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From Home Furnishing Business

Is Your Sales Manager Leading Performance Growth or Merely Providing Adult Day-Care?

This month’s issue is dedicated to Sales Management, which is of course the focus of this column. Over the last few years we have presented many aspects of this critical function within your retail organization, touching on things like recruiting, training, performance measurement and coaching. Interestingly, I don’t believe that we have ever truly defined some of the basic principles, beliefs and understandings that are the basis of every successful sales management effort. So, this column will pull some information from the beginning of our Sales Management Training Guide that is intended to set up the proper foundation for any program a client implements in their store. Sometimes going back to review the basics is a valuable way to assess where you are and where you need to go with your current efforts.

The question the title of this article presents, is based on what is meant to be a humorous commentary about what a sales manager ends up doing much of the time in most retail stores. Unfortunately, it is often a more accurate depiction of the situation than any business owner would want it to be. The reason is that many mangers get so wrapped-up in solving the daily issues of their staff, that they lose sight of their real role which is to provide performance leadership that consistently improves the team’s results and actually makes all of their lives better. 

There are many reasons this happens, but the biggest one is that most managers are normal human beings that just want to be liked by others, and a lot of what it takes to be a great manager and leader, might be perceived as running contrary to that goal. I am talking about setting up and maintaining two of the most important principles of performance management: accountability and discipline. It takes dedication and courage to take a stand on very important issues. Most of us tend to negotiate and give in more than we should which dilutes our management efforts and reduces our impact as a leader. In the end, we allow our sales floors to become “Democracies” where everyone has a vote and we do whatever the majority (or in many cases just the strongest personalities) wants. 

While that might be a good way to run a country, it is a terrible way to manage a performance team. Yes, you most certainly want to listen and take input from your players. They, along with your customers, are indeed your most valuable source for feedback to improve how you do things. Getting your staff’s “buy-in” for what you do is extremely important. But, in the end, it is not absolutely necessary. I have always thought that most businesses need to be Benevolent Dictatorships in order to maximize their results and be as effective as possible at whatever they do. Your sales floor is no different. Jack Welch said, you need three people to run any business: a visionary to set the course, a business person to run it and oversee how things work, and lastly an SOB to make it all happen! If you are in business for yourself you must at times be all three. Your sales manager is certainly someone who has to make things happen and therefore will be called upon at times to make some tough decisions and do the “dirty work”. That is what you pay them to do. 

In order to make the right decisions and run your sales effort properly, management has to have the right basis to make these judgements. They must be principle based and everyone on the team needs to understand and believe in the same things in order to build a strong culture that delivers great customer experiences and develops solid client relationships consistently. Here is the foundation we give our managers to help them be successful leading a performance based, selling effort at their stores.

All members of the Management team must understand that they share accountability for the continued growth and health of the company.  No company can survive without growth for very long.  Staying still usually means going backwards as competitors gain a greater share of the market.  Growth can be achieved in several ways.

Share of market can be increased through aggressive advertising.  This method is costly and involves risk as we seek to find the right combination of media, message and budget.  We can also increase our share of market by adding additional facilities -- opening new stores or expanding existing ones.  This involves capital expenditures and generally high risk.

Alternately, we can increase our share of customer by instituting sales strategies, practices and methods that concentrate on increasing the amount each customer buys from us today and in the future.  Share of customer requires better management of the customers who already shop our store.  

There are only three ways to increase sales in an existing furniture store:  increase traffic, increase the percentage of customers sold from that traffic, and increase the amount sold to each customer.  Increasing any one of these factors will increase total volume.  Improving any combination of them will compound the effect even further.  

Agents of Change

The sales manager as a key agent of change in any organization.  In order to achieve increases in average sale and close ratio, changes are required to many of the methods in use by salespeople.  Change is never achieved easily in any organization for many reasons.  These reasons are often cultural, with new methods and ideas coming into conflict with long-standing and accepted company or individual practices and policies.  It is the responsibility of the sales manager to champion new paradigms in the selling culture.

The principles of sales management below are aimed at aligning the sales manager’s own paradigm so that it will be possible for him or her to bring about changes within the sales force.

 High-Performance Organizations

Well-managed organizations with clear visions of the future who have understandable missions that are reflected in the day-to-day work of employees and management, and who share common goals with employees, are usually high-performance organizations.

In such companies, employees can experience a high level of satisfaction and, in many cases, enjoy a high quality of life at work and at home.  Owners and stockholders also share in the benefits of such organizations and provide a high quality of support and leadership in return.

Most important, customers who interact with such companies also enjoy the high-quality care and attention to their needs that they seek, developing strong loyalties to both the company and to the individuals with whom they interact.  This is true customer satisfaction.

The management principles spelled out here are the basis for a high-performance organization.  They are aimed at enhancing the quality of life for all parties.

Underlying Principles

In sales management as in all disciplines, it is as important to be doing the right things as it is to be doing things right.  Experience with hundreds of successful furniture stores show that these are the right things for sales managers to be doing.

The following principles underlie all aspects of a solid sales management program:

  • Our business is driven by the needs our customers have to create beautiful home environments. We don’t just “sell furniture”, we make people happier in their homes which is a much higher calling.
  • Our universal industry mission is to help our customers discover how to use our products to enhance their quality of life instead of just how to buy our products. We turn houses into homes.
  • The needs of the customer must always take precedence over the needs of the salesperson. Sales people do not own customers, customers own sales people.
  • Sales managers need to manage the right things. Accountability and agreed upon goals are a key element to this.
  • People want to be part of a high performing work team. This is universally true, but particularly so for those that will be most successful on your team.
  • People have personal goals but lack any structured, organized way of achieving them. It would be great if our schools taught our kids to do this, but they don’t, so you need to help them learn how to create a plan and execute it.
  • It is better to be fair, supportive and demanding than to just be nice and allow people to fail. It is like being a parent, do you really want to let your kids fail? 
  • People require and deserve dedicated, principle-based leadership. Good to great people in particular will only work in this type of environment or culture.
  • What is not measured cannot be changed. The best way to show that something is important is to measure it, track it, report it and coach improvement of it.
  • Managers manage individual people not groups. Only when each player performs at their peak does a team truly maximize its success. 

It really boils down to using these principles to build a selling and service centered culture within your store. Without them you will end up making the wrong decisions and not doing the right things to be successful. Once your culture is in place and you have developed the discipline to consistently do the right things for your clients, life for everyone concerned will be a positive experience.

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