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Lessons learned: Never throw good money after bad hires

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

By Tom Jennings

 

Much has been written and discussed regarding the costs associated with making a bad hire. We have all experienced them. There are costs incurred before the hire is ever made. Job placement services, if utilized, carry a fee. So, too, does advertising the position available. Overtime expenses may be incurred as existing staff have to cover the duties of those not present. The cumulative hours spent interviewing and reviewing the various candidates are hours not spent productively cultivating both new and existing clients. These costs alone can be substantial–and the new recruit hasn’t even started work yet.

When they do report for duty, the real costs begin. There are costs related to having office personnel simply process the various forms pertaining to employment. Logo wear or uniforms may need to be ordered. There may be business cards to be printed or cell phones to be distributed. There is always the intangible loss of productivity as your existing staff takes time to “show the new person around.” This is the polite term for sizing them up and making sure they properly understand the “pecking order around here.” All this and not one order has been written, nor has one item been shipped.

Next come the costs related to properly training the new kid on the block (or worse, the higher costs of not training them well). No one knows how many dollars and how much goodwill is lost as new staff inevitably lose potential sales due to inexperience. While estimates vary according to position and location, all indicate these costs routinely run into the tens of thousands of dollars per new hire.

There is also no disagreement that some turnover is inevitable. Even the best employees retire, relocate, etc. And, as any business strives to improve, it is often necessary to replace a mediocre performer with a better one. Now, imagine how much better the quality of your business life would be if you could substantially reduce these burdens. Not only would your balance sheet profit, but the general tone and attitude you endure every day would improve as well.

My question is this: Was this recruitment necessary? Might the previous employee still be on staff if the general tone of the operation had been one that built trust and loyalty? Were they treated like an individual or merely as a number?

Loyal employees speak positively of your firm to those they encounter. They take fewer sick days, have fewer accidents and file fewer claims. They are more willing to put in the extra hours to complete a “crisis project” for your customers. And while they must be compensated fairly, their attitude is often affected more by the way they are treated than by the manner in which they are paid.

No, the previous statement is not a misprint. Just as price can be made less relevant in the customer’s eyes by a well-presented sales presentation, the exact pay scale offered can be made less critical in the eyes of a well- trained and respected employee. Whether one is selling or paying for services, price range is important but the exact numbers need not be.

I realize this may seem as if I’m stating the obvious, but you’d be amazed at the number of employees I come in contact with who are not getting the level of appreciation and support they desire. Couldn’t happen at my store, right? Don’t be so sure. Just remember, it typically costs a great deal more to recruit new staff members than it does to keep current ones content.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a former retailer and sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: Don’t let installation become a shortcoming

September 2/9, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 6

By Tom Jennings

 

It has often been said that the more things change, the more they remain the same. That hackneyed phrase certainly pertains to professional flooring installation in 2019.

When I ran a retail operation in Kansas City more than 20 years ago, I was among several dealers asked to monitor all installation-related interactions with customers. We not only tracked installations but all correspondence that we had with customers that may have led to disappointment with the service experience they received. There were single and multiple store operations included. This group represented dealers with both employee and contract installers. These surveys were gathered over a period of several months.

As a company, we all felt the primary cause of complaints was typically an installation team lacking the proper skills or using incorrect methods. We found this perception to be true less than 20% of the time. Nearly five of six customer calls were triggered by some form of poor communication, unrealistic expectations, etc. While surprised, we were also somewhat pleased. We thought this would be an easier fix than the physical installation process. Wrong again.

Fast forward more than 20 years to today. It’s debatable that much has occurred to improve the actual installation skills we can expect to find among flooring installation as a whole. While some specialty retailers have made strides to improve their staffs at the local level, the skilled craftsmen have inevitably gotten older as their replacements continue to not be fully trained. In our customers’ eyes, it’s not the problem.

Without question, our abilities to communicate with the customer have improved in ways no one imagined a generation ago. Virtually all of our installers have a smartphone in their pockets. Most have navigation systems to easily find the customer’s home. Despite these advancements, few of our problems have been solved over the course of the last 25 years.

Studies conducted in flooring and related fields seem to indicate the customer is still putting up with the same incompetence she had to deal with in the past If anything, what we have grown to accept as service has further deteriorated. Instead of conversing with an indifferent receptionist, we take orders from an automated digital voice. What’s more, there is now a new generation in the marketplace that has yet to experience care from a concerned retailer, as most of their shopping experiences have been with mass merchants or online.

