TL; DR: Every brick and mortar retailer wants more shoppers. But you don't just want to get bodies in the store if you don't know how to convert them into customers. In order to build your retail sales, you’ll need to create and fine-tune a retail sales training plan, assess your employee associates, choose the best systems to help you, and inspect what you expect. Here's how to get started… and a whole lot more.
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Retail sales training is the process used to train your store associates in how to engage a stranger, how to build rapport and trust, how to show a product and demonstrate its features and (more importantly) its benefits, how to contrast and compare products, how to overcome objections to sell value over price, and how to close each and every sale.
There are a lot of sales training programs out there for all types of products; from cars to insurance, from luxury aircraft to timeshares, from real estate to software.
But retail sales training is different.
Where the above products have sales cycles that take days or weeks or even months or years, retail shopping in a store takes only about 20 minutes. It is a short transaction that usually involves only one visit and one decision maker.
Where someone looking for new software might have submitted a form or signed up for a trial, and the salesperson then knows a lot about them—enough to also research their prospect on LinkedIn and other social media—a typical retail salesperson is blind; they don’t know who their shopper is, what their needs, wants, or desires are, and what their level of interest is in buying any of it.
That’s why retail sales training is so important. Your associates need to find and relay as much of that information as possible, and in as nice as way possible, to keep each shopper engaged enough to buy from that salesperson in your brick and mortar store that day. And without a discount.
This is the typical way retailers look at customers; they just want to attracting more shoppers and hope they'll get great reviews on social media.
All retail sales training is trying to do is increase your ability to convert more browsers into customers in your brick and mortar retail store.
And that's great because people who are willing to leave their house and go to a store or mall are 60% intending to buy something that day.
Retail sales training contains three different elements.
Onboarding or new hire training is first. It is your baseline training about how to open and close a register, how to ring up a sale, how to ship, how to stock shelves, how to pick web orders, how to use mobile POS on tablets, etc.
The second is product knowledge training. Product knowledge training has to go further than just what’s in the box or how it works. This specialized training should include knowing who this product is for and who it is not, what situations it is good for, competing products in the marketplace, and how to facilitate a hands-on trial. That education helps every employee understand the benefits of the features of a product to be able to share with a shopper.
The most important training is number 3, behavioral retail sales training, the soft skills of how to engage a stranger. After all, all of the product knowledge in the world coupled with the most cutting edge payment technology is useless if your sales associates don’t know how to greet a customer with an open heart.
Without a great retail sales training program, many brick and mortar retailers settle for crumbs when they could have the whole feast.
That’s because, left untrained, employees will do little more than point to where something is located, read off the box what the features are to the shopper, and stand behind the counter waiting like a warehouse worker for the next request.
With a proper retail sales training program that includes training on the behavioral skills necessary to greet a stranger and how to build rapport to a level that gains the stranger’s trust, all of your product knowledge can be presented with laser precision that differs from shopper to shopper. That results in higher conversion rates, more units per transaction (UPT), and fewer markdowns.
The thing working against most brick and mortar retailers is they are selling someone else’s product, hoping to make a cut. Think of them more like an agent for a celebrity. For a number of years, the celebrity has been unavailable and the only way to make a deal was to go through their agent.
That’s all changed. The very brands independent retailers and big box stores carry are trying to go direct to consumer via pop-up shops, apps, and their own websites.
That means it will take more and more to get a shopper to even come into your store, much less buy it from you at the price you need to stay in business.
Instead of offering more discounts to try to make the sale, the smart retailers take the money they would have gifted shoppers and put it into retail sales training for their crew. That training pays back every moment of every day and with every customer.
Retail sales training is the only sustainable marketing program for brick and mortar retailers, because untrained employees drive down your overall sales—it takes them longer to sell something than a trained employee. Those associates are inefficient and passive when it comes to driving a sale. That leads to lower conversion rates and lower overall sales.
If you’re serious about competing with online retailers—and you should be—‚you better care about this. Big time.
