could keep thousands of SKUs in their head.  

But if they understand how to sell, they can advise customers to compare and contrast, to try something different, and to get what will be best for their particular use and not just the cheapest product they found on their iPhone.

Your team needs to have the right sales concepts instilled and constantly reinforced. When you give them these tools, they can truly be salespeople instead of glorified merchandise fetchers.

A Pivotal Moment In Retail

Your future success  - no wait - your current success - depends on how you distinguish yourself from online retailers. They have convenience, economies of scale, and low-pricing on their side.

What do you have? Customer experience is your greatest asset, but it can’t be realized if your salespeople are bored and poorly trained.

Give them what they need to succeed, and they’ll deliver the sales you need to survive.

And if you’d like to have a conversation about this, the Retail Doctor is IN.

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