While both the problems and solutions are frustratingly similar to the 1990s, one thing has clearly changed, and that’s our ability to shine when we satisfy our customers. Practice these simple steps to ensure consistent, quality installation services: 1.) Create accurate work orders for your staff; 2.) Use pre-installation checklist forms religiously; and 3.) Generate seam and layout diagrams.

It was considered easier and faster to improve communications and attitudes 25 years ago. Well, the same is true today. The goal hasn’t changed—only the stakes. With the proliferation of both big-box and Internet sources now available, great customer service will stand out more. Make the effort to widen the gap between businesses that proclaim to provide outstanding service and those that actually do it.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a former retailer and sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: When training RSAs, stay out of the shadows

August 19/26, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 5

By Tom Jennings

 

A common mistake many companies make is transferring the responsibility of training a newly hired employee to an existing salesperson. This practice is referred to as “shadowing.” You may recognize the scenario: “Just follow Susie this week and watch how she does things. She writes good business, and you’ll be well served learning her ways.” Does this sound vaguely familiar? Likely so, as it happens in our industry every day.

Several probabilities will come from this method of training—none very effective. First of all, this method isn’t training at all—it’s an attempt to clone. Ask yourself how many skills you have mastered by watching a professional operate at full speed. For example, I have observed excellent pianists at the keyboard yet struggle to play “Chopsticks.” Why? Because I was watching a variety of individual behaviors woven into a seamless pattern. No one explained to me why the left hand was doing this while the right hand was doing that, not to mention simultaneously operating the pedals. While some people may be motivated by the possibilities of achieving similar skills in time, even more are discouraged by what appears to be a daunting task.

Another problem is oftentimes no salesperson is good at every skill. Consequently, no one sees a complete picture of what the most successful methods are when only one method is observed. There is a reason the field of education moved from the one room schoolhouse many years ago. A student is considered much more likely to have a better education when exposed to a variety of teachers with different perspectives and areas of expertise. When this much is known, why should training a new staff member for your firm be considered differently?

Also, remember to never confuse product knowledge training with sales skills training. The industry is full of people who know product but struggle to be really successful, because they lack both the knowledge and skills to communicate effectively on the customer’s level.

Above all, you are assuming Susie wants her shadow to succeed. In reality, she may view the rookie as an intrusion at the least, or even as a potential threat long term. Do you really believe she’s going to share all her trade secrets completely? And is it really even fair to expect her to? Remember, Susie’s interests don’t necessarily align with yours. Lastly, even with a proper attitude, there is no reason to assume that Susie is skilled in coaching. This is an entirely different skill set than performing. How many times does a star player on a team go on to become a great coach as well? Almost never. Too many skills come almost innately to them, so they don’t know how to break down each individual process. As a result, they often lack the patience to work at the learner’s pace. In my experience, the best performers I ever worked with were almost universally bad teachers. When possible, they’d prefer to just perform the task themselves than to take the time to explain the process.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that shadowing is a complete waste of time. Just think of it as one tool in a larger toolbox. There are many skill coaching opportunities available today, whether it be in-person training sessions or online courses. Seek them out and use them to your advantage. To be as effective as possible, new hires must be exposed to the processes that are required to achieve success, not merely shown the desired result.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a former retailer and sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: How to leverage your proprietary offerings

August 5/12, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 4

By Tom Jennings

 

One of the largest hurdles many independent flooring retailers face is how to stand apart from the crowd. Promotional budgets are often insufficient to make a significant impact in our local media. The products we sell are perceived to be largely the same. No matter the size of the showroom, consumers are likely to see the same handful of brand names represented in each of them. That begs the question: How can your firm stand out in the customer’s mind when she is ready to make a purchase decision?

The short answer is to be proactive in your approach. Determine where your real strengths lie. Focus heavily on proprietary offerings that other firms may have difficulty competing with. Every flooring business should be doing something outstanding. (If yours is not, stop reading and begin your going-out-of-business sale immediately. Mediocrity in all areas of your business will not lead to a happy ending.)

