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Time Management For Retail Sales Professionals

Furniture World Magazine


Don’t sit there waiting for your next UP... Make your day more productive and profitable!

“Unlike other resources, time cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or stolen, stocked up or saved, manufactured, reproduced or modified. All we can do is make use of it. And whether we use it or not, it nevertheless slips away.” Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber

Time bandits sabotage your schedule, steal your resolve and rob you of your minutes. Who is the chief bandit -- the key saboteur of your schedule? I’m sorry to say that, it is most likely you.

What’s that saying? When you fail to plan ~ you plan to fail. That is what happens when your personal mission statement is - Hang out, hang on and hope for the best. Tick... Tick...

If you are the kind of retail sales associate that doesn’t prepare or plan your day, then you have no other choice but to take your UP’S and pray that you will accomplish your goals in the time allotted.

You may be thinking that, “I just try and do my best everyday, but I don’t have control over my schedule or my UP’S.”

As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” But now you may be asking, “chance to do what?” To answer that, we need to ask just one more question. What is your time supposed to do for you? What do you want to accomplish? Tick... Tick...

What’s your vision, your passion? If you are a professional home furnishings sales person, then you certainly want to help your customers to furnish their rooms. That is probably one of your passions, and you may have others as well. So now we know what your time is supposed to do for you. It should be focused on attaining your vision.... on exemplifying it.

We all understand that at retail you will never have full control of your schedule. You don’t always know when the next customer will walk into the store or when a customer service issue will arise. You can’t plan your entire day, but you can minimize avoidable interruptions, set aside specific times to work with customers and make more appointments. Trust me, by keeping focused on attaining your goals you can become more efficient.

To achieve success you will also need a few tools and techniques to combat enemies that drain your productivity by wasting your time.

Plan on Purpose, with a Purpose

What did “Alice” learn on her journey? “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Since you don’t want to go down any old road, you need to take control of what you can control.

Don’t run your company, “Me, Inc.” by the “Seat of your Pants.” Tick... Tick...

Plug in the 3-P’s

Prepare for your day. Plan your agenda. Take a few minutes to Prioritize.

Preparation starts by making a list, but avoid the temptation to “pontificate on paper!” Your to-do list is for you to DO. Make it easy. Keep it simple. No more than 5-6 items should appear on this sheet. Write down the most important tasks you want to achieve that day. Prioritizing will pay-off for you in time saved. Your time will be used more efficiently.

When you complete a task cross it off your list. You will feel great for having accomplished the task and then can go on to the next one.

Follow-up – Phone Home

Clerks don’t get names or phone numbers and a clerk’s customers turn into phantoms. They vanish! They disappear, never to be seen or heard from again! If they do return... if they decide to Be-Back, then they won’t do it on your schedule or at a time when you are prepared.

Set yourself apart as an ultimate professional by communicating and connecting with this customer so that you can help them, and make them your client. Your clients will come back to see you by appointment. Tick... Tick...

Once you get their phone number, let’em know that you will be calling. If they are not expecting to hear from you, you move from the “kingdom of clerkdom” to the “terrain of a telemarketer!

Tell them when you will call and why you are calling. Don’t just announce that “I’ll be giving you a call in a couple of days.” What does that mean? What’s in it for “Ethel” if you don’t tell her why? If you do not answer the “why” question, the next words you’ll hear from “Ethel” will be, “Oh, that’s okay, if I have any questions I’ll call you.” Does that sound familiar?

Remember these are the minutes that you control. Use them wisely. If you’re taking the time to call, set yourself up to win. Tick... Tick...

Before you make your call, know what you are going to say. Know what you want to accomplish.

You’re not calling to “chat.” You’re calling to assist her in making this important decision. What services could you offer her to make the process easy?

Invite her and “Ralph” back into the showroom. Make an appointment. “I work with all my clients by appointment so I can spend special time with both of you, without any interruptions. This will save you time and then we can get started putting together your new room.”

When you work by appointment and take the time to meet with them, let them know that you are going to be taking care of business.

