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Part 11— by Scott Morris

Mentoring life skills training for retail salespeople

Life changing success skills advice that store owners and managers should pass on to every new hire to give them a fighting chance to thrive.

When we were born, we didn’t get sent home with written instructions about how to live a healthy and prosperous life. Those of us who were extremely lucky were born to parents who were perfect role models, with the additional gift of being wise enough to teach us how to live life properly. However, it’s my experience, that in the real world, this is rarely likely to happen.

Most of us are usually left to our own devices to acquire that elusive but critical understanding. You most probably agree, but you may be wondering at this point, “Why should a furniture sales training guy even be bringing up this topic?”

The reason is simple. Every aspect of a salesperson’s life affects their performance day in and day out. For instance, if they are not goal-oriented by nature, lack proper follow-up skills, tend to be negative, lack focus or don’t know how to make the best use of their time, it will definitely impede their sales effectiveness.

It would seem imperative, therefore, that training salespeople to do well must also include some basic success skills training. Just think back over past new hires that you felt had the talent to do very well but quit or had to be let go due to poor performance. What personal habits prevented them from achieving their potential? Their failure was probably not due to your store’s sales training, but most likely due to their lack of mastery of some basic life skills!

My own experience might help to drive the point home. I would not be writing this article unless a great personal mentor taught me how to overcome my deficient life skills. That was the real turning point in my furniture sales career. I mentioned my mentor, Sol, in a previous article as being the best sales closer I’ve ever seen. He taught me a lot about closing sales, but more importantly, he taught me how to achieve in life. I will now share some of those life-changing insights with you!

“Every aspect of a salesperson’s life affects their performance day in and day out.”

I pestered Sol to teach me the art of selling. He was the best salesman in the 23-store furniture retailing chain we worked for. Sol finally relented, and we decided to go out for lunch. Once we sat down, he stated “Here are the rules.” I soon found out that he was not referring to rules about selling, but to the rules for our lunch! I remember thinking “What rules can two salespeople possibly have for a simple meal? After all, are we not all equals in this great bastion of democracy, the United States of America?”

I was equally unprepared for his next statement as well. “I don’t ever want to hear anything negative out of you, ever, do you understand?” Although truly shocked, I managed to reply, “Sol I’m not negative!” About a millisecond later I heard the sharp response. “I know you. You are negative. I don’t ever want to hear how slow it is or about a delivery problem or all the time you spent with someone who just canceled, or even about how bad the weather is. Do you understand?”

I remember thinking that within these brief 10 seconds, I just had my citizenship revoked, and was being forced to defend both my state of mind and even my personal integrity. So, I mustered all the strength that was stored up in my champion’s ferocious heart and shot back, “OK.”

He then went on to say “Now I will tell you why I was so hard on you. Winners only justify winning in their thinking. Underachievers only justify why they didn’t or can’t succeed. Here’s what I mean. I am going to write $5,000 today, do you know why? Because I got to work early, studied the advertising, and checked stock on the advertised items. I then decided on the natural step-ups for the major advertised items. So, when the first customer came in, I was mentally prepared and ready to go! So how much are you going to sell today, and why?”

I stumbled through the answer, “I am going to write $3,000 today because when I get back to the store, I will study the advertising and practice my pitch on the main items and even on their add-ons.”

“That’s it,” he replied. “Now you’ve got it!”

“Winners are 100 percent focused on thinking about winning. Underachievers justify their failures. They get stuck on the reasons why they didn’t or can’t succeed.” “When other salespeople distract you from your selling time and mental focus, they appear to be friends, but they are actually your enemies.”

Your Enemies are Your Friends

The next week it was time to go to lunch again. Once the waitress had taken our order, he wasted no time stating “Your enemies are your friends, and your friends are your enemies.” I felt like my brain was going through an earthquake, but managed to get out “Sol what in the world could you possibly be talking about?” Here is more of his “wisdom for the ages” that every retail salesperson should know.

