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This article appeared in The Western Retailer published by the Western Home Furnishings Association a few years ago. I hope you still find it to be relevant. The publication has now become: Retailer NOW and I still write for them.
Create A Compelling Culture
In the midst of one of the most challenging economic climates we’ve experienced in many years, there is an opportunity for home furnishings retailers to actually grow their businesses.
Creating a compelling culture can be the key to carve out a new strategy for success in these uncertain times.
This article will present 7 Steps that can be the guideline to help retailers increase sales and profits and cultivate a more loyal following of customers. It allows for and requires creative thinking to make it work.
Things really are “a-changin” and it is important to recognize three trends that will most certainly affect consumer shopping and buying choices.
- Consumer Mindset
As a result of the slow economy, consumers are are re prioritizing their needs and wants. They are spending more time at home and are taking on an appreciation for more simple things.
- Environmental Movement
Green is not a fad, it’s a cultural shift that goes well beyond recycling. Consumers are gravitating toward companies that offer products and support causes that benefit the environment and society.
- Social Media
In his ground breaking book Socialnomics, Eric Qualman states, “Social Media is changing the way consumers and companies communicate and interact with each other.” People are paying less attention to what companies say about themselves, and are consulting with their social network peers to decide what and where to buy.
Retailers can ill afford for customers to have negative experiences, because word of mouth now travels at light speed. There’s a new boss in town.
Why is Culture Important?
In retail, most everything can be copied except for a company’s identity, reputation and culture.
To fully appreciate the power of culture, let’s take a look at some companies in other categories. Apple, Whole Foods, Starbucks and Zappos are, in a sense, good comparisons to our industry in that they all deal in products that most consumers use everyday. When that’s the case, there is tremendous competition seeking to grab a share of an enormous pie.
What do these companies have in common?
- High quality products
- No focus upon pricing, sales, or discounting to drive business
- Unique and enticing environments
- Outstanding customer experiences
But there is another common trait that has propelled them to the top of their respective categories. All have created such a compelling culture that consumers want to step into their world, take a piece of it home, tell others and go back for more.
The new cliche is, “Create unique buying experiences”, but I say unique can be horrible and not everyone that visits a store buys.
Why not create an experience that so far exceeds expectation that most every guest, not just buyers, can’t wait to tell others. “Even if you don’t need furniture now, you’ve got to go there, it’s awesome!” How does a retailer create that kind of culture?
- Create A New Approach
Unfortunately, especially in slow economies, many retailers use the tired old low price, long financing and free service message to attract shoppers. While it does increase traffic, this “swing the door” promotion kills profits, sabotages RSA’s and does nothing to create customer loyalty. Customers are motivated to seek and prioritize the “bang for their buck.”
With the changing consumer mindset described above, retailers can just connect the dots. What better products are there to invest in than home furnishings? Shout it from the rooftops!
I call it “giving a glimpse of what life could be,” lifestyle images and messages that engage the imagination. Preconditioning the customer changes expectations. Inspired imaginations evoke the emotions that compel people to take action. That same message can be communicated by RSA’s directly to shoppers. “More and more people are choosing to invest in quality furniture to make their homes a sanctuary or haven.”
- Create Real Customers
Thomas J. Winninger in his book, Bullseye, says that all customers are not customers, some are just transactions and will never recommend nor buy from a company again.
Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, its important to identify what he calls “stakeholders” and gather good information from them to know how to effectively expand business by developing more long term relationships.
The best way to collect and compile good information is to standardize a list of simple questions that all RSA’s should ask every customer everyday.
“Why did you come to us initially?” “What keeps you coming back?” “What could we do for you that we are not already doing?” This information must be documented so it can be analyzed to create the best course of action for companies to take in all areas of their business.
- Create a Niche
To gain recognition, and separate from the competition, retailers must identify their strengths and unique traits and leverage them to differentiate and create a niche in crowded market places. Maybe Oscar Wilde said it best, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.
But author Seth Godin, in his book Purple Cow, says even that is not enough. Godin states that “successful companies must either become remarkable or else they will become invisible.”
Retailers should find something “udderly” (sorry, I could resist) I mean utterly unique and even quirky to create curiosity and keep people talking. That will be up to individual retailers to determine, but Seth’s book has a lot of great ideas and is well worth reading.
