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From Home Furnishing Business

Coach's Corner: Turning Staff Downtime into Sales Uptime!

by Tom Zollar,

The state of our industry is best reflected by the fact that the first question sales consultants are asked by almost every client is: How they can get more productivity from their selling effort in order to do more with the fewer opportunities they are getting today? The most common answer, depending on their situation, has to do with improved sales training and coaching for their staff. For most retailers this is the first area they need to look at to increase their sales performance, because we have found it to be the most common weakness in today’s stores. In this column we have often presented the best ways to train, coach and motivate individual salespeople to help them get the most from their interaction with each potential customer. Without a doubt, this will almost always generate the biggest return on management’s time invested.

While this approach is certainly a primary ingredient in sales performance improvement, most of the effort is focused on the selling process and the critical time that our salespeople spend face-to-face with a customer. This is indeed where the selling rubber meets the road and as a result must be the first part of the process we address. If they don’t know how to connect with consumers, find out what they each want as a result of their store visit and then help them make it happen, nothing else matters! However, there may be an area of opportunity that is neglected in many stores.

What I am saying is that we spend so much effort working directly with each salesperson on selling skills, product knowledge and other elements of the selling process, that we could be missing a chance to help them better manage their own time and positively direct it at making themselves (and the store) more successful. Truth be told, most of our staff members spend less than half of their in-store time working with customers. During the busy weekend days, they may be on the floor working with Ups 70% to 90% of the time, but during the week they will have many days with only a few opportunities. Therefore, the obvious question is: What are they doing to maximize their sales and selling abilities during the time they are NOT with customers, or as we often call it, salesperson downtime?

This point was brought to my attention a few months back when my Premier Owner Performance Group requested that I have the members of my Sales Managers Group come up with a list of what their salespeople should be doing during their time in the store away from customers. I had often developed lists like this for clients in the past and worked with individual managers on ways to include them in their sales management efforts on the floor. However, it had fallen off my radar a bit but was certainly worth revisiting to get my team of twenty plus sales management professionals input. So, at the next meeting we had a very meaningful discussion on the subject and created a rough list of tasks, plus kicked around some ideas about how to use it in their stores.

I recently combined the list that the Motivated Wise Guys Group and I developed with what I used in the past to put together a fairly complete, salesperson focused directory of tasks and activities that would help them improve their store presentation, increase customer happiness, build client loyalty, generate additional personal business and develop better skills to please more potential clients. Here is the final list, including my notes about each item, with the goal of helping us maximize the return the staff can achieve from their downtime in our stores:

Floor Maintenance and Improvement –
In essence, the selling floor is a salesperson’s office or workspace and as a result it is critical to their success or failure. Therefore, they should participate in maintaining it and contribute ideas about how to make it better. n Catalog updates, swatch maintenance and fabric drops/updates – By helping to maintain these sales tools, not only is their effectiveness improved, but so too is the salesperson’s product knowledge.

  • Fluff and straighten pillows – The visual impact of your store’s display is critical to having a customer choose to buy. A cluttered and messy store does not build their confidence in working with your staff.
  • Check selling aids for assigned vendors – This goes hand-in-hand with the first point but focuses more on samples and other POS materials provided by vendors or developed by the store.
  • Walk the floor for new merchandise or clearance items – This should be the first thing every salesperson does each day before they start their shift, particularly after days off. Things change and they must be aware of what is happening on their selling floor before they work with their first Up of the day.
  • Feedback on display – Let display/buying staff members know about any holes in vignettes, listen to new ideas they have, and be aware of accessories and area rugs that have been sold off or damaged.
  • Check/replace/update tags – Many stores have salespeople do the tagging which is a good way to keep them familiar with what is happening on the floor. But even if they don’t actually tag the floor, they should still be responsible for checking the tags and getting any problems rectified before they impact a customer.

Active Client Follow Up –
This is an absolutely critical activity for all salespeople. Following up and staying in contact with people who bought from you is the best way to turn customers into clients. It makes them remember you and come back the next time they need anything.

