Online Retail Sales Training: How to Get Started and What to Expect

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Imagine being in an airplane and overhearing a voice from the cockpit saying, “Just keep the nose in the air, and if the warning lights don’t go off, call me.”

As a flight attendant, you might begin preparing yourself for a crash.

Many small business owners open their retail stores with a similar message to their employees,  “Just help the customers, and if you get overwhelmed, call me.” 

That’s probably why so many crash…

No pilot can fly a plane until they are fully trained, and no employee should be left alone on your sales floor until they are fully trained.

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Here are five steps to get started:

1. Observe. Before developing and training your sales team, visit your competitors and carefully look at their salesforce. Are they bored behind the counter? Does a silent store surround them? Are their customers walking in and buying or just walking in and walking out? If you’re a vendor, look at competitors during trade shows. Are they bored behind a display? Are they quiet? What don’t you like - be specific.

2. Define. Next, you must clearly articulate what great customer service should look like in your store or with your representatives. Will customers be greeted immediately upon entering or only after they ask for help? Will you have an approach-in-15-second rule? Will you have employees who develop rapport with strangers? Will they know how to add on to a sale?

3. Plan. Once you have answered those questions, you can create your sales training program that teaches your employees what it takes to provide an excellent customer service experience with your brand.

4. Chunk. Then, break your training into bite-sized learnings that build on each other. Start with the greeting, progress to building rapport, show and sell your merchandise, then add on and follow up. To see what I train and everything that is included, check out my course outline..

5. Gauge. To make sure your employees are learning, test them along the way.  Have them teach you how to greet a prospective customer. Have them list two ways to build rapport. Make them give you three features and benefits of your most popular items. You get the drift.

You need to make sure they not only go through your training but that the training alters their behavior.

If you find a salesperson or two who are unable to learn, do not let them stay—let them go!

Now, I’ll be honest with you. The easiest thing to do is start with a new crew.  They’ll be new to the job and afraid they might be let go, so they’ll sideline any skepticism and try anything you ask.

Unfortunately, I doubt that’s where many of you reading this are…

So here’s what to expect:

Training takes time. If you want your learners to be invincible like Rocky Balboa, you must commit to a continual goal of improvement.

Avoid too many changes at once.  Just getting your employees to switch out of Can I help you? can take weeks. Take a moment for that shock to wear off.  

You’re going from a reactive, unthinking autopilot response to a considered, deliberate, welcoming invitation to build rapport.  Therefore, give your learners ample time for the changes to take hold gradually. Try one or two changes a week – tops.

Your crew may doubt their abilities. As your employees give up the safety of saying the same thing to everyone, they will become less confident. They might say they can’t do it or that the learning is stupid. They might tell you customers are leaving because of it.  When you see them using your new training, reward them so you build a positive experience for all.

Make sure you role-play before trying new skills on customers. Pilots use flight simulators to experience the consequences of their actions safely. Role-playing with your learners allows you to correct and praise them while the skills and successful selling techniques are still new.  Allow plenty of time during the week to try various scenarios with your learners before they experience the inevitable rejection of some of your customers.

There will still be mistakes. Yes, there’ll be slip-ups. Be careful not to overreact to mistakes early on, or you will shut them down. Likewise, don’t turn a blind eye when they consistently do not use their new skills.

In Sum

Like dieting, weight training, or learning to fly a plane, always celebrate as you progress.

No matter how big or small, every change you deliberately make in how your employees interact with your customers gets you that much closer to creating an exceptional experience.

Luckily, that experience also helps you pay the bills.