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Bedding & Mattress Sales: Retail Sales Management

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 149 NO.1 January/February


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Selling is everything in retail. There is nothing else. Even the janitor’s job is related to selling. That’s why the sales manager's job is so important.

 

There’s nothing wrong with the definition of sales management from Wikipedia (below), but it sounds like it came right out of a Marketing 101 textbook. And, even though the definition contains some impressive words, it really doesn’t tell us much.

“Sales Management is a business discipline which is focused on the practical application of sales techniques and the management of a firm’s sales operations.” The Wikipedia article goes on to say “…it is an important business function as net sales through the sale of products and services and resulting profit drive most commercial businesses. These are typically the goals and performance indicators of sales management.”

So what is sales management as it applies to mattress and furniture retailing, in real, practical life? What should it be? How can it affect retail success or failure?

Where Do Great Sales Managers Come From?

Here’s what John F. Lawhon wrote about average sales managers in his book "Selling Retail". “My experience has been that most mid-management retail executives (i.e. sales managers) are even LESS professionally qualified for their jobs than the average retail salesperson. Every element of retailing is selling. You don’t get promoted out of selling! You only move to a higher level of selling.”

Mr. Lawhon’s statement doesn’t really answer where sales managers SHOULD come from, but it answers where they usually DO come from. Should your best salespeople become Sales Managers? Maybe so, but not necessarily. Mr. Lawhon said that, for some reason, upper management usually thinks that the top salesperson will make the best sales manager. He didn’t always agree with that. And, don’t forget, your top performer may not WANT to be the sales manager. Where, then, should you find sales managers?

Let’s Start With Experience

Hiring a sales manager who lacks retail sales experience creates what I call a “Sales Management Dilbert Dilemma”. I’m referring to cartoonist Scott Adams’ comic strip "Dilbert" and the constant technical befuddlement of the “Pointy-Haired Boss,” the feckless guy who somehow became the manager of an engineering group where he is completely out of his league.

Here’s a suggestion for anyone who wants to avoid hiring their very own "Pointy-Haired" sales manager. First, define the job parameters and the areas of responsibility. Then, develop a profile of what you think the ideal candidate's qualifications should be. During the interview, use this ideal candidate profile to compare the desired characteristics, one by one, with the candidate’s qualities. Take private notes as you interview so you can review them later. The next question you may have is, “What if nobody fits the Ideal candidate profile?” More than likely, nobody will. Whether to hire someone who may be less than ideal is just a decision you will have to make. It may be better to keep looking than hire someone who is likely to fail. Here are some ideas on what to look for in an ideal candidate.

"Hiring a sales manager who lacks retail sales experience creates what I call a Sales Management Dilbert Dilemma."
  • A thorough understanding of the retail sales process (Steps of the Sale)
  • A complete grasp of the meaning of the “Five Groups of Knowledge”
  • A genuine desire to help co-workers improve their skill levels and quality of their sales interactions
  • A high motivation level and determination to SELL.

So, why do some stores seem to have ongoing problems with sales manager performance? I say “seem to” because the problem may not be just the person hired as sales manager. It may be they were never clearly and concisely told what they were supposed to do. Maybe they are burdened with misplaced or unrealistic expectations. Perhaps it may mean the sales manager is taking undeserved credit for the failure of the store to hit sales goals.

What Is The Job?

Broadly speaking, the retail sales manager’s job should include some, if not all of the following functions

  • Recruiting and hiring salespeople
  • Overseeing the training of salespeople
  • Planning and enforcing sales strategy and tactics
  • Coaching salespeople
  • Evaluating sales performance>
  • Firing salespeople
  • Closing Deals
  • Reporting status, progress and problems to store owners.

Even though each of the above subjects could be expanded to a full article, we’ll talk about each subject briefly.

Bear in mind that the size of the store, or stores and the number of salespeople employed can affect which jobs fall to the sales manager. In a small mattress store, the owner is usually the sales manager, accountant, RSA and janitor, all in one. Very large stores with dozens of RSAs may divide these responsibilities across several departments.

Recruiting And Hiring

Some stores actively recruit promising or even credentialed veteran salespeople. Most stores, however, just put a “Now Hiring” sign in the window, an ad in the newspaper or on social media. Since this is an article on sales management, not on “how to hire”, we’ll save that subject for another time. That being said, I've witnessed undisciplined and indiscriminate interviewing and hiring in many mattress retail operations. It can waste a lot of a company’s time and money. It is very hard to find promising, qualified sales candidates. Just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks may not be the best practice.

Overseeing Training

"I used to work at a mattress store chain where if an RSA 'walked an up', the defeated RSA would be greeted by a manager or another RSA with the query, 'Where were you weak?'"