Weir’s Furniture Village in Dallas has an “ole timey” General Store within their store. You can smell the homemade cookies baking as soon as you cross the door.
With the overwhelming majority of furniture buying decisions being made by women,
a great place to start is to view every aspect of a store visit from her perspective.
- Never wait until something needs cleaning or straightening. Create a daily checklist of chores to keep the store in first class order with attention to detail. Many “just lookers” saw something they didn’t like.
- Tap into emotion with an enticing multi sensory environment of display, lighting, music and sounds, snacks and beverages.
- Keep things fresh. Customers love to be surprised by what they find each time they visit a store. Redecorating and re-merchandising the floor should be an ongoing process.
- Create Advocates
Through customer service issues, retailers can create advocates or assassins according to JD Powers Book, Satisfaction. Customers that have a problem resolved to their liking think more favorably of a store than if they never had a problem.
Customer service should be job one for every employee, not just a department. Policies should be customer friendly, but based upon principles of integrity and fairness. It’s not right to appease an abusive customer and hold the line on others. Word can quickly get out to “throw a fit” to get what you want.
- Communication is the key. Customers will be more patient if they believe someone is working on their behalf.
- Make the delivery of goods a wonderful experience for customers. The delivery staff should be ambassadors for a company.
- Create A Higher Purpose
More and more people are seeking out companies and brands that support causes that benefit the environment and society. Retailers can set the standard for recycling and energy efficiency and proactively lead or support efforts that benefit their community.
- Offer helpful seminars with experts in various fields.
- Make presentations to companies or organizations and offer them incentives to do business.
- Think outside the box. One young RSA convinced his company to do mattress road shows at retirement communities. Genius!
- Create a Culture From Within
While all the suggestions listed above are important in creating a culture, the best way to attract and create loyal enthusiastic passionate customers is to attract and create loyal, enthusiastic, passionate employees.
RSA’s may be the only touch point shoppers have with a company. Research shows that most shoppers ultimately buy from someone they trust. Retail sales is demanding. It’s important to have confident, competent, caring career professionals and make it worth their while by addressing their quality of life issues.
- Have A Mission
Switch from selling to serving. People can perceive motive and if a company’s main focus is sales and profits, empowered shoppers will elect to shop elsewhere.
Write out a mission statement and create core values. Go over them in daily preparation meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Delivering Happiness In a Box by Tony Hsieh,CEO of Zappos, sets the standard for creating a company culture and should be must reading for every company dealing with the public.
In the long run, home furnishings will always be one of the best categories of consumer goods to sell. But it’s important for retailers to adapt to changes in order thrive. Implementing this 7 Step Plan can help do just that.
“I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.” – Stanley Baldwin
In his #1 best seller, Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, author Malcolm Gladwell, reveals that our subconscious is even more powerful than we thought, going well beyond intuition.
There is part of our brain that leaps to conclusions called the adaptive unconscious. The study of this kind of decision making is one of the most important new fields in psychology.
I believe this book contains a great number of ideas and concepts that can open up new areas of discussion to help our industry better communicate with and serve our customers.
Here are a few of the major points along with my thoughts on how they can impact retail mattress sales.
Gladwell says this “giant computer of ours” is capable of making very quick judgements based upon very little information. He asserts these subconscious decisions are often superior to our conscious ones because the “more is better” approach often creates too many hypotheticals, resulting in confusion.
- Mattress shoppers immediately begin to draw conclusions about a retailer from the moment they enter the parking lot. It’s important that every detail of our presentation be objectively examined, improved or enhanced and maintained.
- Based upon the messages from a store (advertising) and about a store (word of mouth) prospective shoppers quickly decide whether or not to visit. If they choose to, most formulate expectations. i.e “I’m going to get bang for my buck”, or “I’m going to find a mattress that I can sleep better upon.”
Gladwell demonstrates the effectiveness of what he calls “thin slicing” using a study group to identify effective vs. ineffective college professors based upon only two seconds of video tape with no sound. Their judgements were consistent with evaluations of those same professors made by student’s after a full semester of classes.
- Shoppers size up RSA’s immediately. There is nothing more important than being fully prepared. Everything from product knowledge and selling skills to grooming, attitude and body language must be scrutinized.
