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Keeping Good Salespeople - Part 4

Furniture World Magazine


Tools and techniques for  keeping the best salespeople working for you instead of for your competitors.

This month, we'll be discussing the skills of clarifying and confirming. You clarify to make clear what you heard someone tell you; you confirm to assure both the speaker and yourself that your clarification was heard correctly, so you can proceed on firm ground. Together these two skills are the soul of interpersonal communications and are, as we shall see next month, the basis of balance feedback.

Like all skills, clarifying and confirming must be practiced repeatedly before they can become habits or second nature. Second nature is not an exaggeration. The ancient Romans defined a habit as altera natura, second nature.

The habit of clarifying and confirming offer several advantages. First, they enhance communication by making it clearer. Second, they strengthen it by assuring both parties regarding what has been stated and heard. Third, they provide feedback. Fourth, they allow for adjustments in what has been stated. Fifth, they help to create an atmosphere of empathy.

Clarifying and confirming improve communication between two or more persons. For this reason we speak of interpersonal communication skills.

Owners and their managers who are unskilled in interpersonal communication skills run the risk of not understanding and of not being understood, a risk which greatly diminishes a company's productivity. After all, they are in daily communication with their salespeople by way of meetings, directives, ads, etc. In the absence of communication skills, the what and especially the why of messages get garbled. The following is an example of a message that can get garbled as to its why:

Manager: "We've decided to remove all spiffs on X-brand bedding which, as you know, we are phasing out. Make sure you note this change when you turn in your spiffs."

Note how the why of the message has been omitted. The salespeople are left to guess as to why. By the time the grapevine assumes the why, the message often sounds like this: " There they go again stealing from us. What a cheap outfit."

Companies that leave it up to their salespeople to guess at the reasons for their decisions can rest assured that the grapevine will invent its own list of reasons. We are not here questioning the right of companies to keep to themselves the reasons for operating as they do whenever prudence dictates this. All companies have the right to guard such matters as zealously as professional football players guard their play books. We do however, question the wisdom of companies that keep their salespeople in the dark when prudence dictates otherwise.

Take the decision by one company to remove all spiffs on the remaining bedding of a vendor it was no longer carrying. Instead of sharing with its salespeople why it had decided to do so, it allowed them to guess as to why. At once the grapevine sent out the following message: "Those in management had decided to pocket the spiffs themselves; the rep had reneged on his commitment to the salespeople since he didn't care for them any more."

You can imagine the furor of the salespeople when a year later the company, acting on the advice of a consultant, decided to restore the selfsame vendor.

How did the rep resolve the problem? Generously and beyond the dictates of justice. You see, when his company was asked to leave, naturally all spiff money for the remaining sets of bedding ceased to exist. This had never been explained to the salespeople. Nevertheless, after explaining this to the salespeople, he agreed to pay each salesperson the amount of spiff money each one felt he or she had coming. The rep paid this out-of-pocket. In that way he acted as a peacemaker and helped remedy a problem that should never have developed.

Owners and their managers should also learn to clarify the why of what their salespeople tell them, to give them the opportunity to elaborate and modify their statements as we can see in the following example:

Manager: Tom, I notice you've been slipping on your fabric protection sales. Why is that?

Salesperson: Joan, I just don't have the time for fabric protection sales, not if you want me to continue being number one in overall sales.

Manager: So what you're saying is that you prefer skipping the fabric protection to give more time to overall sales.

Salesperson: Right, especially on weekends when we get most of our customers. I just don't have the time to demonstrate fabric protection.

Manager: How much time would you say it takes?

Salesperson: I've never actually timed it, but I know it takes a lot of time.

Manager: In other words you'd try to sell more fabric protection if you could find a way to do it in a couple of minutes, right?

Salesperson: Sure, if that's all it takes.

Manager: Tom, what if I were to tell you that Nancy takes no more than a couple of minutes to sell fabric protection and she's right behind you in overall sales?

Salesperson: A couple of minutes. I'd have to see that to believe it.

Manager: Fair enough. I'd like to discuss with you how I can demonstrate a way you can sell fabric protection in a couple of minutes. Interested?

Note how by clarifying and confirming the manager found out why Tom was convinced that he should de-emphasize his fabric protection sales. Note too how the manager by confirming Tom's reasons allowed him to explain more clearly just why he felt the way he did.

Next month, we shall see how balanced feedback goes hand in glove with clarifying and confirming.

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at pmarino@furninfo.com.