January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 6
By K.J. Quinn
Let’s say you are a floor covering store owner and your business is running smoothly. The latest advertising campaign is reeling in customers and sales are holding steady, if not thriving. Then, your top salesperson quits.
After trying in vain to talk him out of leaving, you quickly write up a help wanted ad and place it online and/or in a local newspaper, or attempt to recruit someone from a competitor. Your hope is a superstar salesperson will soon call and everything will return to normal. But the reality is it could take months or even a few years to find one person to replace the success and sales volume achieved by that salesperson, industry members say.
“Unfortunately, this industry does not do a good job of attracting younger, more aggressive, design-oriented people,” said Steve Lewis, president, Lewis Floor & Home, Northbrook, Ill. “Our industry needs less product training and more design and sales training.”
By properly investing in sales training, dealers not only put their team in a position to put their best foot forward, but provide a cushion to absorb the blow of losing a valuable performer. “If you are truly committed to sales training, it’s never ending,” noted Olga Robertson, president, FCA Network. “With the plethora of products today and 90% of consumers doing research online, the retail salesperson needs to be armed with all the tools available to win the sale.”
Characteristics of a successful salesperson
The list is long, experts say, but it often starts with being honest and possessing integrity, reliability, punctuality, patience and good judgment. “It’s not always product or PK training,” FCA’s Robertson said. “It’s more about building rapport and guiding the customer to the product that best suits her needs.”
The best salespeople possess excellent communication skills and the ability to quickly make customers feel comfortable. “One of our salespeople is a real ‘people’ person, so that’s a great asset,” noted Lola Ledebur, co-founder of Carpetime, Grand Junction, Colo.
One thing that can’t be taught, or changed overnight, is a salesperson’s attitude and personality. “You can’t really teach personality,” said Kim Campbell, owner, Campbell’s Carpet, Port Washington, N.Y. “We deal with many designers, so you must be careful not to step on their toes and be respectful of their opinions.”
Salespeople also have to pay careful attention when sizing up a customer’s needs so they can recommend the appropriate styles and floors. “The key is teaching them to listen and really pay attention to what the customer is telling them,” said Matt Pfeiffer, owner, Northern Flooring & Interiors, Lake Orion, Mich. “If you’re listening and you get that window where you can offer a solution for the problem the customer is trying to solve, then ask for the sale.”
Salespeople should thoroughly understand the store’s products and services and come across as knowledgeable and professional. “Given the breadth of products we carry,” Lewis Floor & Home’s Lewis said, “it is a never-ending battle to keep the salespeople informed of all the new products and changes.”
Success in sales is often measured in dollars, and retail is no exception. Salespeople are challenged every day in an increasingly competitive environment. “Most customers visit more than one store,” said Tony Greco, vice president, CAP Carpet, St. Paul, Minn. “You have to be the one that wants their business, go after it [and] follow up.”
Utilize training to improve selling skills
Successful retailers spend their time and capital wisely to find and keep the right salespeople. This makes it imperative to focus their resources on the front end of the business and develop an effective sales staff to keep customers coming back.
“A consistent, ongoing [training] program gives sales consultants confidence in most situations,” CAP Carpet’s Greco said. “A confident salesperson has less fear and is able to consistently improve and close sales.”
It’s rare for a new salesperson to achieve success right out of the gate. Many may not achieve their full potential until after training and learning the ropes from experienced professionals around them. “We put our new salespeople through a relatively intensive sales and product training when they start,” Lewis Floor & Home’s Lewis said. “However, to be honest, much of it is done by the local reps who really don’t do more than pitch their products.”
Buying groups and trade associations offer training classes that teach, among other things, basic and advanced selling methods and how to maximize their sales and marketing tools. By utilizing sales training techniques, “successful salespeople become more adapt at selling both solutions and visions to the customer rather than constantly resorting to selling on price and specifications,” said Tom Jennings, vice president of professional development, WFCA. “They learn to sell as customers want to buy.”
WFCA offers online training through its University, plus weekly video tips and custom on-site training events for members. “One of the most popular sessions is titled, ‘Installation for Salespeople,’ which focuses on ways to build value into the service element of a sales presentation from the moment RSAs and potential customers are first introduced,” Jennings explained.
FCA Network trains its salespeople how to compete with home centers and deal with customers who shop online and by price. “We also work on phone techniques—role play—to enable them to handle price objections or pricing inquiries over the phone,” Robertson said. “Ultimately, the goal is to get them in the store, not negotiate price over the phone.”
Overall, industry members agree if salespeople know their products well, understand their customers’ needs and are proficient at delivering product at minimum hassle and discomfort to the consumer, then dealers will be successful. “Knowledge is power,” Robertson said. “It builds confidence.”