So, what are your firm’s unique attributes? Let’s examine a few possibilities:

Facility. Is there something about your location that is outstanding? Is it in a historic area? Is parking plentiful? Is it easy to shop for those who are physically challenged? Does it have unique color or design characteristics? Is it adjacent to any landmarks?

Offerings. Do you feature any distinctive brands that aren’t available elsewhere in your market? Do you have a group affiliation? Do you have unique product warranties? Are you open convenient hours? Are you locally owned? Is an owner or manager available at all times? Do you sponsor or participate in local charities or initiatives? Is your showroom well accessorized?

In-store staff. Does your staff dress fashionably? (No aprons, please.) Do they offer any particular areas of expertise or any specific training? Do they have design degrees or any particular amount of experience or tenure with your company?

Estimating. Do you use employed estimators? (Many large firms use a third-party service. The results are often impersonal.) Do your estimators have an installation background? Almost anyone can measure a room. Do not confuse measuring with being able to analyze situations unique to each job. Examples could be: sub-floor conditions, moisture testing, transitions to adjoining surfaces, etc. This can be a very effective differentiator from the competition.

Installation. Do you offer installation warranties? Are your installers background checked and drug screened? (Security is an important issue. Customers want to know you are aware of who is in their homes.) Are you able to perform large installations in a timely manner? Are you willing to perform “odd-hour” installations? Do your installers possess any special industry certifications or documentable special training?

There are many factors that enter into a customer’s decision of where to purchase other than price alone. To succeed in today’s retail climate, independent dealers must perform well in those areas where the chain stores have difficulty executing. Place your focus on segments where you can excel. Simply having the lowest price is not always the answer. Now, more than ever, customers are looking for a business they can trust. While a competitive price is important, we will all pay a little more—if deemed necessary—for uniqueness and peace of mind.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: The pitfalls of relying on email proposals

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Tom Jennings

 

We’ve all had our share of the “I’ll-be-back” type of customer. One thing we know for sure is that time was wasted during the presentation phase in the showroom. Question is, did the salesperson waste the customer’s time by being uninformed or unprepared? Or, did the customer waste the salesperson’s time by being something less than forthcoming with her wishes and budget constraints? Regardless of who was to blame, both the salesperson and their employer lose.

Today’s floor covering sales- person has a modern-day form of the “I’ll-be-back” response; it’s called an email proposal. Are you one of those sellers who graciously agree to email your prospect the proposal? You know the scenario: Your prospect wants to “think about it” and will call you in a few days. As time passes, however, you can’t seem to get him or her on the phone to discuss the proposal. There the opportunity languishes, lingering in your pending file while you try to figure out the best way to re-establish communication.

Don’t get me wrong: It is perfectly fine to email proposals to established customers who already have a relationship with you. Oftentimes they will accept your call and discuss their thoughts willingly. But with cold prospects, it is a shot in the dark whether you will hear from them again. Emails are the electronic “be back” of today. So although you want to be accommodating with a new prospect, I feel this is a time to push back.

Look at presenting proposals as another opportunity for you to get in front of new prospects and continue building their trust in both you and your offerings. If at all possible, you need to be there in person to review the needs discussed, present your solutions to address these needs, point out the financial details, answer any questions or objections that may arise, etc.

Without this personal conversation, you have no way of knowing if they’ll remember your previous discussions or jump to incorrect conclusions. When your prospect requests that you “just email me your proposal,” push back. Say something to the effect of: “Mrs. Smith, I believe it would be in both of our best interests if you will allow me a few minutes to walk you through the proposal. We’ve discussed a number of different products and their applications. I want to be sure we both fully understand each other’s thoughts so any questions you may have can be resolved before any work commences rather than afterwards. Let’s go ahead and find a time that will work on your calendar to get this accomplished.”

Let me clarify what I mean by “presenting the proposal in person.” You don’t actually have to be on site with the prospect if time or distance is an issue. What’s critical is that you review it together, voice-to-voice. If you aren’t going to be on site, email the proposal 10-15 minutes before the meeting. This will allow enough time for the prospect to review your proposal, but not enough to “shop it around.”