Offer to bring the fabrics that they’ve selected to their home so they can see it in their room. “I’ll be happy to bring the fabrics out, so you can see how great they look. We’ll take care of the paperwork so we can get your new room started.” Let them know that you are not a “courier service for fabrics,” you are coming out to take care of business.

Never call and ask “Have you made your decision?” Know what you are going to say and what you want to accomplish on this call.

Jack Canfield, co-author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” tells of how he practiced for 24 hours before placing a call to Donald Trump. He says, “It was important. I wanted to be prepared for whatever he might ask.”

Plan ahead so you can get ahead! He has taken this philosophy to a whole new level. Good for him, and it will be great for you!

Mr. Canfield will be bringing his “Chickens” to roost in sales. Watch for his latest edition called, “Chicken Soup for the Soul that Sells.”

By efficiently following-up you won’t waste your time making non-productive calls. You will be able to more efficiently plan your time by making appointments that will take care of business. Tick... Tick...


Follow-thru means working your follow-up file system. You do have one don’t you? The biggest waste of time is committed in one place -- on your desk, in your workspace.

Do you spend hours searching through post-it notes, shuffling papers, going through proposal cards, or “leafing” through notebooks to find her number? You know that it must be in there, somewhere! Do you have a follow-up file box that resembles “landfill,” or looks like it’s in mid-explosion? It is the aluminum container where the cards angled 45 degrees to the left are the ones you promised to call “soon.” The group leaning in the opposite direction are people you need to contact about a “special event” that’s coming up. If you do, then get organized with an automated, computerized follow-up system or flawlessly maintained manual system.

Then there are the cards in the middle of your follow-up file... the ones in the middle, standing straight up that need to be called today or else!

“Today” may also stand for “D- Day” in your mind. The “D” standing for disaster or doomed! Yep, there’s a “glitch” in your customer’s order. It’s been delayed, discontinued, disappeared, disrupted at the factory, (meaning it never got ordered), or her paperwork dissolved into the stratosphere. Hey, it’s retail. It’s life, things happen.

Now when you prioritize your day, make sure to list taking care of these “call today” cards as a top priority. If you call “Ethel” before she calls you, if you can solve a problem before it becomes a big issue, then you can keep your potential disasters from getting out of control. When you’re on top of the situation, minutes, hours, days and nervous systems can be saved, yours, and “Ethel’s.”

There are three rules to remember before you pick up the phone to call “Ethel.”

1. If something she ordered has been discontinued... don’t use that word. What thoughts will come to her mind when she hears that word? It’s ugly. Nobody else liked it! It didn’t sell. Nobody wanted it! I, me little “Ethel,” must have awful taste. I picked “ugly!”

So, let her know that “It is no longer available” and...

2. Let her know that you’ve come up with a solution. You’ve done your homework. You’ve done your job. You’re on it! Do not invite her to “come back in and reselect.” Never tell her “You have to pick another one!” Pick another one? It was hard enough for her to “pick the first one.” Don’t make her do the work. That’s why you are here. Make it easy for her. Take the new solution to her. If she has to “sit on it,” Set up a special time, for her to do just that. It will save time, hers and yours.

3. Tell her that you contacted the factory, and that this new selection is available. This shows her that you’ve gone the extra mile so that there will not be any further complications or disappointments. You’ve taken care of it. Never show an alternate selection until you know its status. It’s hard enough selling it twice, don’t go for number three!

If you have to call her back about a complaint, listen to her. Let her vent. If you don’t, then you will just be wasting your time talking. When it is your turn to speak, let her know that you have a solution or that you are working on one. Don’t ever be afraid to call her back if she’s not happy. This is an opportunity for you. Make it your time to shine. You can’t solve a problem, if you don’t know one exists!

You’re good, but you’re not psychic! George Walther, author of “Heat Up Your Cold Calls,” says that, “Complaints aren’t just a chance for problem customers to vent their spleen; they’re a key opportunity to figure out what’s on your customer’s mind.” He calls this “aural surgery.” Instead of saying, ‘Oh no, a complaint,’ what reaches your brain is, ‘Oh great, feedback.” Now that you know there is a problem or concern, you can fix it, and then you are on your way to turning her into your client.