Very large stores or retail chains frequently have a dedicated training department. Even if your store has its own training group, the sales manager/s must be involved in both the training of new-hires and on-going training of veterans. I want to stress, once again, that training of salespeople is critical to any store’s success. The sales manager must observe and participate in all sales training to ensure that it is presented in a way that achieves maximum effectiveness on the sales floor. In smaller stores, the sales manager should be the trainer of salespeople.

As I explained in my book, "How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual" and numerous articles for Furniture World, the very foundation for Retail Sales Associate (RSA) training are the Steps Of The Sale and the Five Groups Of Knowledge. The five groups include:

  • Product knowledge
  • Knowledge of advertising
  • Knowledge of inventory
  • Knowledge of policies
  • Knowledge of financing.

The sales manager trainer must have an encyclopedic knowledge and fluency in all these subjects.

For more information on sales training, consult the large repository of excellent articles in the Furniture World online archives at www.furninfo.com.

Planning and Enforcing Sales Strategy and Tactics

Every store has its own sales philosophy which ranges from “leave the customer alone, let him browse” to “nobody walks, chase them out the door and drop the price, get the sale at all costs.” However your store operates, the sales manager must be an enthusiastic supporter and engineer of its sales philosophy.


"The worst sin an RSA can commit is interrupting or jumping in, uninvited, on somebody else’s up. So, how does one manage this potentially explosive situation?"

The store’s sales philosophy must be integrated with its training program. If the trainee understands how the store sells it goods, and why it operates the way it does, then the context of the training itself should make more sense.

An astute sales manager will also continually review the store’s sales strategies and tactics, product selection, advertising, financing and policies with an eye for improvement. Frequently, salespeople will forget or ignore the whole point of why they are there. A big part of the sales manager’s job is to keep the staff focused on their goals and purpose. This task of keeping the RSAs focused can also fall under our next category, which is coaching.

Coaching Salespeople

Some sales trainers believe that coaching should comprise at least fifty percent of the sales manager’s time. This is a rich subject to expand upon in a longer article, but let’s chat about it briefly right now.

Although they are related, coaching and training are not the same thing, but they should mesh together. Most of us think we already know what training is; but what is coaching?

Coaching is an interaction between the sales manager (coach) and an RSA (player), where the coach reviews specific details of the RSA’s sales efforts and advises the RSA on how to improve. I used to work at a mattress store chain where the following encounter frequently happened; if the RSA "walked an up” who did not buy, the defeated RSA would be greeted by a manager or another RSA with the query, “Where were you weak?” This may sound like an insult to some, but, in fact, it is useful for the sales coach and sales associate to analyze the sales process following each sales encounter; whether a sale is made or not. When time permits, it is very productive to deconstruct each RSA/customer interaction to determine what was good and what was not so good about a preceding interaction. It is even more helpful if an experienced coach observed the action, and takes notes that can be discussed later. This analysis, which is just an exercise in thinking it over, can make great improvements in any RSA’s sales performance.

Evaluating Sales Performance

How does a sales manager know if her salespeople are performing their best? Pure sales volume is one of the main measures, but there are lots of others. Besides reviewing sales volume, profit margin, average unit selling price and other tangible data that every sales manager should have available, there are intangibles that are impossible to quantify and even harder to evaluate. Among these are:

  • The RSA’s personality
  • The RSA’s willingness to be coached
  • The RSA’s seeming desire to improve
  • The RSA’s consistency of interaction with customers
  • The RSA’s attention to personal appearance
  • The RSA’s adherence to company policies, and many, many more

A big part of the sales manager’s job is also to constantly keep an eye on the attitudes of all Retail Sales Associates.

Firing Salespeople

Some readers might find it odd that I have set this aside as a separate job. But, as a responsibility of the sales manager, firing stands on its own. No well wishing individual likes to fire people. But, sometimes it has to be done; and when an apple begins to show signs of rot, it should either be peeled or be expelled quickly before fouling the whole barrel.

"These ideas range from leave the customer alone, let him browse, to nobody walks, chase them out the door and drop the price, get the sale at all costs."

Salespeople can perform well for a while, and then suddenly sour on the whole process. When this happens the sales manager has the responsibility to quickly recognize and deal with it. This means a meeting with the RSA to discover the problem and resolve it. Sometimes, the only resolution is immediate termination.

 

Closing Deals

Some sales trainers think that sales managers should stay out of the way of RSAs and let them take the sale from start to finish. Others are like tour guides in a museum. They put on a good show but wilt when it is time to ask for the sale. When this happens, it comes in handy to call in the sales manager to close the sale. This is also an appropriate occasion for the sales manager to coach the RSA on how to close.

Reporting to Management

Furniture World's digital archives, have volumes of articles on metrics analysis and reporting. Consult these for more information. It is the Sales Manager’s job to coordinate actions, policies and act as information conduit between operations on the showroom floor, store ownership and upper management.

