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From Home Furnishing Business

Coaching the Coach – A Sales Management Training Overview

By Tom Zollar

Have your Sales Managers actually been trained or are they self-taught? Is their focus on providing the best customer experience possible or on putting out fires? Do they have the right systems and procedures in place or are the flying by the seat of their pants? Do they understand the role of sales metrics in the coaching process or do they just use them to punish low performers? If the answer to the first part of each of these questions isn’t “Yes”, then there may be room for improvement in your sales management effort and as a result, your staff’s performance.

Unfortunately, many small and medium sized retail furniture stores cannot answer these questions positively. Even some larger ones would struggle to hit on half of them. Obviously, the key query of the four is the initial one. Because the result of a proper, formal sales management training effort should be that a store’s sales management team focuses on customer experience, has the right systems/procedures and uses the numbers to coach and drive sales growth. In my experience, fewer retailers today invest in a professional training program for their sales management team than in the past. As a result, most sales managers I meet are self-taught, which in many cases means they were basically trained by the very people they are supposed to manage. I think we can all agree that is not the best scenario since a key component in managing a sales staff is accountability and that is not something that many sales people are apt to ask their manager to provide on the sales floor.

When I started in the business over 40 years ago, there were many programs and providers available for a furniture retailer to choose from that would help their sales managers get started on the right foot. They also helped upper management learn how to coach the coach, which was the key to having consistent success developing great sales leaders for our industry. At the time, the strong domestic vendor structure we had in the USA supported and promoted these programs. As a result, most managers I encountered then had taken advantage of at least one opportunity. While there are still some organizations and consulting companies that offer this type of learning experience for retailers, it seems that fewer and fewer stores are willing to invest the time and money to train their sales managers. We then wonder why it is so hard to hire, develop and keep good sales people in our stores when a key to making that happen is having a strong sales management effort on the sales floor.

In many of the past Coach’s Corner columns we have pointed out what managers should be doing to drive sales performance improvement in your stores. We have presented our thoughts about hiring, coaching and training sales people. Last May we discussed the essence of sales management and the things you need to put in place for it to deliver the results you want. This month I thought we would give you some insight into the elements we think you should have in any sales management program you either provide in-house or receive from an outside supplier. Together with the foundational information presented in last year’s issue, you should have a pretty complete picture of the areas you want to address in your program.

The May 2017 Coach’s Corner article includes details about sales managers being agents of change, the need to develop a high-performance organization and underlying principles your program should address. These will provide a good basis to introduce your program and position it as a part of your total approach to business. Once that is done, our course covers the two major areas critical to managing a sales team: The first is Management Functions, which include decision making regarding policies, strategies and the establishment of your basic structure/systems. The second one consists of the Coaching Disciplines, which are the functions that define the sales manager’s job on a day-to-day basis.

The Management Functions


As we have discussed in many previous articles, there are three key measurements that provide the foundation data for driving performance improvement in furniture stores:  traffic (number of UPs), close ratio (number sold versus number seen), and average sale (total volume divided by the number of sales made).  A fourth measure — revenue per UP (total volume divided by the number of UPs) — is also important to management for analysis of overall individual effectiveness.  Your section on measurement must discuss these in detail, showing how they can be used by managers to determine store and individual potential and establish the service standard for handling customers and begin the goal-setting process. Whatever system you use to track and report these critical metrics must be in place and your managers should be schooled in how to use it, from data entry to report creation.

Selling Strategies

Managers must participate in developing your store selling strategies, so that they have total buy-in on them and understand why they exist. This will include polices and procedures, plus tactics that lay the groundwork for implementation of the principles and methods in whatever sales program you use. This is where management sets the rules of engagement for the entire selling process, including your UPs System, selling steps, client development and other customer focused elements that your sales team must perform.

Staffing and Scheduling / Recruiting and Hiring

Managers need to be trained on how to use the information from the previous sections to determine how many salespeople are needed to fulfill the selling strategy and to ensure that adequate time is allowed for them to do it with each and every opportunity they encounter. Time related traffic counts must be used to determine when floor coverage is required, and a secure monitoring system should be put in place to maintain the information flow. Once this is known, the next critical step to staffing is recruiting and hiring. Insights need to be given into successful strategies and methods to ensure that sales managers always have resumes on hand from people who want to work in their stores, that they can reach out to when openings develop. Finding good people is a function of good recruiting practices and having high-performance managers.

The Coaching Disciplines

Goal Development

Your segment on goal development must present the principles and methods for motivational goal development utilizing knowledge and information from the previous sections.  We recommend developing employee-centered goals as a method for gaining commitment. Goals that your sales people develop for themselves provide them with ownership and create far more motivation then those management gives them. We utilize a workshop to ensure that sales managers employ correct methodology when assisting employees in setting their goals, so that they are meaningful and drive the growth the business needs.

Training Strategies

Your program must provide managers with specific methods and instruction in how to train adults so new skills will be learned and applied in real life situations. The use of structured, non-threatening role plays ensures that a high percentage of new skills will be internalized by participants. They need to develop a training schedule for new hires which gets them prepared to begin assisting customers in as little as three weeks with high levels of product knowledge and selling skills. Then they need to be prepared to use the following steps to help the new hires and existing staff members become as successful as possible.

Observation as a Management Tool

Observation is your manager’s best tool for determining who and what to coach. Therefore, they need to be trained to use on-the-floor observation of individual performance as a key coaching method. You need to provide guidelines and suggestions to make this concept become part of the store’s performance improvement culture.  Observation should be directed by the performance measurements and focused on improving them. This is your key form of visual performance measurement.

Feedback for Performance Improvement

Observation without feedback is a waste of time, because it is feedback that drives behavioral change and performance improvement. Your program must present the paramount importance of daily feedback as a crucial coaching tool in the goal management process. Make sure your managers understand the importance of making goals achievement a primary management and organization focus.

One-on-One Meetings

One-on-one meetings are the most effective method to achieve immediate and long-term results. Your program needs to take participants through the structure and format of a one-on-one meeting between a salesperson and a manager. This is where the rubber meets the road and is the most powerful communication opportunity managers have with their staff members, therefore they must be trained how do it right consistently.

|Supervisor Meetings

Supervisor meetings are all about coaching the coach. Owners and GMs need to be trained to use the same methods discussed in previous chapters, so they can meet regularly to drive improvement to the sales management process for the organization. Your program needs to present strategies that will ensure that the management team works smoothly together and establishes systems for regular high-level communications.

Sales Management Training Summary

We believe that the above list is the bare minimum that needs to be addressed in a sales management training program for the retail furniture business.  Any sales manager who becomes proficient in the performance of these factors will be successful, because managing in accordance with these principles, methods and practices will help remove some of the dangerous subjectivity and personal trauma inherent in the process of dealing with individuals from a position of leadership.  Performance results dictate outcomes; difficult decisions regarding individuals can be made based on detailed data rather than on opinions and guesswork.

Any program you create yourself or purchase from an outside provider, should be a holistic one that embraces the entire selling experience related to the buying experiences of your customers.  If your sales manager has not had any formal training, someone needs to start coaching the coach to help them develop into the sales leader every store needs. As a sales management consultant, I highly recommend that you check out the programs that are available in our industry, find one that fits your store culture, then invest in your manager so they can return the favor by growing your business.

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