From Home Furnishing Business
By Tom Zollar
In each of the Coach’s Corner columns, I have touched on many of the things a sales team coach must do and why they should be done. Game planning, goal setting and training—each is critical to the coaching process.
This month I am addressing one of the most important tools a sales manager has to determine what needs to be done on the floor with the sales people to drive sales performance improvement. Unfortunately, much like the goal setting process, this is also one of the most underused aspects of the coaching process.
I say this because of my experience in hundreds of furniture stores where, invariably, the sales manager spends more time in his or her office than on the selling floor where all the action is. The reason given for this is always the same: “I don’t have time.” As stated in previous articles, in order to maximize performance, a sales manager should have time for little else than those things related to high-quality leadership of the sales team. To do that, they must know what is happening when each team member interacts with customers, and there is only one truly reliable way to do that—observation.
The term coaching and the practice of observation go hand-in-hand in any discipline where skills are definable and teachable. The sports analogies are limitless; using them can provide insight into the kind of coaching needed for furniture stores. Imagine a gymnastics or golf coach trying to improve or teach the basic skills to an athlete without watching them perform. How would they know where to start or what to cover without knowing where the person is at in the learning and development process? It simply is not possible.
Yet that is often what happens in furniture stores. The coaches are usually somewhere else doing other “important” things instead of watching the most important action of all. Business is dependent upon the individual skills of salespeople in the process of personal selling. Much of this activity takes place totally outside the view or direct area of influence of a coach. Few ever get to see players in action. This is why the kinds of performance variances exist in stores and tend to surprise us.
When a coach watches an athlete perform, there is usually a game plan in place. Everyone knows their job and the role of the other players. Perhaps one reason that observation for coaching purposes has been so little used in the furniture industry is that there isn’t a game plan in place. That missing game plan could outline how to observe and things to look for.
I have discussed the need to create a game plan and what it should include in previous issues. The plan begins with measurements and understanding the use of them to establish standards of performance in areas like close ratio and average sale. Revenue per up should be used to measure overall effectiveness and efficiency. This information demonstrates who to look at and in many cases what to look for—things like poor opening or closing skills or weak needs analysis.
These numbers are the result of how staff interacts with customers on the floor. In order to improve performance, the part of the game plan that really needs to be focused on when we observe, are the steps sales people are trained to use in the selling process. These behaviors will help them succeed. Are they playing the game by established rules or making up their own with each customer? Observing their actions allows us to provide the coaching, advice, counseling and additional training each person needs to be more effective at helping our customers create the rooms they want to live in.
Here are a few recommendations as starting points in establishing observation strategies:
How to Observe—Two Main Methods
1. Scheduled Time Observation—This gives the manager and the salesperson scheduled one-on-one time and should be used by managers whenever possible, especially with new hires. The salesperson should introduce the manager as an observer who will tag along. Be sure to ask the customer’s permission. If the customer knows who the manager is, all questions will be directed to manager, putting the salesperson in the observer’s role. Ensure the sales person remains the leader of selling process.
2. Ad Hoc Observation for Specific Skills—This method allows the manager to listen for specific things, like greetings, from one or more salespeople. It is a good idea to limit the scope to one or two behaviors at a time, concentrating on a key area of the selling process. This is useful when sales managers are already on the floor doing other things. This method allows managers to observe a lot of people, who are supposed to be doing the same thing in a prescribed manner, in different situations.
· Other than with new hires, the sales manager’s role is to observe, not participate. Sometimes the most difficult thing to do during an observation is to remain silent. Sales people are totally on their own, as they would be if the sales manager weren’t present. This is an opportunity to view the world as it really is. A sales person will likely change some of their behavior with the presence of a sales manager. That’s OK. It helps them learn.
· Never use observation to punish or criticize a salesperson. This should be viewed as a learning exercise during which both the sales manager and salesperson can measure the results against all of the principles and standards of performance you have agreed to in the performance agreement.
· To motivate people, catch them doing something right and let them know it. Positive reinforcement of the right behaviors is extremely effective. If possible, try to have two positive comments for every negative one.
· Schedule at least one observation with each salesperson once per month. People consistently performing below expectations must be scheduled weekly, and new hires require daily observation.
· Provide feedback. Record observations and provide each person with feedback immediately after his or her customer contact ends. Begin the session by asking the sales person for their assessment on what went well and where improvement can be made. Then offer your observations. Always base comments on things that have been taught and are mutually understood. Do not ask for behaviors that have not yet been taught or that are not part of the retailer’s selling process.
· Get out on the floor. Customers like seeing managers and owners on the sales floor showing an interest in what is going on and offering friendly greetings and assistance. On busy days, managers should act as the greeter, meeting as many overflow customers as possible and determining where to send the next available salesperson.
Some managers will walk the floor, meeting as many customers as possible and providing support for salespeople. Simply stopping by and sitting with a salesperson who is working with a customer and being casually introduced by the salesperson can have a tremendous effect on customers. Offering a few supportive words can be a great topper for the salesperson.
This is also a great way to observe what is going on and to be a closer part of the action on the floor. When sales people are accustomed to having a sales manager on the floor a larger portion of the time observing standards of performance set forth in selling strategies, improvement will come.
What to Look For
To know what to observe, simply look for the steps in your store’s selling process. It is all there. Here is a checklist:
Attitude What does the salesperson bring to the door with them? How is their body language? Did they smile? Are they enthusiastic?
Greeting Did they use a proper greeting?
Social Was the salesperson more a person than a salesperson?
Lookers Did the salesperson handle “I’m just looking” properly?
Offer of Assistance Did the salesperson use the proper dialog at the right time?
Establish Trust What dialog was used? Does the salesperson get it?
Sketching Yes, or no?
Presentation Did the salesperson use the sketch? Did he understand product?
Objections Did they use positive reinforcement?
Close Did the salesperson ask of the sale then remain silent?
Client Development Did they forecast follow-up?