Adopting this strategy will allow you to continue to build trust in a prospect’s eyes. She will see you as being interested in her as a person rather than just a client. At the meeting’s conclusion, you can either close the sale or determine the next appropriate steps to be taken.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: The trick to hiring the right salesperson

June 10/17, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 26

By Tom Jennings

 

When visiting with flooring dealers across the country, I often hear the comment, “We may need to add a salesperson to our staff.” When I inquire further as to what the main objective would be to this employee search, the answer is virtually always something to the effect of needing “extra floor coverage.” The emphasis seems to be focused on the short-term goal of having someone available to relate the businesses offerings and attributes. Not exactly a customer-centric approach.

I find it curious that virtually no one states they are seeking staff members who will be better received by, and thus more effective with, their clients. To ultimately be considered successful, all involved—customer, employer and employee—must be generally satisfied with one another other after each transaction. Shouldn’t the goal be to employ the right people rather than settle for just having enough of them? I believe the most important questions you are ever going to consider when interviewing a potential salesperson are: Is this the right person for my clients? What values will he or she add to my clients’ decision-making process? How would I feel if they were selling against my firm working for a competitor? If you wouldn’t find them hard to compete with, why would you want them on your team?

Remember, you’re not interviewing for someone to join your golf foursome or bowling team. It doesn’t matter that you like the potential salesperson you are visiting with if your clients aren’t likely to relate well with them. It doesn’t matter how much you want to hire this person unless your clients will want to trust their purchase decision to them. Ultimately, your current and future clients are the ones who will decide whether you did a good job in hiring a salesperson.

It doesn’t matter that the potential salesperson has the right attributes, skills and the willingness if they aren’t the right fit for your clientele. To that end, don’t obsess over a potential candidate’s existing knowledge of our industry. Sometimes ineffective initial training or dated product knowledge can be more of a detriment than experience. It is much easier to teach someone who likes people what they need to know about flooring than it is to teach someone who already knows flooring the art of making a connection with the consumer.

Your competitors are bombarding both your current and potential clients with offers, relentlessly pursuing their business. Are your potential clients likely to choose to buy from one of these competitors, or are they more likely to choose to buy from the prospective salesperson sitting in front of you? Remember this: Customers are often looking for someone to buy from as much as, or even more than, they are searching for something to buy. Based on what you know about your clients, is this the right salesperson to win that contest?

If you believe the primary value created by the prospective salesperson sitting in front of you is that he or she will provide the headcount you need, then odds are you will have to repeat the process again in the near future when your customer base collectively votes that they are unimpressed by them. Floor coverage may be the reason you initiate the search process, but it should never be the main reason you conclude it.

Bottom line: don’t settle. The only reason you should ever hire anyone is you truly feel they will add value for your clients. No other answer will improve the eventual chances for success, or happiness, for everyone involved.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: Meanings of ‘wow’

May 13/20, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25

By Tom Jennings

 

My experience has taught me that the best way to build customer loyalty is to consistently do the expected things well. Many retail experts are constantly referring to the necessity of having a “wow” factor to differentiate your business from the field. Remember, though, that “wow” can have both a positive and negative meaning. When we say “wow” as we walk into a new and dramatic retail establishment, it will most likely have a positive tone. If this experience is lacking in perfection in any of the customer’s basic service and product expectations, however, then wow may have a totally different connotation upon exit.

As an example, many restaurants today are based around a variety of novel themes. Upon arrival, you may sit in the midst of many large-screen televisions displaying a seemingly endless variety of programming, which can make you feel almost dizzy from all of the motion. If you’re really lucky, you may even get to experience today’s digital music played at such a volume that conversation with your fellow diners becomes strained at best. Is this enjoyable? Depends upon the person being asked. Keep in mind that all entering the establishment had one thing in common: they were hungry or thirsty.

While all of these trendy diversions can be entertaining in their own way, many of these themed establishments seem to have difficulty executing the most basic of food service promises: hot food hot, cold food cold, served in the proper order and in a timely fashion. They seem to think we will be so distracted by the ambiance we won’t notice. Repeat visits are difficult to obtain in any business if you can’t execute the basics. In short, they forget to “keep the main thing the main thing.”

Think of the dining establishments that have built your loyalty and trust. I would wager they have very little that could be considered trendy in either their physical property or menu. I doubt the waiter has a phony opening line or sits down in the booth with you to take your order. I would bet the core staff of service providers is well skilled in knowing both the menu and their regular customers. I am sure the kitchen staff is capable of preparing your favorite dish in a very consistent manner from one visit to the next and your beverage stays refilled. It matters not whether your favorite spot is a diner or a fine steak house. When the basic core services are well executed, you will return and refer others. This consistency becomes their wow factor.