It’s ALL about solutions. That's the business that we’re in! Keith Eades, in his book, “The New Solution Selling,” says it’s “all about uncovering a customer problem, defining a vision of how things could be better, and then crafting a product or service to implement that vision.” You are the consultant. You are the one coming up with the solution. You are the one adding value. You are the added- value.

Let the customer know that a part of your job description, one of the reasons you’re here, is to be her problem solver. Become a “Fire Put-er Out-er” on a mission, and make sure you put out the fire before it becomes a raging inferno. Handling their complaints and concerns before they become intractable problems is one of the best and easiest ways to save time and make your life easier. Work the system. Don’t let it work you! SOLVE the problem, don’t BE the problem!
Tick... Tick...

Avoid Time Wasters

Here is a list of suspects you need to “Watch Out” for:

1. Your Peers: They don’t mean to, but they can pull you away from your priorities. It’s okay for a short chat, just don’t “visit” with them or “hang out” in the fort!

2. The Phone: Nothing disrupts your day like Alexander Graham Bell’s invention! Studies show that once you’ve been interrupted, it can take 15 minutes to get refocused on your task. So if you have voice mail, let it do its job and take messages. Set aside a block of time to return those calls. You know what they are regarding and now you’re prepared with solutions when you return them.

Be aware that people hate voice mail. Your customers want to speak to a human being. They are not patient people. So don’t add insult to injury by having a poor voice mail message. Listen to your voice mail and pay attention to what it says about you. Then practice it and polish it. Make sure it sounds both professional and fun. Let them know, “Thank you for calling. I’m sorry that I missed you. I’m with an appointment right now. I look forward to talking to you. I will return your call as soon as I can.” (This also lets them know that you are a true professional because you work by appointment!)

3. Your Next up - The Be-Back Bus Brigade: “The Bus” shows up. Your day gets sideswiped. You didn’t know they were coming. You’re not prepared for them. You didn’t plan on this, and half the time you’re trying to remember who they are! How embarrassing is that!

Work by appointment, so that you are driving the Be-Back Bus instead of waiting for it.

4. The Six Types Of Procrastinators: Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible” says that “We’re in the ‘kick yourself in the butt’ industry.” But some of us can’t get off our butts because of our “BUTS!” It’s an Inside Job!
Read carefully because this might get confusing. If you procrastinate, then this habit will tend to keep you firmly planted on your butt. Procrastination will also cause you to Butt heads with your customers, your bosses and even yourself. The result will be a terrible lack of productivity and time efficiency.
But, you may be wondering. But what “BUTS” are we specifically speaking of? What “BUTS” keep us from being productive?

In her book, “It’s About Time,” Dr. Linda Sapadin has identified six of these chronic procrastination styles that waste our time and sap our strength.

The Perfectionist Type #1
“ ...BUT I want it to be perfect!”

Perfectionists are the ones who don’t want to finish or even start a task because they feel it must be done perfectly. Sometimes they’ll overwork it to death, all in the name having it be perfect.

Sales associates fall into this trap when they give customers too many choices and tell them, “it has to be perfect.” This ends up confusing “Harriet,” can lead to “paralysis by over-analysis” and looks unprofessional. If you do this, it may seem to Harriet that you were not sure of what to show her, so you just kept selecting more options for her to see. These kinds of presentations are time consuming to put together and present, tedious, and tiring for all parties concerned.

Procrastinator Type #2 -The Dreamer
“...BUT I hate all those bothersome details!”

The dreamer wants life to be easy, and simple. For them, the devil really is in the details! They get totally derailed by the details. As a good friend of mine would say, “It’s just not part of my world!” They’re great at coming up with ideas, and painting the big picture. Just don’t expect them to contribute to the “how to’s” of getting the customer’s job done! The “little things are just not their problem or concern.

Sales associates who fall into this trap, will find that the result will be fewer appointments, fewer finished presentations and fewer sales. They will get a lot less done and waste lots of time. In addition, lack of attention to details will result in lots of time taking care of customer service problems.

