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From Home Furnishing Business

Avoiding Some of the Pitfalls of New Technology

This month’s theme deals with Retail Innovation and new ideas that have freshened up our stale industry in the last decade or so. It is a great subject for us to address because innovation normally involves some changes to how you do things and change is not easy for most of us individually. It is even more difficult to create and drive it within an organization! Most successful businesses embrace change and are able to make it happen within the company, helping them maintain an edge on their competition.

Sometimes in our excitement and desire to embrace new ideas, we rush forward without properly considering if it is actually the best thing for us to do. Other times we might not have the discipline to properly implement a new program. As a result, we can either end up doing something that is not right for us or doing something that is right for us the wrong way - ending up in a way that doesn’t gain the maximum benefit for the change we have created.

Every situation and company is different, so it is difficult in a brief article to put forward recommendations that will work for everyone. However, we have seen some pitfalls on the sales side and can give you some cautionary advice about how to reduce the possibility of having an unintended negative result from bringing innovative new ideas, systems and/or processes into your selling organization.

First off, I must say that personally I am kind of a Geek for new technology and ideas! I love being up to date with my devices, systems and processes and enjoy the challenges of changing things I do for the better. That said, I have found that not everything that is new is necessarily better and some new things that work for one person or company, don’t work well for others. There are many reasons for this, which involve a wide range of issues from ingrained culture or habits to current knowledge or abilities.

One issue we have seen is that somewhere in the pursuit of innovation and change, companies often forget who they are and how they got there. So my main caution is that in the mad rush to embrace change, don’t forget what has worked and abandon any of the things that have helped made you successful in the past. As the old coach once said: “blocking and tackling still win football games!” Here are examples of some pitfalls to consider as you embrace new sales support systems, processes and technology:

Automated Sales Reporting Pitfall

This will open a can of worms, so let’s start with it right away! A critical element of sales management has always been the consistent reporting of accurate sales performance data, so that it can be used to measure each individual’s results on the selling floor. There are three steps to this process: gathering the numbers, organizing/tracking them and most importantly, reporting them in such a way that the sales manager can use them during the coaching process to help improve each person’s performance. In the very beginning, before computers, the sales person wrote down their daily results and gave them to the sales manager who recorded them in a spreadsheet and made calculations to come up with coachable statistics like closing rate, average sale and revenue per Up.

With the advent of computer systems, this process has become more and more automated, in some cases, to the point where no one actually “touches the numbers” until the system spits out the reports. The question is: have we streamlined the process to the point where no one actually takes ownership of the numbers and thus the results?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for making things easier and cutting out paperwork so we can spend more time with our people and they can focus more on their customers! The point I want you to consider is that when sales people had to write down information on their sales each day, the numbers seemed to matter more to them – at the end of each day they faced how they did. When managers had to get the sheets and input them into the system, they too knew what each person had done and what had happened that day in the store – in real time. Everyone in the process had a role they understood and because of that they were better able to work together, using the reports to determine where and how to improve sales. Isn’t that better than just collecting a sheet of paper off the printer, after the fact, and putting it into a mailbox or worse yet just emailing a file to each sales person?

I can tell you that those retailers who have automated the reporting process but still kept the staff involved in all of the steps, tend to perform better. So be careful just how streamlined you make this important process and make sure that in so doing, you have not watered down the importance of “owning the numbers”.

Selling Process Pitfalls

One of the most exciting things I have seen in the last decade is the use of Tablets on the selling floor to assist and augment the process of helping a customer find the product they want and creating the room/home of their dreams! To me this is one of the greatest potential uses of new technology for the sales person. We know that the majority of people we end up seeing begin their search online and most likely visit many sites including ours, before visiting a store. So in a very real way, we are an extension or continuation of that tech based process and the more we can tie into it the better. We also know that if the sales person has to leave a customer in search of information, they have a greater likelihood of losing that sale. Lastly, having web sites, design ideas and the ability to draw or create a room with the customer on the floor using their tablet provides further excitement and can enhance the process for some customers. All of that said, there are some things you need to keep in mind as you design and implement any selling process technology:

  • A critical factor in having technology in the hands of the sales person is obviously their ability to use it “gracefully” and only when needed. Too often I have seen sales people act like a kid with a new toy and focus mainly on showing the customer all it can do instead of on how they can use it to help. Make sure anybody using Tablets/PCs to work with customers is fully trained not only in how to make the device work, but also on how to use it in the selling process – don’t assume they know, they don’t!
  • Many people are technophobic or intimidated by technology. They may not be comfortable working with a sales person using technology. In this case it could still be a good support tool to get information, but it should not be at the center of the process.
  • One of the things I have personally felt when working with a professional who is using a Tablet to take notes or to help me find something, is that it often seems to be a distraction, with the person spending more effort interacting with it than with me. We are there to create a personal touch in the process otherwise they might as well buy on the internet! Don’t let it get in the way of that happening.
  • There are some great sketching apps, which could be used to sketch with a customer during the selling process. However, in my experience they are not as quick, convenient nor as effective as a good old-fashion free hand sketch. Sketching during the selling process is meant to be a very simple and quick drawing of the room to help the sales person gather needed information and create a visual representation that will help them solve the customer’s problem. It may be powerful for design customers that are willing to sit down and spend more time on it, but for the vast majority of retail encounters using a Tablet to sketch is too cumbersome and detracts from the process, instead of facilitating it.

Other Potential New Technology Pitfalls

  • The Furniture Training Company and several vendors have created extremely useful online programs to assist retailers in their efforts to get sales people trained and keep them up-to-date. Our view is that any quality online training program you use will most certainly help improve performance. However, there is nothing that replaces in-person, face-to-face, sales training. Online and video type sessions are great at presenting information like product knowledge, but it takes hands-on training and coaching to instill the behaviors they will need to consistently apply that knowledge on the sales floor. Don’t think that you can maximize your success with only online training, best if you use both.

I am all for using an automated system to contact customers to set up delivery, get survey responses and/or just to stay in touch. They get the job done relatively well and are better than not having it happen at all. My biggest caution with any of the new technology that deals with the consumer is that we do not let it replace the person-to-person contact and relationship that separates us from the online buying process and turns customers into lifelong clients of a company. Never let an automated system completely replace the personal touch that has built all of our businesses!

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