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Importance Of Having A Uniform Sales Strategy

Furniture World Magazine


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Do you and your salespeople have the same one?

Most retailers have invested considerable time and money into the attempted implementation of internal and external sales training programs, only to find that few if any sales people utilize the tools provided. This is a frustrating experience which is generally blamed first on the salespeople and second on the materials or the trainer. If this has happened to you, ask yourself two questions:

  • Did you have a defined selling strategy before the training was implemented?
  • Did the training approach support this specific strategy.

If either of these questions are difficult to answer, it would be unfair to blame your sales people for their failure to apply your skills training program.

Selling strategy is defined as the way that you want furniture to be sold in your store. This encompasses the greeting, the presentation, the closing and the follow up process. In many stores, selling strategies actually vary from sales person to sales person. This should not be the case. A store must decide exactly how they believe their customers should be handled, then ensure that every sales person conducts himself or herself in that predetermined way.

Let me share an all too common problem that results from an unclear selling strategy. I was recently in a store with eight sales people. The owner could name two who made house calls on a regular basis and two others who did so only occasionally. The remaining four sales people never made house calls.

If a customer who potentially has a need for a house call enters that store and is greeted by a sales person who "makes" house calls, it's likely that:

  • A house call will be made.
  • A sale will be made.
  • That sale will be significantly more lucrative than if the customer purchased in the store.
  • There will be a long-term relationship with the store.

However, if that same customer is greeted by a sales person who never makes house calls, there is a 100% chance that a house call will not be provided and the inherent benefits will not be realized. Although this store has a wide variance of customer needs in terms of the level of sales service, a majority of the sales people are unable or unwilling to perform at all levels. This is a severe problem.

Many owners feel that it is acceptable to have sales people on the floor with varying skill sets... from being able to make successful house calls to being a 100% in store sales people... because only a portion of their customers demand the total house call service. This is poor reasoning due to the UPs systems most stores employ. Typical UPs systems require sales people to take customers in a certain rotation. Under this scenario, it is impossible to know which customers are potential house call customers. They will simply be greeted by the next sales person available. If that individual is unable or unwilling to make house calls, it is highly unlikely that a house call will occur, even if the customer needs one!

Many owners believe that in-store sales people will turn over customers who require house calls, but this typically does not happen. On the few occasions when it does, the customer usually requests a house call from the outset. Otherwise the in-store sales person simply tries to sell the customer in the store.

Here's another example of a poorly implemented selling strategy. Many owners who say that their selling strategy is one of long term relationship development are really too understaffed to provide the high level of customer service they say they expect. As a result, sales people do not have the time to develop relationships with customers, nor are they given the facilities such as phones, desks and computers they need to build long term relationships. Furthermore, they are not trained in how to develop and maintain an on-going customer contact system.

In both of the cases I've mentioned above, the selling strategy has not been developed by the owner with a particular direction. Rather, it is made up of the collective strategies of each individual sales person who happens to work at his or her store. Therefore, every new sales person who is hired brings a new strategy to the store. Unfortunately, if this is happening in your store, it probably means that your customers are not being handled the way you want them to be handled.

Another problem which results from not having a clearly defined selling strategy is in the selection and implementation of training programs. I have spoken with owners of high-end stores who have actually implemented sales training programs either designed for lower end stores or programs which have come from other industries. The conventional wisdom is that any sales training will improve the performance of sales people. While that philosophically could be argued, the simple truth is that, if the training program is in conflict with the way your sales people should be selling, the program could be a waste of time or in fact harmful to the overall culture and success of your operation. The key to ensuring a quality training program is to begin by clearly defining the objective of your program. That is your selling strategy!

So how should you define your selling strategy? Here are a few helpful hints:

  • First, define how furniture should be sold in your store, regardless of who greets the customer. Consider greeting style, the amount of time which should be spent with each customer and whether house calls are encouraged or discouraged.
  • Second, determine the quality of customer development desired. In some stores you require a quick closing process and may offer products that do not lead to future sales (e.g. mattress and bedding stores). In other cases, you rely upon an on-going relationship with the customer. If this is the case with your store, determine the development process, including follow-up strategies and record-keeping.
  • Third, keep in mind that your staffing and scheduling strategy must support your selling strategy. Many stores strongly promote house calls, yet, if the sales people ever did the number of house calls the owner wanted, there would simply be no one left to man the floor.
  • Fourth, don't let sales promotions or seasonal traffic fluctuations jeopardize your selling strategy.

The nature of our industry indicates that there are times when our sales people need to change the way they work with customers. We, as owners, need to keep our sales people aware of when to change and when to change back. Many owners encourage a selling strategy that is relationship driven. However, when they implement a high traffic promotion, the store is left understaffed. As a result the sales people must deviate from their training to handle the volume and often never go back to the original selling strategy. To avoid this relapse, it is critical that somebody, usually the sales manager, inform the sales people that:

*It is okay to deviate from the strategy during these specific circumstances, and...

*When the event is over, they need to go back to the relationship development processes.

When the promotion or high traffic event is over, the sales manager is responsible for bringing the sales people back to the original selling strategy. It may require additional coaching or perhaps even some refresher training, but the effort will be entirely worthwhile.

Once you have developed a selling strategy, you are in a position to do many things which will benefit your business. You will have the ability to set expectations for your training program because, whether you purchase it or develop it in-house, the program must fall in line with your selling strategy. This allows you to develop or intelligently shop for the correct program.

Because the training program you select describes how furniture will be sold in your store it allows you to diagnose when a sales person is not doing well. It will become obvious when someone is not selling "the way your store sells to its customers."

Your selling strategy helps define specific personnel and skill set needs for recruiting new sales people. Individuals who do not agree with your selling strategy simply should not work at your store, regardless of their selling ability. That isn't to say that we want to hire robots without creativity. In fact, it is just the opposite. Sales people can use many creative and individual techniques to excel, as long as they are operating within the sales process that reflects the values of your organization.

In summary, owners who do not have a well thought out selling strategy end up being held hostage by individual sales people who sell in their own idiosyncratic ways. These owners are also unable to find a training program that fits all of their sales people. Their sales managers are unable to properly diagnose when sales people are failing. Most importantly, store owners have no clear assurance that customers who enter their store are getting the level of service that he or she deems necessary.


Ted Shepherd is the founder and CEO of Shepherd Management Group. The company specializes in changing the selling culture of furniture stores from merchandise-driven to customer-driven using an intensive hands-on process of consulting, training, and mentoring. For more information on the topics in this article contact tshepherd@furninfo.com.

 

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.