Sales in a swoon?

October 2017—

Maybe it’s not the salesperson. Maybe it’s the teacher.

It’s been a while since I got to work both on a Saturday and a Sunday. Although I still consider myself a retailer at heart, I mostly work banker’s hours, albeit with a ton of extra homework. I offered sales trainings on a recent weekend, which makes me well-suited to deliver this month’s message.

What I both love and dread about sales trainings is you never really know how they will go. There are all kinds of salespeople. Each one is different and each store has its own culture with a variety (or lack) of generally accepted disciplines for the floor. The training on Saturday was at a large store that serves a mostly Hispanic clientele in Southern California. The sales staff was an engaged bunch, eager to sell; but I was concerned that what we’d discussed would all be forgotten when the store opened and customers filed in.

This bunch was all about the hustle, which is awesome. However, I’d stopped going to their store because every time I showed up to talk about product and discuss objections nobody wanted to hear it. Although this sales team was really engaged about selling, the idea of continuous improvement wasn’t there. As the rep, there was nothing I could do about that without management’s involvement.

Enter the new sales manager. I was encouraged when not only the company sales trainer showed up early to the meeting, but the sales manager as well. Often, I’ll get asked to hold a sales training meeting only to find that the management won’t be attending. Not only did both these chaps show up, but they sat in the first row and were the first to ask many questions.

The hour went by fast and I was left talking to management about some of the things I touched on in the meeting. It was all smiles until my new friend’s eyes got a little more serious and he said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” I said.

“How do I get these guys to sell what I need them to sell?”

I looked at him in befuddlement when he told me what his sales team will and won’t do. I know myself, and I can get a little sanctimonious when I get asked stupid questions so I bit my tongue. The thing is, this wasn’t a stupid question. It was a great question, one I used to ask myself a lot, and this guy just asked me. Wow, that took guts. That was a cry for help from a guy with no safe place to ask. If ever there were 12 steps to retail management, this would be one of them.

“It’s like this, amigo, when someone shows up to work in the morning, there’s an implied contract that they know what’s expected of them. If they don’t know, it’s your job to make sure they know. That’s what leaders do. You show them how and you engage and watch them perform their tasks. Management signs off physically or figuratively that they are qualified to meet the expectations…. whatever those expectations are. Do you follow?”

“I understand,” he said.

“Do you know why I just asked you if you are following me?” I added. “It’s because I want to make sure that when I leave and you’re left alone with your 30-salesperson, furniture-selling army, that you understand what I’m telling you. It’s a way I get you to buy in to what I’m telling you so when I come back and look at sales, I’ll know that you know how to get them to do what you want them to do. You can do this with them too. Nothing happens without an understood expectation. The only way to accomplish this is to be sure that everyone understands the mission, so the tactics can be employed and the strategy can succeed.”

A common problem on so many floors is the variety of sales behaviors that exist. Behaviors are what lead to results. If you want to improve your results, you need to look at the behaviors that occur and produce the results you’re getting. If you have five salespeople or 50 salespeople all on a variation of your program, the customer experience is going to vary from hour to hour and balls are going to drop and sales will be missed.

Now, I know there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and salespeople are individuals with their own styles. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about your expectations and processes or standards. I never wanted anyone on my sales team to ask if “they can help” a customer; the answer to that question is typically some version of the sentiment, “SCRAM!”

Your salespeople need to know what’s expected of them. A good leader will go to the ends of the earth to help a sales associate if they can’t do what’s being asked of them. Conversely, if that salesperson isn’t doing what needs to be done, and they’ve proven they’re capable then you have no use for them on your team. It’s a matter of can’t do and won’t do.

About the Author

Jonathan Schulman

Jonathan Schulman is a member of the IHFRA executive committee. His coverage area includes Southern California and Hawaii. He has won several awards including Sales Professional of the Year in 2013 and can be reached at jschulman@breaklinesales.com.