- It works both ways, RSA’s also make snap judgements about their shoppers. It’s important to never judge by appearance. Instead, assume that each shopper may likely choose to buy a top quality mattress.
In another study, Gladwell shows that doctors that weren’t sued for malpractice are ones that patients thought listened to them and cared about them. For patients, it isn’t what happens to them that causes them to sue, it’s if they like the doctor or not. The report went on to show that the doctors not sued, spent on average, 3 minutes longer with each patient.
- The point we should consider is obvious. RSA’s that take the time to listen, show respect, and address concerns will be much more successful than those that don’t.
Gladwell goes on to describe a cardiac clinic that discovered three basic indicators could be used to determine which patients complaining of chest pain would actually go into cardiac arrest. The accuracy of the predictions far exceeded the cardiologists’ judgements based upon multiple factors and years of experience.
- Can we as an industry boil down the information we can obtain from our customers to a few indicators that will determine the type of mattress that will be best suited for them? I have some ideas that will be the subject of a future blog.
Hit & Run vs. Relational Selling
There really are two basic types of selling even though there are countless categories of goods and services. While referred to by various names, I call them hit and run, vs. relational selling. What separates the two is the potential for repeat business. Hit and run sales most typically involves a onetime purchase like the proverbial used car or door to door sales.
Relational selling has the potential, and typically a goal, to sell goods and / or services to the same person with some degree of frequency or consistency over an indefinite but hopefully long period of time.
Hit and run focuses on the product, relational on the customer. Compared to relational selling, the odds of closing the sale to someone on their first encounter are actually fairly high if the sales associate has the “skills and drive”, but it also has a real downside as the trade off.
Relational selling as the name implies requires establishing and developing a relationship prior to making the first sale. An example would be selling mattresses at the wholesale level to a retailer. In some cases, this may take years.
It’s the Same for the Shopper
The attitude of the mattress shopper is most often considered a “Hit and Run” purchase. Forming any kind of relationship with the RSA is not even on their radar screen. What’s the point? It’s a one time purchase. At least for the length of the warranty, 10 years or more.
It’s just the nature of the beast. Mattress retail sales does lend itself to being Hit and Run. After all, we do know that usually, you really do only have one shot at it. Statistics show that if someone leaves without buying, they will probably buy elsewhere. This creates urgency or even desperation and can lead to some really poor practices. Unfortunately this is why many consumers lump us in with the above mentioned used car and door to door salesman stereotype.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
But the truth is, you have the ability to change the entire dynamic and change consumer impression of our industry one customer at a time by approaching the selling process in a relational manner. You really can develop a clientele and build a long term business. The frequency or purchase may not be often, but while people sleep on their mattress for many years, they do have other needs that arise. In addition, relational selling seeks referrals by using testimonials from satisfied customers. We all know, word of mouth is the best way to build a business.
But the real benefit to relational selling is that it creates a unique buying experience for your customers resulting in increased sales of higher quality goods.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between Hit and Run and Relational Selling.
Compare the characteristics below in no particular order:
Hit & Run Relational
Short term Long term
Spend a little time comparing and considering the two columns. Adopting the attitudes, concepts and practices in the Relational column will certainly pay bigger dividends for everyone involved.
“If you make a sale, you can make a living. If you make an investment of time and good service in a customer, you can make a fortune.” Jim Rohne
Can this be true?
Somewhere I know I either heard or read that sleep deprivation can eventually cause death. I was skeptical so I looked it up on Wikipedia and found this sentence: “Long-term total sleep deprivation has caused death in lab animals.”
Well unfortunately for lab animals, lack of sleep seems to be the least of their problems. But even if it’s only proven to be true for them, maybe we can use it to help sell more beds. After all, we are told all the time to avoid one thing or another that has been shown to cause big problems for lab animals, like drinking 40 gallons of caffeine daily. Hmmm, caffeine, sleep deprivation…I digress. Given that I think we can begin our sales presentations by saying “Buy a mattress from me or you will die.”
Well, maybe I should tap the brake a little. But there is no denying that new quality comfortable mattresses do help people sleep better. It is safe to say that there are few products that can have a bigger impact upon people’s health, happiness and well being than a mattress. Knowing that is empowering. We should shout that message from the rooftops.