Procrastinator Type #3 The Worrier
“...BUT I’m afraid to change!”

These people are firmly entrenched in their own comfort zone, and they have no plans for leaving, thank you very much! For this group, RISK is a four-letter word. Safety, “same,” and security is what they crave. They are more than willing to settle for their world of “beige.”

As Stephen Rechtschaffen points out in his remarkable book, “Time Shifting,” “Most of us lead lives of routinization. We expect variety, but we tend to get sameness. We want to fill our lives with “new,” but somehow we don’t have the knack for it. We’re comfortable with how we live, so although the idea of change is alluring, the actuality of it is frightening.” They miss out on living because they WORRY about the “what if’s.”

What could be a bigger waste of time for a retail sales associate than worrying about things that just happened on the sales floor or things that may never be? Instead of worrying... get on with your life by consulting the list you made this morning and start to work on your next project of the day.

Procrastinator Type #4 The Defier
“...BUT why should I have to do it?”

They come in two varieties. First, meet the rebel. This is the person who wants to play by their own rules, on their own schedule. “They are establishing their individuality against the expectation of others.”
Other defiers, may not even be aware that they are doing this. They just “don’t take on the responsibility to do their work in a timely manner.”

Defiers don’t often make good retail salespeople because being organized and being available to clients is key to efficient use of time.

Procrastinator Type #5 The Crisis-Maker
“...BUT I only get motivated at the last minute!”

This person’s life reads like the motto from No Fear Gear, “If you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space!” They’re addicted to the rush, the constant challenge. Putting things off and pulling things off at the very last minute is their definition of adventure. Sometimes their risk pays off, but many times it doesn’t. It’s not too little too late. It is just late! What a waste of time.

Procrastinator Type #6 The Overdoer
“...BUT I have so much to do!”

It’s hard for overdoers to make choices and establish priorities so they say yes to everything.

“They haven’t mastered the art of decision making. They tend to be inefficient in managing time, organizing resources, and resolving conflicts.”

This type can also go full tilt into what I call “Martyr-Mode!” There’s always a huge sigh – followed by - “I’ll do it – It’s okay.” Their motto might be, “So much to do, so little time! BUT – I’ll do it.” Sigh!”

Chronic procrastinators can fit into one of these styles or a combination of all six depending on what is happening in their lives. For many, it’s a form of denial (“It’s no big deal!”), they may just think (“It’s not my problem – it’s someone or everyone else’s!”), or they rationalize (“There’s lots of good reasons I’m always behind schedule.”) The one constant that doesn’t change --They’re living on their “BUTS” so they are wasting time because they can’t get off their “BUTTS!”

Procrastinators are not born, they had to learn how to develop this trait. The good news is that there is a cure for procrastination. Procrastinators just need to change their BUT’S to AND’s. Here is the way Dr. Sapadin sums up the cure. He suggests that when you make an excuse, add a more positive addendum starting with the word “and”.

“...BUT I don’t want to ...AND I will get it done.”

“...BUT it’s so difficult ...AND I will give it all the time and energy it needs.”

“...BUT I want to take a break ...AND I’ll take a break later.”

“...BUT I want it to be perfect ...AND I’ll complete it on time even if every little detail is not quite perfect.


Time Bandits - Robbing You Every Minute – Everyday

The more value you put on your time, the more value “Ethel” will put on it. So don’t sell yourself short. You’re the added-value that is driving sales... so your time is valuable. Don’t waste it.  Tick... Tick...

Cathy Finney is President of Ancell Affiliates\”T ‘N T.” She is a noted motivational speaker, sales trainer, and management consultant. Her newest project is “Cathy Cam”, an online one-on-one sales mentoring and coaching program for furniture retailers. Questions on any aspect of sales training or sales management can be sent to Cathy care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at finney@furninfo.com  You can also post a message to any FURNITURE WORLD contributing editor on the www.furninfo.com Trade Message Board.

See all of Cathy Finney’s articles on www.furninfo.com in the Sales Skills Index. You can also download several of her audio series files (on house calls, follow-up and sales management) on furninfo.com’s “FW Online Store”.