The good news is that when you have crafted a retail sales training strategy around an excellent customer service experience, every interaction is mapped, every encounter outlined, and metrics can be placed to analyze how well you are doing at creating an exceptional experience. That goes much further than “how much did we do today” or “how did we compare to last year”.
A great retail sales training strategy gives you a roadmap to the future of who you want to be as other brick and mortar retailers fail. While they’re losing customers due to their own poor customer experience, you’ll be gaining new customers (and their customers) as you upgrade your own.
A great retail sales training strategy should include the following:
o Greet a shopper like they’re coming to your home.
o Find something in common using a Window of Contact.
o Use one question that gets them to tell you their wants, not just their needs.
o Features and benefits. We don’t buy a knife for what it has, for example, but for what it lets us do with less work. And there’s always an opportunity to upsell or add-on an additional product.
o The close. You have to ask for the sale.
Without a training plan, you’ll be floundering from one idea you read online about how someone sold something on Instagram and try to do it yourself, to yet again another blowout sale that slashes profits, to laying off employees to try to get labor costs down to a lower percentage of sales.
By the way, having fewer associates on your sales floor never works if you are serious about competing with online retailers.
You need to staff for the traffic, not the schedule, and make sure those employees have every bit of training possible so they can confidently help your shoppers to buy from you. Miss that and they’ll actually repel customers—even those who were once loyal.
Customers aren’t fickle; they just want to be treated as someone of value in a store where they are paying their hard-earned money for a product or service.
As I said at the outset, retail sales training encompasses the process used to train your store associates in how to engage a stranger, how to build rapport and trust, how to show a product and demonstrate both its features and its benefits, how to contrast and compare products, how to overcome objections to sell value over price, and how to close each and every sale.
In-person retail sales training which can work two ways:
Online retail sales training
Shadow or “buddy system” retail sales training
Self-paced retail sales training
In-person retail sales training has its own opportunities and pitfalls.
On the plus side you have:
Face-to-face training, which is ultimately where you want your associates to excel—face-to-face conversations.
The downside of in-person retail sales training includes:
Online retail sales training has its own pros and cons.
On the plus side:
On the downside:
Retail training delivered by shadowing someone.
This approach has few upsides, as you are trusting another employee to train a newbie. There’s really only one plus: money. You aren’t spending additional dollars to get employees to travel to a location; you aren’t purchasing additional materials or paying overtime for travel or after-hours training.
The downsides to shadow or buddy training are many:
Self-paced retail sales training.
This also has very few pluses:
But the minuses of self-paced retail sales training are serious:
A great retail sales training program is logical. It builds from the ground up with exactly what to do at every step. It makes it easy for anyone observing, coaching, or managing it to know exactly where someone is in the process.
The time it takes to train varies. Generally, the onboarding phase of retail sales training takes from 5-10 hours. The product knowledge phase should allow about 10 hours for the top 25 SKUs.
For in-person behavioral retail sales training, or training of the soft skills, allot a minimum of three hours exposure to the material to start. For an online program, you need a minimum of an hour of content.
The time it would take to master that content on the salesfloor with role-playing, trial and error with shoppers, and comfort level of the learner, however, would be closer to thirty to forty hours.
Training is not something to get through. It’s not as easy as passing a simple test.
Training is the heart and backbone of your retail operations.
If you are a new store, you should begin retail sales training at least six weeks prior to opening, so every crew member knows exactly what it takes to create an exceptional experience. That way, from the soft opening to the Grand Opening and beyond, anyone who visits your store will get the same treatment. Many boutique retailers miss this important step and make excuses such as Sorry, we’re new, which never leads to shopper loyalty.
For a more established store or stores, you can start any time to improve your sales. While it is generally best to be done with retail sales training by November 15, some training is better than none. The key is having an employee meeting to establish why you are adding retail sales training and taking questions so employees don’t sabotage your efforts.
Retail sales training and customer service training are similar, but are not really the same.
