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Play By Play Coaching In Five Steps

Furniture World Magazine


Where has everyone been for two years? I’m thrilled and excited to be back in these pages after a long hiatus.

Seems like not much has changed in the way furniture retailers do important things – like coaching, so I’d like to address this issue. I watch a lot of baseball. Unfortunately for me this year, I’m a Yankee fan. Have been for 60 years, so I guess it’s the old Brooklyn Dodger’s line: “Wait ‘til next year!”

Baseball, Football and Basketball teams know a lot about coaching. There are specialty coaches on staff who coach different position players, plus, in baseball a pitching coach, a batting coach – even a bench coach (I’m not sure what he does). In Football the head guy is the “Head Coach”. In Baseball he’s the “manager” who manages the game as its being played. Play-by-play, pitch-by-pitch, and down-by-down. The owner and the general manager are somewhere else while this is happening. Just like you.

In Football there is also a defensive coordinator and an offensive coordinator (not that they’re offensive….) both of whom watch every play and make changes to strategy and tactics while the game is being played. Every team has a playbook, and/or a strategic plan for every game depending on the opponent.

The other thing sports teams do is: measure everything. And they use these measurements to make important decisions regarding things like who will play, when they will play, which position they will play, and, sometimes, who stays and who goes.

After every game, everyone meets to review the game video (no hiding anything here, it’s all out there to see) and make adjustments to players, strategy, coaching plans… in order to get better at what they do.

Here’s the rub: with all the planning, playbooks, coaching and managing plus all the talent, in the end it all comes down to one thing: execution. Better execution is really the goal of all coaching.

This prompts me to ask you, in general, who’s watching your game as its being played? Do you even have a strategic plan for selling, and tactical plan for engaging customers? Or, is it all up to the salespeople, your players, to decide how your game is played? I mean, after all, every customer is different aren’t they? How can one strategy be right for everyone?

If you have 5, 10, or 20 salespeople out on the floor during a Saturday or major Sale day, how do you even know what’s going on out there… in your store, with your customers?

I know many retailers who measure everything – or almost everything – you know… traffic, closing ratio, average sale… the three factors in the sales equation, and who do it by salesperson using some pretty sophisticated systems.

I’m looking at one group of stores’ data as I write this. Eight stores in a 2-state region. Traffic is electronically monitored, photographed, and reviewed daily, so it’s highly accurate.

The key metric to me when looking at these numbers (and I’ve been looking at them for 41 years) is closing ratio, because it is here that the biggest gains in sales can be made from relatively small improvements in execution (of a strategy you may or may not have). The overall close ratio for this group of 8 stores is 19%. Meaning that 81% of the customers served did not buy. This is no surprise to me, but I have had numerous retailers tell me that their close ratios are in the 40% range. These are usually retailers who do not electronically monitor their traffic.

Close ratios have been in the 18% to 25% range since I began in this business in 1972. Here’s the thing: some salespeople close at 30%, and some close at 15%, and in most stores I’ve worked with (about 100) there is no plan, no strategic selling system, and no coaching initiative in place to fix this.

You may not have the ability to record each transaction and view the video later, but you have to do something! I use a simple, old-world method that has five steps.

  1. Salespeople are required to account for every customer served by recording each sales interaction on a form. 

  2. The form is turned in to their coach/manager each day for review. The coach/manager reviews interactions that did not result in a sale and asks, “How could this have been better? What is your next step with this project?” Everything’s a project to your customer – just ask her! 

  3. While reviewing these forms, look at the salesperson’s notes about the customer first, and the project second. You want the salesperson to be able to tell you about each interaction.

    This is a simple way for salespeople to demonstrate caring to the customer – by asking the right questions and writing notes on their responses. 

  4. You should also consider including a space on the form where salespeople can sketch the room. When you look at a sketch ( no matter how artistically awful it is) you can tell if the right questions were likely asked and if a good connection to the customer and her project was made.

  5. Then check to see if a follow up date – agreed to by the customer – for what may be nothing more than a phone call, but can also be a return visit, has been made. You know that customers returning to your store a second time, buy over 75% of the time on that second visit. This is how you get to your 20% close ratio – from the combination of first-time shoppers on a particular furniture project who buy about 10% of the time, and customers returning a second (or third) time on the same project – who buy over 75% of the time. You get 100 shoppers. 10 buy. If you can bring back only 13 of the people who did not buy and they close at 75%, you have a total of 20 buyers out of the original 100. What if you bring back 50 of the 80 non-buyers? I hope I’m making my point here.

Furniture retailers are notoriously poor at developing follow-up systems to bring back shoppers who do not buy on their first store visit to shop for a new furniture project. Today, social media provides an avenue that didn’t exist in my early days. There is no greater opportunity to get new business than to mine those who have already shopped in your store, found things they liked, had a good experience, but simply didn’t want to decide “today”. You don’t need one additional dollar of advertising to get them back. A phone call, email, text or tweet can do it.

And now you have a lurking monster in your world to thwart your efforts to close sales. Internet furniture sales are approaching the $10 Billion mark. Do the right things, right when you have them in the store.

Of course to make a connection with shoppers, you have to do the right things the first time, and that’s a topic for our next discussion.

Joe Capillo is a 41 year career veteran, experienced in managing and consulting with furniture retail operations. He is also a contributing editor for Furniture World Magazine. He is a contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD and a frequent speaker at industry functions. See all of Joe’s articles on the furninfo.com website.