Approach to the Job

One question that might be asked is this; “Is the sales staff a team? Should it be managed like a team?” Some folks may not agree with this observation, but I don’t think the word “team” is an accurate description of any retail sales staff I've witnessed, except in stores that employ a “turnover” system. Each RSA is an individual and works as an individual. Most RSAs work on commission, are protective of their territories and potential commissions. The worst sin an RSA can commit is to interrupt or jump in, uninvited, on somebody else’s up. So, how does one manage this potentially explosive situation?

My suggestion for sales managers is, at minimum, to maintain harmony and civility among sales associates. Everybody should follow the rules. If your store has a rotational “up” system, all RSAs should stay in proper rotation. Another issue in big stores is the practice of “skating” which is hijacking a sale from a fellow salesperson.

The "skater", usually a veteran with a sharp eye for the close,  cruises the open floor on a busy day, like a Saturday sale day, where there are more customers than RSAs.  They close in on free ups (no RSA has greeted them, because all the RSAs are already busy) that look like they might be ready to buy. The "skater" is not taking ups in rotation as he should, he just skates the floor looking for ready buyers, while the other RSAs are tied up with their ups.

It may not sound fair, but it happens on big floors on very busy weekends. And, it does produce sales when unattended ups might just walk since nobody is waiting on them.

Does your store allow or even promote skating by RSA's? If not, sales managers must police this activity, even though skaters are often the highest volume salespeople, for reasons that should seem obvious. My disclaimer; I don’t have a problem with skating, (especially if I am the skater.)

Sales Meetings

Sales managers should convene general sales meetings at least once per week with attendance mandatory for all RSAs. Saturday mornings about an hour before opening is a good time, because every salesperson will probably be working on Saturday. Sales meetings should be planned beforehand by the sales manager, with a written agenda printed and distributed to each sales associate before the meeting starts. The sales manager should moderate the meeting and keep it under control.


"Firing stands out as a sales manager's responsibility. When an apple begins to show signs of rot, it should either be peeled or be expelled quickly before fouling the whole barrel."

Sales meetings should cover at least the following subjects:

  1. Advertising: in major cities, it may be impossible for RSAs to personally view or hear every ad the store is running. Customers will come in with ads, or ask about items in ads. So, every RSA should be aware of every ad the store is running and what has been featured. Nothing kills the credibility of an RSA faster than his obvious ignorance of the store’s operations. The sales meeting is where all advertising should be discussed and where every RSA is familiarized with the store’s advertising. RSAs should also know about any unadvertised specials the store may be running.

    Sales managers should also review the competition’s advertising. Don’t forget, customers compare products and deals from store to store. If RSAs don’t know what the competition is doing, they will be at a severe disadvantage.

  2. Products: any new products should be introduced and discussed. Spec sheets should be distributed on new merchandise.
  3. Financing: Sales meetings are the right place to inform RSAs about any new financing options and how they work.
  4. Inventory: Any inventory issues, such as shortages, overstocks, etc., should be discussed. Inform the RSAs of any products that may be discontinued, and especially if they are being discounted. Most customers like deals.
  5. Problems: Sales meetings are a good time to review any outstanding problems that have to do with selling. I would limit problem discussion to issues related to sales.

Here’s one more thing about the duties of sales managers. I probably will get some opposition to this statement, but I think the sales manager should work the floor with RSAs when the occasion calls for it. Sometimes on a busy Saturday or a sale day, customers can greatly outnumber sales staff. In spite of the fact that sales managers are subject to being called away at a moment’s notice, I think they should be allowed to take overflow “ups”. Sales managers are first and foremost, retail salespeople. Taking ups is necessary practice to stay on top of the game. Plus, unattended shoppers may browse and walk. When that happens, nobody wins.

"I've witnessed a lot of undisciplined and indiscriminate interviewing and hiring in many mattress retail operations. It can waste a lot of a company’s time and money."

Summary

John F. Lawhon observed that “Every element of retail is selling.” He did not mince words or equivocate on this attitude. Selling is everything in aretail. There is nothing else. Even the janitor’s job is related to selling. That’s why the sales manager job is so important. Who else can give structure, purpose, focus and drive to the total retail sales effort? Last but not least, sales managers must never forget that on top of their significant managerial duties they are first and foremost salespeople.

 


 

David Benbow, a twenty-three year veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company. Dave’s company offers mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) Dave’s many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas uniquely qualifies him as an expert in selling bedding at the retail level.

David is the author of the recently published book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”. This book is the first book to systematically present a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It is a complete training course in one 292 page book. The book can be purchased on-line at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.

He also offers hands-on training classes for retailers on a variety of subjects and issues as well as on-line classes that can be downloaded from the websites mentioned above.

David can be contacted via e-mail at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or in person at 361-648-3775.
Read other articles by David Benbow