  • Check order status and call clients as needed – The number one customer complaint about the furniture buying experience is “why did I have to call them to find out my delivery was delayed?” Communicate promptly and all is usually forgiven.
  • Checking open orders or quotes and call clients to gain commitments – Don’t let these potential sales dry up and blow away. Follow up and keep your order list current and complete. n Thank you notes to all who bought – If you think these don’t matter you are very wrong, they do and sending handwritten ones, the “old fashioned way”, is still best. It will separate you from the competition faster than an email or text! n Post-delivery calls for all deliveries each day – Show them you are excited about the new products they just received and want to share their joy. If there is an issue with the purchase, then you want to know immediately to have the best chance of fixing it.
  • Upcoming appointment prep – Contact in-home clients before the visit to set the stage, make sure you have all the information you need and to get them excited about it.

Build Their Business on the Phone or Internet –
This is the most productive thing a salesperson can do when not working directly with a customer. It turns downtime into uptime!

  • Contact people they haven’t heard from in a while – Go through your previous customer list weekly and reach out to them. The results will surprise you.
  • Soliciting referrals from clients, family and friends – Call, text and/or email happy clients for names of people they know that you can also make happy.
  • Develop positive reviews from previous clients – Reviews are one of the most powerful motivations for online shoppers to put you on their store visit list. Cultivate and build them by asking for them.
  • Self-promote on social media – fast becoming a powerful way to build your business and possible the only way to reach certain potential clients. Do not ignore this very meaningful personal marketing opportunity.

Education and Training –
The most successful people in any field are constantly searching for ways to improve their knowledge and skills. Today there are more ways than ever to do this and every store should provide their staff with the ability to better themselves during their downtime.

  • Go on company website – Many customers today enter a store knowing its website better than the person who greets them. Don’t let that be you.
  • Shop competitive websites – No one likes surprises and knowing what your competitors are doing is the best way to eliminate them in the selling process and to gain a distinct advantage.
  • Shop all competitors in the marketplace every six months - see point about shopping websites above.
  • Create teams with assignments – Working together with others on the staff builds cooperation and greater awareness of what the store offers. Here are some suggested assignments for the teams.
  • Develop good, better, best product stories by target customer n Develop good, better and best product stories by vendor
  • Study vendors and develop strategies for each
  • Practice sketching and room planning – Interesting that the most successful people in every field of endeavor are always the ones that practice the most and the hardest. Conversely, the least successful ones usually practice the least. Think there may be a lesson there?
  • Research design trends and current hot products online and in magazines - The more current your knowledge and style awareness is, the more successful you will be. Besides, this is the fun part of our business, why not enjoy it?
  • Learn more about adjustable base remotes, lift chair remotes, etc. – Duh, if you don’t know about it you can’t sell it.
  • Research wood species, leather types, fabric types, etc. – see above point.
  • Get questions answered from sales reps – Have reps help you develop FAQ sheets for each line then present them to the rest of the team in weekly meetings.
  • Online training, such as what is provided by the Furniture Training Company – Online training is time well spent improving your sales technique and product knowledge. Even the pros improve after doing online training.
  • Role play different selling scenarios and product categories – I know you hate it, but if you can’t do it with someone you know, how can you expect to be effective with a stranger? Just a thought.
  • Meet with sales manager - Oh yes, downtime is when you have one-on-one meetings with managers and others to give and get feedback.

How you use this list is up to you. Every store culture is different and management’s ability to actually get their staff to do what they want varies greatly. I have some clients that will achieve positive results merely from having a meeting about it and posting the list in their sales office. Their people are professionals and they will just “get it”. In my experience though, most retailers will need to put together some sort of organized task/activity checklist and assign items to each staff member daily or weekly based on individual needs. Then to actually get the desired results, the sales managers will need to train, coach and hold people accountable to do as asked, which of course is why we have them. In a perfect world salespeople would do it because it makes so much sense. However, as we all know, retail is far from a perfect world. Good luck!

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