I say as often as I can, in one month, the average person will spend 10 complete days (24 hours) on his or her mattress. Even a few extra minutes of REM sleep per night can have dramatic positive effects. So we really can help our fellow man regenerate body, mind and spirit. How great is that?
OH NO. Maybe lack of sleep really can cause tremendous harm. Here is a sleep deprived fellow seconds away from certain doom.
It is a harsh reality. When it comes to retail mattress sales, most often sales associates have one chance to make the sale. That’s a lot of pressure but as the saying goes, it is what it is. Retailers must be able to help facilitate the likelihood of success if they hope to compete.
Few shoppers care where they buy a mattress as long as the get what they want at a price they want to pay. Unfortunately even the slightest negative can send them straight out the door to a competitor. Of all the factors shoppers use to determine what and where to buy, their experience with the sales associate is arguably the most powerful influence.
So how does a store like yours maximize its odds of closing sales? A great place to start is to make sure all retail sales associates are up to the task. Of course, retailers have lots of other issues to consider such as merchandising, promotion and pricing, but even with all that in place, sales associates are ultimately responsible for closing the sale.
Most every retailer utilizes some form of mattress sales training or else they wouldn’t be able to compete. Throwing associates to the lions is bad for one’s turnover rate.
Typical training consists of teaching product knowledge and selling skills. While that is obvious and appropriate, it is not enough. These are simply tools that must be learned but then must be put to use. Unfortunately, the sales floor itself is too often the testing lab where associates learn from their mistakes.
The key is to teach new associates how to effectively use their knowledge and skills before they deal directly with shoppers and to help veteran associates increase their effectiveness on a continual basis.
The best method for putting theory to practice is scenario based learning (SBL) recreating real life situations for associates to problem solve and then practice as a means of learning.
Authors Hans Kövi, Kasper Spiro in their article, How to Engage Learners with Scenario-based Learning (Learning Solutions Magazine February 2013 issue) say “with scenario-based learning, facilitation helps the learner use preexisting knowledge, understand it in the context of the training, apply the knowledge, analyze new situations, evaluate, and create new outcomes.”
One can create hypothetical situations for teaching, i.e, “a young couple on a limited budget wants to buy an inexpensive mattress.” How would you help them decide to invest in a better quality product?
While this is a great idea, I encourage retailers to enhance the process by using actual situations that occur daily on their own sales floor. Here’s how to do it.
Have sales associates keep a journal to record pertinent information throughout each day. When possible, after each selling encounter, jot down few highlights, notes of anything significant, both the good and bad, as detailed as possible, with some dialog. Using actual statements or questions is most helpful.
It’s important not to make this a burdensome chore similar to medical charting, but rather as a useful tool to capture issues where the sale didn’t go well and also to capture the issues and events that lead to closing a sale.
Then there are a variety of options of how to utilize the gathered information for training purposes:
Individually: Each associate can reexamine and analyze the situation to determine how they may have overcome objections to close the sale or to have stepped a buying customer up to better quality, added on accessories, sought referrals or discovered future needs.
- With a partner: Associates should seek confidants to discuss, analyze and recreate the selling situations for solutions and to share successes.
- As a group. A great idea is to schedule regular weekly meetings with a staff to discuss situations that occurred the previous week. In that meeting, encourage creative analysis, input and discussion.
Examine the failures for how the sale may have been saved. Share the elements of successful sales and critique them to examine possible ways to improve.
Then in both cases, use role playing with real give and take dialog to recreate the situations using the gathered suggestions for success.I can’t stress enough the effectiveness of this type of training.
In addition to real life situations, create scenarios to cover basic issues such as delivery and customer service, returns and warranties,financing, competition, or anything that may likely occur.
- In a forum. Some companies create intranet forums to share this type of information, an especially great idea for larger companies with multiple locations.
Here are a couple of other ideas to utilize reality based training and learning:
- Mentoring: Pair new associates with veterans to actually “listen in” on the floor during the selling process, like new waitresses, observing “how its done”, along with having some limited interaction with the shopper. Most shoppers appreciate companies that care enough to teach their employees how to take care of customers.
As the associates progress, the veteran can take on the role of observer to help ease them into the process and to be there to help if necessary. Amazingly, this is very helpful for veterans as well. New associates often find creative things to say and ways to sell. Sometimes amazed veterans jokingly say, we forgot to tell them business is slow right now.
