There are many challenges for home furnishing retailers, but arguably, the biggest challenge is not competition, merchandising, or marketing. It’s sales training.
None of the other efforts that retailers make account for anything if the product is not sold. There is an inverse ratio between RSA (Retail Sales Associates) competence and “just lookers”.
Most retailers understand this and have terrific ongoing sales training programs.
It’s important to note the dramatic difference between training for mattress sales as opposed to home furnishing sales. The reason? It’s the shopper’s attitude and mindset that makes the difference. Consumers think of mattresses as utilitarian and they approach the process using intellect logic and reason to discern value. Whereas home furnishings shoppers typically are motivated to upgrade their lifestyle and emotion plays a big role. RSA’s need to be trained to know the difference and to be able to adapt accordingly.
But there is an overarching issue that, if acknowledged, focused upon and incorporated, can set the stage to make all sales training more effective. TRUST.
At the end of the day, most shoppers elect to buy from a sales associate they like and trust. Trust is achieved through competence, being up to the task, conscience, having a core set of principles, and concern, caring for others’ well being.
Trust is the intangible and transcending assurance that creates loyalty and compels people to buy with confidence. The assumption is if the RSA is trustworthy, it’s likely the company and brand are trustworthy as well.
Can trust be taught? Actually, yes it can.
I call it Trust Training: a holistic, comprehensive approach to sales training that involves all three aspects of each individual: Mind, Body and Spirit…
The 3 P’s of Trust Training
1. Perspectives (What we know)
2. Practices (What we do)
3. Principles (Who we are)
Consumers trust confident, knowledgeable sales associates. Perspective skills training should be an ongoing evolving program to raise the competency level of all associates and should include the following:
Product knowledge: Not a rote memorization of specs, but the actual qualities, features, benefits and comfort characteristics of all products. RSA’s must learn how to objectively navigate their way around the sales floor in response to each customer’s unique needs and preferences.
Selling skills: A focus on customer satisfaction using real life situational selling. Use your own experiences and draw upon experts in our field. There are many resources available including, tapes, DVDs, books and magazines. Of course there is a plethora of information on the Internet. Furniture Training Company is an excellent resource.
Awareness skills: Perspective skills training should include a big picture look at the importance of each and every customer, the effect that a quality mattress has upon the customer’s health and well-being and the important role the sales associate plays in the selection process.
Company information: All sales associates should learn and know as much about the company as possible, including policies and procedures and company history. They should also spend time with all other departments, accounting, delivery, maintenance, etc. to see how everyone in the company plays a role in creating a positive experience for the customer.
Practical sales training can put knowledge and skills into action. Training includes three phases, (more P’s) Preparation: what to do before working with a customer, Presentation: what to do and say in the presence of a customer, and Post Sale Care: what to do after the sale to ensure that the customer is satisfied with their purchase and experience.
Preparation begins with daily rituals, including checking on inventory, sales, events, or any other issue that may impact the customers’ experience. This includes cleaning and straightening up the sales floor, making sure all models, signage, and POP materials are in place and in good order. Each salesperson should get in the habit of looking at the store as if he or she were a customer shopping visiting the store for the first time. A clean, well-kept store evokes positive feelings. Bathrooms are the litmus test.
Sales associates should be encouraged to use a consultative style and an unbiased approach dealing with consumers as individuals, without letting his or her own personal preferences or motivations influence the selection process. An attitude of serving rather than selling is crucial. Shoppers perceive motive.
Customers want to buy from associates who care about their needs. One of the best ways to communicate care is by asking meaningful questions and giving well-informed answers that address the customer’s particular situation. The entire selling process should be an exchange between buyer and seller with the common goal of finding the best possible mattress and closing the sale!
Not asking for the sale is a disservice and waste of time for the buyer and seller.
Post Sale Care
Follow up may be the most important element of all practices to make sure every customer has peace of mind, is satisfied with both the product and their shopping experience and to thank them for their business.
Unfortunately, customer service issues can sometimes occur. When that happens RSA’s must go above and beyond the customer’s expectation to resolve it. By promptly solving a customer issue, one can in fact create more trust.
It’s true when a customer has a problem that is resolved beyond their expectation, it creates a more favorable feeling towards the company than not having a problem in the first place! (However, I don’t suggest creating problems to achieve that goal. LOL)
Can people be trained to have good principles? I’m not sure, but we can set and enforce a standard of expectation as to how customers are to be treated.
Most customer service problems don’t arise from a lack of care as they do from a lack of awareness. It’s just human nature that we sometimes fail to see the impact that we can have on others and they upon us.
Through daily reminders, issues of honesty, integrity, compassion, and service should be stated and reinforced in a variety of ways.
A mission statement is a great way to set your standards and it should be posted for all to see. Yes, even customers.
Every day should begin with a conscientious review of that mission with an all-consuming focus on how to provide an outstanding customer experience. Over time, that shared vision becomes second nature, company identity.
Retailers that incorporate Trust Training can set the stage to make their existing training programs more effective. Creating a culture of trust will most certainly bring a new, higher level of success.
Gerry Morris is an author, speaker, sales trainer and consultant with over 25 years of experience in the home furnishings industry.
Gerry is the author of two widely-read books, Spring Training and Sell More Beds Guaranteed! He currently writes the Closing Words column together with feature articles for Sleep Savvy Magazine. For more information visit SellMoreBeds.com