You may ask, what does this have to do with a flooring store? Everything. Customers’ perceptions of good service are not formed in flooring stores. They are formed in the service establishments they visit frequently: the grocery store, dry cleaners, restaurants, auto repair dealerships, etc. The service attitudes and aptitudes they experience in their routine purchases affect the level of expectations they have when making larger ticket investments. Their expectations don’t change just because the bottom line does.

Ask yourself this: After completing a purchase at your business, what might your customers mean when they say wow? Our industry has many basic “hot food hot/cold food cold” expectations we often fail to execute. Dealers who have stayed customer centered and mastered these fundamental tasks will be the ones that have the best odds of gaining the hardest of orders to receive: the second one. This is when success really begins. When you execute the second order well, trust will have been established and subsequent business will become almost automatic as your firm will now have another loyal client.

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: No place for class divisions in your store

April 29/May 6, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 24

By Tom Jennings

 

Readers of a certain age will remember the popular ’70s television show “WKRP in Cincinnati.” One of the recurring gags in this sitcom was the imaginary door and walls around news director Les Nessman’s office. Upon approaching his desk, he would pause and turn the knob to his pretend door before entering his fantasy of a private office. He felt he was too important to be sitting with the commoners. The joke was that he was mystified why no one else was impressed. It was funny when it was fictional.

The sad reality is I see similar behavior and attitudes acted out constantly in everyday life. On a recent trip I found myself boarding four flights at multiple airports. The airline I was booked on uses a boarding system that must have been designed by Les Nessman himself. They had an assortment of aluminum poles, nylon straps and lanes marked on the floor at the entry gate designed purely to “keep the classes” in their proper position.

If you are among the privileged, you are allowed to walk on the designated side of these straps across a specially printed mat to enter the jet way. However, if you are among the lowly majority, you must wait to enter 3 feet over on the opposite side of the barrier without enjoying the pleasure of walking on a special mat. While boarding one flight, I counted seven verbal reminders that some customers were greater than others.

My observation has always been those who got on the plane first were not necessarily impressed based on which side of the lane markings they entered. However, the reactions of those who were told they weren’t worthy ranged from amused to annoyed. What a waste of time and money. I overheard a fellow traveler state, “Southwest would have the plane in the air while these folks are still busy explaining their boarding procedures.” My rant has nothing to do with having a class system. These were hardly invented by the airlines. They existed on the Titanic over a 100 years ago when Wilber and Orville Wright were still flying their plane on the beach. Those who spend more typically expect to receive more in return. The problem I have is in constantly reminding customers with less sizable purchases that they are somehow less important. This couldn’t happen in my store, you say? My bet would be it occurs more than you realize.

Recently, while being shown around a dealer’s store, I was advised of a “huge contract job” they were in the process of installing. The RSA was obviously proud of performing this job, and I admired his enthusiasm.

The problem arose when I overheard staff members tell other customers twice that morning their jobs would have to wait until our “big job” was finished. One customer was told they could “possibly work her in,” while another was actually advised, “we simply don’t have time to do a two-room job anymore this month.” This poor lady actually apologized for “bothering them” with a job this size. Can you believe that? She should have kicked the clod in the shins for being made to feel her business was trivial to any other.

The moral of this story is to train your staff that there is no such thing as a small sale. More importantly, there is never a less important customer. Remove the perception of any class barriers that may currently exist in your store. As customers, most of us will be reasonable in our requests when treated with respect.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: Sometimes you have to fire your customer

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Tom Jennings

 

We’ve all countlessly heard the saying, “The customer is always right.” I believe this to be the case—the majority of the time.

When a customer is unhappy with the goods she has purchased, or the service she has received, shouldn’t you make every effort to ensure her concerns are remedied to her complete satisfaction? My answer would usually be yes.

But isn’t the customer always right no matter what the particulars of the transaction may be? Simply stated, no.

What causes the exceptions? Often it is simply a matter of fair- ness. It’s not just the equitable rights of the entire business to be considered. Many times it is imperative management validate the value of an employee who may be under duress.

Let me first explain I am focusing on a small percentage of the customer base. I have always felt the majority of the people we deal with are basically decent folks who are just concerned with getting their fair value and being treated respectfully.