- Questions: In addition to recording selling situations, RSA’s should write down questions about products, specs, pricing, policy and any other issues that are sure to come up each day. There are likely many that may be forgotten if not written down. Then they can seek out the appropriate person to consult with, whether that be a manager, someone from another department or from the manufacturer or their reps.
Finally, the above mentioned authors, Kovi and Spiro say there is a huge additional benefit to SBL motivation.“ Motivation, in short, is what makes a human being act to achieve a goal. There are two types of motivation: intrinsic, in which motivation emerges from the desire to learn, to master a task, or to prove oneself, and extrinsic, in which motivation emerges from the rewards gained when completing a task in the right way. At first, most learners will be extrinsically motivated. They take the training because it is mandatory. We find however, that SBL makes it possible to address the intrinsic motivation of a learner.”How? I believe the real life experiences of SBL taps into one’s emotions. Associates discover the reward and satisfaction of helping improve the lives of others.
The best way to deal with the harsh reality of mattress retail? Close more sales!. It is what it is.
Mattress Sales Training Program
Whether you are new to mattress sales or have years of experience this program is guaranteed to increase sales and create true sales professionals. The Mattress Sales Training Program includes three courses:
Sell More Mattresses with Gerry Morris
- An Overview of the Mattress Industry
- Mattress Product Knowledge
- The Secret to Mattress Sales
- How to Deal with Competition
- Warranties and Comfort Guarantees
- Selling with Service
- How to Greet the Customer
- The “I’m Just Looking” Customer
- Discovering Customer Needs
- Presenting Solutions
- Closing with Confidence
Professionalism & Customer Service
- Setting and Achieving Sales Goals
- Telephone Skills
- Business Card Marketing
- Selling Your Store’s Credit Plan
Learn More: Furniture Training Company
While I’m not really about to lose control, Like the Pointer Sisters, I’m pretty dang excited! (Texan for “very”). But, I don’t think we’re worked up about the same thing. I found no mention of “retail mattress sales” in their lyrics.
So, what’s stirring up my innards? (Texan again, sorry) If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a change taking place in retail mattress sales in the last few years and I believe we are on the cutting edge of tremendous growth! And if you haven’t noticed, it’s time to get with it, because there is tangible evidence to support my optimism.
What’s behind this evolution! Well, there is an intangible force that is the catalyst driving the change and it may surprise you. We’ll get to that in a moment. First, lets see what’s new.
These Times They Are a Changin!
Bob Dylan is right. Not too many years ago, the standard was for mattress departments to be laid out like army barracks, with “Fifty Shades of Beige” upholstered rectangles. Remove the brand labels, and people would be hard pressed to differentiate one from another.
We languished in safety mode for over a decade. David Perry with Furniture Today wrote a column asking, “Why are all mattresses white?” It was because we feared that color and strong patterns could possibly evoke a negative response, “I like the mattress OK, but I don’t care for this color or that.” Also, women were concerned about them showing through the sheets. Mattress protectors have gone a long way to rectify that.
But “It’s a new day, a new dawn” and in an effort to differentiate, brave manufacturers have found how to do it with beautiful and exciting border treatments, fabric colors, patterns,textures, and quilt patterns. That along with bold end of bed and pillow adornments have helped brands claim distinctive identities and entice shoppers to indulge.
Within home furnishings stores, as one would leave a beautifully decorated case good or living room vignette and enter the mattress department, it was like walking out of a lush forest into the dessert, save for a matching silk plants and end tables by each model. (Obviously I’m painting with a broad brush. No need to call me out)
In the trendy new departments, gone are the prohibitive lucite signage that would stop shoppers in their tracks from attempting to lie down. “No, read me first!” It seemed like a good idea at the time, to try to get the pricing out of the way first, demonstrate value with triple marked up suggested retails, detailed specifications and a few features and benefits. But the net result was more time spent in conversation about the product than actually experiencing it. Now pricing and spec information is being discreetly displayed on end of bed feet protectors.
Once prevalent mini spring units and layer samples are not demanding attention, but are kept available if needed. Appropriately so, the focus is now upon the product, not the tools to sell it. What a concept.