Retail sales training is designed to convert more shoppers into customers so the store can exceed sales goals. Customer service training is most often used to keep existing customers from leaving and to improve Net Promoter Score or social media reviews.
Some think customer service magically happens after a purchase while selling happens before.
I think great customer service happens because of great retail sales training that allows a retail associate to build an exceptional experience customers rave about through reviews, word-of-mouth, and social media posts.
Costs for retail sales training vary depending on which of the four different types you choose, but here is a good range:
If you use a professional retail sales training program and have a 100% commitment to success from the top down, and if the training is mentored in such a way to inspect what is expected, you should expect a lift in your key performance indicators (KPIs.)
After about 3-6 months, enough of your selling culture should have been upgraded to see a bump in your average number of items per sale and average check. Those two are most affected by your retail associates.
Retail sales training should include anyone in charge of monitoring or managing your sales staff. That would include your HR Director, OPS Director, District Managers, Managers, and Assistant Managers because if they don’t know what is being trained, how will they know whether the associates are using what is taught?
Here is a video on how to roll out a retail sales training program:
To make sure your training works, the CEO or COO will almost certainly have to be included early in the process so they can allocate additional funding for the project. This is key because you don’t want them surprised by the cost, or t0 have unrealistic expectations about what measurable improvements will happen within a month.
You should welcome anyone’s requests for updates and measurements because you have taken the time and have planned from the beginning to get everyone on the same page.
At the store level, you need to align all of your managers by describing why you want to offer retail sales training, what you expect to achieve from it, and how easy it will be to implement.
You don’t want your hard-earned research and planning to be greeted with a roll of the eyes and a look that says look another thing from corporate to have to do. You need your managers, who are usually on a bonus program for achieving sales targets, to see what a great tool this can be to help them make more money.
And since many stores expect the manager or assistants to train new hires personally for hours, explain how using an online retail sales training program like my SalesRX means they just have to schedule the training and monitor and coach. They no longer have to train individually, which allows them to do more—especially during the crush hiring times of back-to-school and the holidays.
Once you have everyone on board, remember that data is your friend. While online retail sales training has testing and certifications built in, using an outside corporate trainer still gives you the opportunity to build your own tests for comprehension.
The biggest way to tell, however, is by listening to the interactions from your associates and shoppers. One woman called me several months after starting my SalesRX program and told me that since using the program, she’s noticed her customers have all gotten nicer.
I had to correct her by saying, “Your customers didn’t get nicer, you did.” When associates learn to build rapport, that learning spills over into your entire corporate culture, which makes your entire retail operation run more efficiently and successfully.
If you already are training your employees on how to sell, here are three ways to improve your training:
Role-play. Many employees say they hate it, but any trainer worth their pay loves it. That’s because the value of role-playing isn’t the employee in front of the group trying to see what they learned, but rather it is the whole group seeing themselves and learning not to make the same mistakes.
Huddle. Hold a morning huddle every day to keep your associates focused on your customer, not on tasks. Give them one aspect of selling they can all focus on that day. At some point, it’s not so much we need to be taught as much as we need to be reminded.
Unpack. When something goes wrong and results in a customer complaint or a lost sale, privately get with the salesperson and unpack how the sale went down. You are looking for where friction developed or trust didn’t. Make it a learning exercise and ask the associate what they could have done differently. Don’t do their thinking for them; make them make the connections in their brains. It does them no good to just listen to you talk.
If you’ve been training and your numbers have not lifted or your employees are not taking your online courses, you need to step back. You need to have a hard look at yourself to discover why the training is not working.
If the training is from a third party and you know it works, ask yourself if it was launched effectively. If they aren’t taking to the training, maybe they feel they are above having to train at all. They also could be challenging you, letting you know that they don’t think much of you or your training.
That said, if they were a bad employee before you started retail sales training, they’ll still be a bad employee once you begin. It is not unusual to have to replace employees who do not have the will to change.
Retail sales training can give anyone the skills of how to build rapport and make the sale, but it can’t give them the will to do it.