When this fair-minded customer has a concern that is valid in her mind’s eye, you should endeavor to satisfy her at any cost without delay. Your perception of reality doesn’t matter when dealing with the honest customer. The value of future orders and referrals they can create will always exceed the cost of keeping her happy now. There is never any reason to argue or negotiate with this customer; long term this is a battle you will never win. Remember, whether posting a review or discussing her experiences in person, she will never tell your side of the story—only her own.

The small percentage of the customers I am referring to are the ones who just decide to be impossible to satisfy or decline to play within the rules of decency. Maybe it’s a male customer who harasses a saleswoman. It could be a contractor who is rude and unreasonable in his time-related demands. It could be one who is verbally abusive on the telephone. Maybe it’s the customer who decides to treat your installation staff as subservient. And then there is always the curmudgeon who will find some fault with anything you say or do. If you’ve been serving the buying public for any length of time, you know the type.

When dealing with these customers, it’s usually best to say, “We’re sorry, but maybe we would all be happier if you took your business somewhere else.” You’ll be amazed at how liberating saying these words can be.

As an owner or manager, it is imperative you show your staff the value and respect you have for them—even at the expense of losing a sale. Bending over back- wards to satisfy a customer is admirable. Getting bent over backwards by a customer is not.

Inviting a customer to leave your store is obviously not some- thing you should do often. Perhaps it will occur only once or twice per year. None of us can afford to get in the habit of walking business out the front door.

I would suggest, though, that none of us can afford the cost of walking good employees out the door, either, when they feel unsupported by management. This carries a much greater financial and psychological cost than any profit a sour customer could have provided. Don’t be afraid to fire the occasional bad customer. Your blood pressure will go down and your staff’s morale will go up.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

 

 

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Lessons learned: Building a better staff can pay big dividends

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Tom Jennings

 

Due to both growth and turnover, many retailers are finding the need to add new hires to blend into their staffs. My experience tells me that too many managers treat new staff members as a necessary evil. When a rookie first walks in the door, too often all they see is the amount of time it will take to get them “up to speed.”

Management too often will pass these duties to another more senior salesperson. The conversation usually goes something like: “Just shadow Susie for a few days. She’s been in the business for over 20 years and has seen it all.”

There are several problems with this scenario. First of all, does Susie even welcome the new staff member addition? Many times competitive sales staff can view new faces as somewhat of a threat. Often Susie is a commissioned salesperson who understandably has her own agenda. How long do you think it will take for Susie to begin to influence the new hire with her prejudices? Does Susie have any experience in properly training, or was she largely self-taught when she began? Then, predictably, management will complain when this recent hire begins to flounder. They will question the rookie’s efforts. Perhaps they will place blame on Susie, who was told to do a task she was likely neither properly prepared for nor well suited to do.

Then comes staff turnover. Next comes the manager com- plaining that you can’t find good people to hire today. Then the process is repeated.

Too often, the primary initial emphasis of training is placed upon product knowledge. When responsibility for training new staff members is delegated to a fellow salesperson, or a vendor’s field sales representative, you can almost be certain of this approach. While expertise in this area is required, it is secondary. The most important first task for management is making sure the new employee understands the organization and his or her role within it. He or she must know the firm’s mission and develop a belief in it. It is imperative the new hire be able to connect what he or she does with why it is done.

Remember that we all had a first day on the job—just as we had a first baseball game or piano lesson when we were young. Many of us had a teacher or a coach who believed in us and encouraged us to practice and improve. If you didn’t, you probably soon lost interest and gave up. The same is true when building sales knowledge and ability.

Successful sales trainees must have a mentor who monitors their progress, offers encouragement and celebrates their victories as their careers grow—not a peer who they may ultimately be measured against. All too often, though, novice salespeople are shoved into the deep end of the pool and told to swim. It is simply unfair to expect people to self-motivate and self-train in any industry.

As Mary Kay Cosmetics founder Mary Kay Ash famously stated: “Praise people to success.” She realized she was selling her associates on the concepts of beauty and self-confidence. Once her staff believed in their mission, the cosmetics sales would follow. Selling beautiful flooring is no different. With each new associate come fresh ideas and a new avenue of growth. Having the opportunity to build a better staff is exciting—don’t waste the opportunity.