Cutaway schematic type posters have been replaced by lifestyle images. Afterthought accessories are now a part and parcel featured in clever kiosk displays.
Soft soothing lighting, cool serene color schemes, creative layouts and vignette style designs that offer accessibility and privacy are luring shoppers into what formerly has been a destination only department.
But the best trend of all is the evolution of the cumbersome geriatric hospital bed to the sleek new adjustable base. This may be the biggest boost to volume and profits retailers have ever experienced. Anyone interested in four figure average ticket price gain? WOW! I visited a store recently that have well over half their floor models on adjustable bases. The majority of their sales are to people that were not even shopping for them.
What’s Going On!
Well back to my assertion, that there is an intangible force that is driving these tangible changes. What is it! Emotion. That’s it.
There is no doubt that price and value will always be considerations for mattress shoppers, but there is also no doubt that when emotion enters the equation, many are inspired to invest in quality for comfort, health happiness and well being.
Consider the power of emotion in car shopping. Cars being a similar category to mattresses in that they are utilitarian, providing a specific and necessary life function. If people approached car shopping like traditional mattress shopping, they would settle for a safe dependable means of getting from point a to point b as their main determinant. That is hardly the case. When someone test drives a car, they get a glimpse of what life could be. It was just my imagination, Running away with me!” No kidding, running away to the tune of thirty plus thousand dollars. If someone wants something badly enough, they will find a way to get it.
The best news of all.
It doesn’t matter which generational group you are dealing with, feeling good, happiness and comfort, have universal appeal. Emotional attraction, curiosity and the accompanying motivation will transcend age, gender ethnicity and any other category you can think of. At the end of the day, We all want to have a sense of well being, Arguably, no other consumer product can offer that as well as a mattress.
So by engaging the imagination of the mattress shopper using the illustrations above, you can literally change shoppers motivation from need to want!. “I second that emotion.” The action is the same, the motivation is what’s changed. Want is simply a need with an added emotional component. Its as simple as that.
The power of emotion is and will continue to propel retail mattress sales into a whole new realm. Smart retailers are using these tools to lure shoppers into their mattress departments and entice them to test drive top quality models they previously may would have never considered. Harness the power of emotion and boost your mattress sales to new heights.
“You can’t always get what you want, you can’t always...” actually Mick, when it comes to mattresses, you can and should get what you want!
Golf Lessons (What the Mattress Industry Can Learn From Golf)
There is a similarity between golf clubs and mattresses. No, I haven’t lost my mind, but I’m pretty sure that I have your attention now.
I don’t play golf, even though I do like watching it for some reason. I never have played and probably won’t, so while I’m no expert, I do know that we can learn a lesson from golf.
OK, I’ll Explain The similarity is that golf clubs are limited in design by strict parameters as are mattresses. In the modern era there always has been and always will be putters, irons and drivers . Mattresses always have and probably always will have a mattress and a foundation and come in four basic sizes.
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The saying: “Nothing happens until something is sold “ is cliche because, well…it’s true? Actually, it’s not.
While this truism does point out the vital role of sales, it’s not an accurate depiction of retail. Actually, lots happens before something is sold.
Of all the aspects involved in running a successful home furnishings business, sales is arguably the most important, especially in today’s economy.
When considering all the people both directly and indirectly involved in retail, it would be practically impossible to count them. Just pick one finished good and trace its components and materials back to their original source and try to count the number of people and actions involved in bringing it to the point of sale.
All that effort culminates in a single conversation between one shopper and one RSA (retail sales associate) at a time. It’s when the sale is closed that the ownership of the goods is transferred from the supply side to the demand side of the equation. Simple, yet profound, it is the Essence of Retail.
What’s the Point?
The real goal for retailers that want to increase volume, market share and profits is to expand their base of loyal customers and develop long term relationships with them.
With that as the number one priority, retailers should view every aspect of business as a means of facilitating, supporting and enabling the sales staff to increase the likelihood of closing sales. A litmus test for making good decisions is to always ask the question “Does this help us serve our customers?”
So through that lens, lets take at some ways to create a successful sales program.
For most shoppers, the retail sales staff maybe the only touchpoint.They are the ambassadorssadors for the entire company. But,with the nature of retail, long hours, evenings weekends and holidays, it’s not easy to find people that want to make retail sales a long term career. Retailers wanting a top notch sales staff must make it worth their while, not only monetarily, but also with quality of life issues.