“When you are a commissioned salesperson it’s all about keeping your mind focused on selling. That’s why you came to work, to sell a lot, right? So, when other salespeople want to occupy both your time and mental focus, they appear to be friends, at least conversationally. In reality, they are your enemies because they prevent you from doing what you came to work for in the first place. However, if other salespeople don’t like you well enough to talk with you very much, they don’t interfere with your main objective, and so they really are friends indeed!”

How to Live With Yourself!

It was only after the first two lunches that Sol would even begin to teach me about the art of selling. I now understand why. It would have been a complete waste of time to impart that further understanding unless I first knew how to make proper use of my time, had the right mental focus and learned how to be properly prepared for the start of each and every day.

The sales training he then imparted was no less impactful than the personal success perspectives he taught me. After several months, he began our lunch by telling me, “I’ve taught you how to go to the bank, now I have to teach you how to live with yourself!”

My usual reply had now been committed to memory. I said, “Sol what could you possibly be talking about?” He replied with additional wisdom. “Now that you aren’t spending so much time socializing on the floor,” he explained, “and are also making a lot more in commission, other salespeople will begin to cause you problems. Many will now view you as being greedy and mistakenly assume you are doing something a little shady. They will start complaining to management that you are doing something wrong when you are not. You’ll see.”

It was perhaps two weeks later that the entire sales team marched into the manager’s office insisting that Sol and I, plus one more trusted salesperson who had now joined our lunches, were tying up the floor by passing customers to each other for sales splits. The accusation was totally false, but the store manager, who brought all three of us into the office together, asserted that “they can’t all be wrong.”

I came up with the only plausible defense I could think of. I asked the manager to pull all our combined sales for the previous month as well as the total dollar amount of split sales. He said that would take too much time. I countered that his office staff had plenty of downtime, and besides I would gladly pay for the time it took them to do it. He simply got up, walked out of the room, and didn’t return.

The three of us decided to interview collectively with our direct competitor just a few miles away. Word of it must have gotten back to our store manager, and he then reluctantly conducted the audit. It revealed that our combined total sales volume was less than two percent in splits between us. We finally got a begrudging admission of error and decided to stay.

When I became a store manager a few years later, my sales manager and his entire sales staff stormed into my office demanding that a new salesperson, who was doing better than everyone else, be fired for shady practices. I had hired the accused salesperson, knew his character well and had warned him early on that such a thing might happen. One year later the sales manager apologized. He told me that the salesperson he almost fired was the only honest salesperson on the floor and that we came very close to losing our best salesperson due to the pettiness of the rest of the team.

That incident proved to be a strong confirmation of the advice Sol had given me years before. What kept echoing through my mind at that time were his words—an awesome shadow cast by a great mentor— “Now I have to teach you to live with yourself!”

A Parting Insight

It is my hope that you will share this article with your management team as well as with your salespeople. Often the paradigms employed in developing sales training programs overlook valuable and important real-life instruction. We often learn best from real-world experiences that provide valuable perspective in addition to just knowledge.

The importance of life success skills training to the salespeople you employ should not be overlooked. However, the few persuasive examples presented in this article are just the tip of the iceberg! It pays you well to remember: the bigger the shadow that you cast, the less you will need to be walking clueless and dejected salespeople out your door! Wishing you Happy Selling!


About Scott Morris

Scott Morris worked for the four largest furniture retail chains in America as a store manager and sales trainer. He is the owner of HSM Publishing. His mission is to stop the high sales associate turnover rate within the furniture industry. He has written and published six books on various topics, in addition to the “Sales Questions” laminate, and designed and produced the advanced level sales training course titled “The Best Furniture Sales Training Ever!!!” He also produced 12 insightful customer “handouts” designed to bring back the “75 percent who leave without buying.” Questions about this article or any aspect of sales education can be directed to him at hsm7777@att.net or visit TheBestFurnitureSalesEver.com.