Increase Mattress Sales with Scenario-Based Learning


September 2018—

It is a harsh reality. When it comes to retail mattress sales, sales associates often have one chance to make the sale. That’s a lot of pressure but as the saying goes, it is what it is. Retailers must be able to help facilitate the likelihood of success if they hope to compete.

Few shoppers care where they buy a mattress if they get the mattress they want at a price they’re willing to pay. Unfortunately, even the slightest negative can send them straight out the door to a competitor. Of all the factors shoppers use to determine what and where to buy, their experience with the sales associate is arguably the most powerful influence.

So how does a store like yours maximize its odds of closing sales? A great place to start is to make sure all your retail sales associates are up to the task. Of course, retailers have lots of other issues to consider such as merchandising, promotion and pricing, but even with all that in place, sales associates are ultimately responsible for closing the sale.

Most every retailer uses some form of mattress sales training or else they wouldn’t be able to compete. Throwing associates to the lions is bad for one’s turnover rate, not to mention your store’s bottom line.
Typical training consists of teaching product knowledge and selling skills. While that is obvious and appropriate, it is not enough. These are simply tools that must be learned but then must be put to use. Unfortunately, the sales floor itself is too often the testing lab where associates learn from their mistakes.

The key is to teach new associates how to effectively use their knowledge and skills before they deal directly with shoppers and to help veteran associates increase their effectiveness on a continual basis.
The best method for putting theory to practice is scenario-based learning (SBL), which recreates real-life situations for associates to problem solve and then practice as a means of learning.

In their article, How to Engage Learners with Scenario-based Learning, authors Hans Kövi and Kasper Spiro say “with scenario-based learning, facilitation helps the learner use preexisting knowledge, understand it in the context of the training, apply the knowledge, analyze new situations, evaluate, and create new outcomes.”

With scenario-based learning, you and your staff can create hypothetical situations for teaching, such as “a young couple on a limited budget wants to buy an inexpensive mattress.” How would you help them decide to invest in a better-quality product?

While this is a great idea, I encourage retailers to enhance the process by using actual situations that occur daily on their own sales floor. Here’s how:

Have sales associates keep a journal to record pertinent information throughout each day. Obviously, they shouldn’t keep these journals on their person the entire day, but they should be somewhere nearby so they have easy access to them after they finish with a customer.

When possible, after each selling encounter, your sales associates should jot down a few highlights, notes of anything significant, both the good and bad, as detailed as possible, with some dialog. Using actual statements or questions is most helpful.

It’s important not to make this a burdensome chore like medical charting, but rather as a useful tool to capture issues where the sale didn’t go well and to capture the issues and events that lead to closing a sale.

Then there are a variety of options of how to use the gathered information for training purposes:

Individually: Each associate can reexamine and analyze the situation to determine how they may have overcome objections to close the sale or to have stepped a buying customer up to better quality, added on accessories, sought referrals or discovered future needs.

With a partner: Sales associates should seek confidants to discuss, analyze and recreate the selling situations for solutions and to share successes.

As a group: A great idea is to schedule regular weekly meetings with a staff to discuss situations that occurred the previous week. In that meeting, encourage creative analysis, input and discussion.

Examine the failures for how the sale may have been saved. Share the elements of successful sales and critique them to examine possible ways to improve.

In both cases, use role playing with real give and take dialog to recreate the situations using the gathered suggestions for success. I can’t stress enough the effectiveness of this type of training.

In addition to real life situations, create scenarios to cover basic issues such as delivery and customer service, returns and warranties, financing, competition, or anything that may likely occur.

In a forum: Some companies create intranet forums to share this type of information, an especially great idea for larger companies with multiple locations.

Here are a couple of other ideas to use reality-based training and learning:

Mentoring: Pair new associates with veterans who can listen in on the floor during the selling process, like new waitresses, observing how it’s done, along with having some limited interaction with the shopper—this is also known as shadowing. Most shoppers appreciate companies that care enough to teach their employees how to take care of customers.

As the associates progress, the veteran can take on the role of observer to help ease them into the process and to be there to help if necessary. Amazingly, this is very helpful for veterans as well. New associates often find creative things to say and ways to sell. Sometimes amazed veterans jokingly say, we forgot to tell them business is slow right now.

Questions: In addition to recording selling situations, sales associates should write down questions about products, specs, pricing, policy and any other issues that are sure to come up each day. There are likely many questions that may be forgotten if not written down.

Then they can seek out the appropriate person to consult with, whether that be a manager, someone from another department or from the manufacturer or their reps.

Finally, Kövi and Spiro say there is a huge additional benefit to SBL motivation. “Motivation, in short, is what makes a human being act to achieve a goal. There are two types of motivation: intrinsic, in which motivation emerges from the desire to learn, to master a task, or to prove oneself, and extrinsic, in which motivation emerges from the rewards gained when completing a task in the right way. At first, most learners will be extrinsically motivated.

They take the training because it is mandatory. We find however, that SBL makes it possible to address the intrinsic motivation of a learner.”

How? I believe the real-life experiences of SBL taps into one’s emotions. Associates discover the reward and satisfaction of helping improve the lives of others.

The best way to deal with the harsh reality of mattress retail? Close more sales! It is what it is.

RetailerNOW is changing.

Insights Magazine will be replacing RetailerNOW as the official publication of the Home Furnishings Association. With this change, you will be able to find the same great content on the HFA website. All current members/subscribers will automatically receive the new print editions. You can continue to view content on this website until January 2020.

About the Author

Gerry Morris
Gerry Morris has more than 20 years of experience in the mattress industry. In partnership with The Furniture Training Co., he offers a premium online training course, “Sell More Mattresses with Gerry Morris.” To view the course, visit