Obviously, the sales staff must be prepared, but retailers can also prepare their shoppers by the messages they send out. Advertising that focuses upon price, discounts, financing swings the door with transactional customers seeking the best deal.
A better, inspiring message with lifestyle images can evoke the emotion to compel shoppers to want to improve their quality of life as their primary reason to visit at a store.
In today’s world, many shoppers are better prepared and more informed than some RSA’s. Consumers are using the plethora of information on internet are often armed and ready for battle.
To avoid losing a power struggle with a savvy shopper, RSA’s should regularly spend researching competitors and brands in the same manner as consumers to stay informed.
Shoppers that perceive the confidence and competence of a well trained knowledgeable sales associate most often will allow her or him to take the lead. Combining these qualities with compassion and caring is what instills trust.
Shoppers immediately begin to draw conclusions about a retailer from the moment they enter the parking lot. It’s important that every detail be objectively examined, improved or enhanced and maintained on a daily basis. Many “Just lookers” may have seen something they didn’t like.
Sales associates should arrive early, make sure everything is in place, familiarize themselves with all pertinent information about sales, promotions, delivery, pricing changes and be ready willing and able to serve when the door opens.
Traditional sales training, product knowledge and selling skills, is no longer sufficient. Training for success in the future must be taken to a new level. It is an arduous and ongoing task, but worth the effort.
Here are some ideas:
- Objective Training
Consider seeking out third party training services, like The Furniture Training Company, that specialize in improving the overall level of training skills.
- Diversity Training
It’s just human nature for people to feel most comfortable with their peer group. Yet in retail sales, one never knows who may walk through the door next. The new frontier of training includes learning about other cultures and perspectives in order to better relate and be of service to all those that are kind enough to give an opportunity to earn their business.
- Psychology, Communications and Human Relations
To reach the top level of competence, RSA’s must learn and understand the motivation and attitude of consumers, and how to better relate and communicate with them.
A New Selling Process
To be truly successful a company’s emphasis should be upon serving the customer instead of selling to them. Paradoxically, retailers with this paradigm are more successful than those that have success as their goal. Consumers can perceive motive.
People want to feel that they have been given the best opportunity, information and advice for their own particular circumstance rather than having been run through the same “system” as everyone else.
Try replacing the selling-steps approach with “guided discovery”—conversations with people rather than presentations to shoppers using open ended questions and more listening than talking. It is a collaborative effort with the goal of not just satisfying, but exceeding customers’ expectations
Pricing and Discounting
Retailers that do allow for individual price discounts must be careful. It’s wise to address pricing and discounts as a policy matter. Along with quality of product and customer service, fair pricing practices play an integral role in the credibility and reputation of a company.
Consider creating a clearly defined and written policy that may contain some leeway, but otherwise should be adhered to without exception.
The sale is not complete until the customer has received the goods and is satisfied with them. RSA’s working with customer service, delivery and finance must follow up every sale to ensure total customer satisfaction.
RSA’s can gather the information to keep and attract new customers by seeking testimonials and referrals. A post sale interview is a great way to find out what the customer liked or disliked, what could be improved upon, what what their future needs may be.
It’s of utmost importance to stay connected with customers using social media tools. There is an abundance of information available on that topic.
One of the best ways to increase performance is to have each RSA track their selling performance on a daily basis. i.e. Number of ups, closing rate, average ticket, returns, etc. It’s just human nature that once someone becomes aware of their performance, improvement follows.
Schedule regular meetings asking RSA’s to share information on specific selling situations, and then use role playing to recreate, improve everyones selling skills.
Going Outside the Box
Smart retailers don’t just sit back wishing and hoping for customers. They proactively seek it out by getting involved with local events, causes and organizations.
More consumers are choosing to do business with companies that want to make a positive difference in the environment and the community. It’s a great way to gain exposure and attract new customers.
All employees should spend some time on the sales floor observing and meeting customers face to face to see first hand the real reason they have a job and a paycheck. Conversely every sales associate should spend time in every department to learn how each works together to facilitate that most important aspect of retail, Sales.