And threatening that you will fire them if they don’t take the training won’t work—because, without an open heart, they’ll just want to get through it. They won’t end up using it.
If your training is all in-house, take a hard look at your materials and methods. Would a stranger know exactly what they were supposed to do without explanation? If not, you have some work to do.
Once you’ve passed all those hurdles at starting a retail sales training program, how do you keep up the momentum?
The key is to share your key metrics of average ticket, average number of units per sale, and conversion rates with everyone. Ideally these would all be public, so all of your employees can see that those who have taken the training are enjoying higher sales.
Those who aren’t using it or who are struggling will need a bit of counsel to understand this is not just the initiative of the day, and you’re serious about expecting results.
Quite simply, there is nothing I need to drive to your brick and mortar store to purchase that I can’t buy online.
Since most retailers make their money selling brands that are widely available, you only have two ways to compete: price and experience.
The days of leveraging price and promotion are dead. There’s always someone cheaper online.
The only differentiator a store can offer is to craft a truly exceptional experience. While it might happen on its own with a particular associate or a really engaged shopper, conversions are still hit-or-miss.
Retail sales training, like a movie or a good book, has a structure that is understandable and repeatable. You can build your sales any time and with anyone, as long as your shopper receives an exceptional experience.
Particularly with Millennial employees who grew up on video games and instnt rewards, online learning is uniquely able to deliver bite-sized moments that build up to a complete selling presentation. Their generation is the most educated and hopeful group you can hire. Video training speaks to them, and teaches them in a quick and easy way the soft skills they didn’t accumulate through their life experiences.
Some retailers still look at their employees as disposable and now are thinking they can just open an online store and be successful. If it were 20 years ago, I would agree.
But it’s not.
Over 55% of searches start on Amazon, and Wall Street allows them to have lost 7 billion in free shipping and free returns in 2016 alone. I don’t know any retailer that can afford that—especially when online returns are stated to run between 30-50%.
No, the main way your brick and mortar store can compete is by concentrating on your own four walls with the associates you hire, by investing in training to make them the best, and by rewarding and recognizing them for hitting their sales goals.
A big challenge can arise from employees not knowing why you are doing this or what will be expected. Your goal is for them to master the learning, not just get through it—so explain there will be plenty of time to practice and ask questions.
As I’ve said earlier, if someone was a bad associate prior to you offering new or expanded sales training, they’ll still be a bad employee. And, if you let them, they’ll poison your whole crew to the entire idea of training before you even start.
If you know from past experience you have someone like that, you need to take them aside and have a heart-to-heart; just ask them what they think of the idea. A good place to do this is at a coffeehouse, away from all other employees.
After they give you reasons why it won’t or can’t work, ask if there are any other reasons they can think of. Then ask them to suggest how those problems might be dealt with.
Tell them you’re going to offer sales training and that you will take their suggestions to heart. Make it clear, you are going forward, and you need them to support it 100%. Don’t leave until they can agree, and then tell them you won’t be having this conversation again and that you appreciate their 100% support.
When it comes to retail sales training, do:
By now, I hope you see retail sales training isn’t a short topic, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how easily you can access world-class retail sales training for your staff by checking out my in-person options and online retail sales training system SalesRX.
This one article, if put into practice by retailers across the globe, could be the foundation for how to compete against online retailers and win.
Whatever method you use, however you deliver it, and whatever it costs, your goal is to raise conversions of shoppers visiting your brick and mortar store and to limit discounting. Retail sales training is just a tool to help you accomplish your goal of achieving higher sales.
You’re training to create an experience people want to have as opposed to just educating associates on product knowledge.
Shoppers are armed with more data than ever when they walk through your doors, so you have to use your own data to measure just how good a job your associates are doing at converting your browsers into buyers.
Shifting your focus from just getting retail associates to understand a sales process and moving them to actually using it is going to help you create better customer service, increase both your shopper satisfaction scores and reviews...all of which rolls up into having created an exceptional experience for each and every shopper.