I’ve always liked this format, taking the alphabet and creating ideas for each letter. This originally appeared in Sleep Savvy under the title: “Alphabet Soup.”
Accessories Don’t just think of protectors, pillows, sheets, etc as add on sales, use them to help your shoppers maximize the enjoyment, benefits and longevity of their investment.
Benefits. It isn’t the product that is so important to shoppers, it’s what the product does for them. To shoppers a bed is a bed. Show them how the features contribute to back support, comfort, and pressure relief and most importantly to their quality of life.
Close the sale. Not closing mattress sales is a waste of time for your shopper and yourself. They are going to buy somewhere and there are most certainly products you have that they would be satisfied with.
Demonstrate mattresses by focusing first upon the benefit then the feature. “You can sleep in one place longer on this mattress. It has a layer of convoluted foam that relieves pressure points.”
Educate shoppers about sleep. Learn as much as you can about the important benefits of deep sleep and the damaging effects of poor sleep. Use that knowledge to help your shoppers connect the dots to investing in a quality product.
Focus. Switch your focus from the product to the person. Ask “How do you feel on this mattress instead of how does the mattress feel to you.” People may not like shopping but they do like feeling good.
Guided Discovery. Make selling steps more productive by involving the shopper in the process. Having goal oriented conversations empowers shoppers and makes them more likely to buy from you.
Happiness. The one thing everyone wants is to be happy. There is no better product than a quality mattress to give people a better start on their day. Feeling good and being rested doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it sure does help.
Introduction Always introduce yourself, ask for your shopper’s name, use it but don’t overuse it. Establish a relationship by spending a few minutes talking about your shopper and her needs.
Journal Keep a daily journal of your interactions with shoppers. Note things that don’t go well to find possible solutions as well as things that do to share with fellow RSA’s.
Key The key to mattress sales is to understand that shoppers approach the process as satisfying a need. (Fixing a problem) Through conversation you have the ability to help them want to buy by adding emotion. Giving people a glimpse of how their lives can be improved.
Listen. Slow down and give full attention to what your shopper has to say. Pause and consider before responding. I’m sure you know the old adage of why we have two ears and one mouth. Listen twice as much as talk.
Mission. Knowing what you do about the benefits of sleeping on a top quality mattress, make it your daily goal to help as many people as possible choose to buy one for their benefit.
Never ask what you shopper wants to spend, bash your competitors, nor use warranty, price or comfort guarantees to close sales.
Overcome Objections by using your product knowledge to add value rather than stepping down in price or quality.
Product Knowledge. Objectively learn every product on your floor by lying on them and understanding how the specifications create and contribute to the comfort level, support and durability of each.
Qualifying Questions. Here are two questions that can change the dynamics of the selling process, increase your average ticket and customer satisfaction. “Which mattress feels most like your current one. Which do you like best now?”
Replacement. Make sure to recommend customers replace not only their mattresses before they wear out, but also their pillows and protectors.
Support. Shoppers mostly perceive comfort. It is up you to explain support and durability. Both contribute to the cost of the mattress and even more so to your customer’s satisfaction. You do get what you pay for.
Train, Train, Train. Top veterans are not big know it alls, they realize how much they still have to learn and are in constant pursuit of increasing their knowledge and skills.
Understand that your shoppers are on a mission to find a good value, help redefine value as it relates to their quality of life rather than their dollars. Price shoppers are reluctant to pull the trigger thinking there may be a better deal elsewhere.
Validate your shoppers choice to help them decide to buy. “Together we’ve gone through a thorough process to find products that will work for you, I think you’ve made a good choice with this model.”
Warranties. Always make sure your customers understand that warranties only cover defects not the normal wearing out process. Most warranties exceed the comfort life of the mattress for their protection.
eXamine your motives. (Taking a literary license because I couldn’t think of an application for X-ray of xylophone or xenophobia.) Putting others needs above your own will create more success than if success were your goal. People perceive intent. Serving instead of selling is a win win deal.
You are arguably the most important factor in a shopper’s decision of what and where to buy. Its true, people most often decide to buy from someone the like and trust.
ZZZ Sleep well and help others do the same. If you don’t already have a top quality
mattress, get one ASAP and then share how your life has improved. It may be the best ingredient of all.
I hope you liked this and found some helpful hints as well.