Does your store have a structured, pre-planned training program for new bedding and furniture sales hires? How much should a new-hire know before he or she goes on the sales floor? How do you know if a new-hire is ready to start taking those hard-earned “ups?” Do you have a lot of walk-in traffic that you can squander, so the new-hire can “practice” learning how to sell?
While there is no consensus on the answers to these questions, a two-week training period seems to be widely used by a lot of stores. Why two weeks? I don’t think there is a scientific reason. Two weeks is really not enough time to fully prepare the fledgling Retail Sales Associate (R.S.A.) to stumble out in front of their first “up.” Most stores just don’t want to risk more than two weeks training and money before finding out if they hired the right person or not.
Can two weeks of training alone produce a productive R.S.A? Probably not; I have said many times, that it takes months, maybe even years, to produce a truly great Retail Sales Associate. But, you’ve got to start somewhere.
So, in this article, rightly or wrongly, we’ll start with the idea that we have two weeks to get the new-hire ready for the sales floor. What do we do with that first two weeks?
Before we proceed with what I will call the “Boot Camp” approach, I recommend that the reader go back and read two previous articles that I wrote for Furniture World. The first is entitled “Shorthanded Again?” It can be found on p. 58 of the September/October 2013 issue, Volume 143 No.5. The second is from the most recent issue, November/December 2014, entitled “What to do about the RSA – 2015”. The previous articles can be read by clicking here
In the “Shorthanded Again?” article, I proposed the idea of a “structured environment” for training the new-hire. This structured environment consists of a pre-defined training plan that covers all the basics. It is intensely organized to keep the trainee so busy that the designated trainer only needs to devote part-time to training. In this article, we will introduce a prototype for a structured, two week boot camp. If successful, this boot camp should go a long way to preparing your new-hires to take their first up.
Note that although bedding examples are used throughout this article, the basic format will work well for any home furnishings category.
WHAT DOES THE TRAINEE NEED TO LEARN?
To repeat passages from the “Shorthanded Again?” article, the trainee must gain a basic grasp of two fundamental sets of information. These are:
• The Five Groups of Knowledge
• The Sales Process (The Steps of the Sale).
THE FIVE GROUPS OF KNOWLEDGE
When we say the “Five Groups of Knowledge,” we refer to a concept for organizing store information. This concept was developed by the late John F. Lawhon in his book, Selling Retail. Mr. Lawhon defined these knowledge groups as:
- Knowledge of your products and the competition’s products
- Knowledge of your policies and the competition’s policies
- Knowledge of your advertising and the competition’s advertising
- Knowledge of your financing and the competition’s financing
- Knowledge of your inventory and the competition’s inventory.
Notice that I included knowing what the competition is doing in all of these important points.
THE SALES PROCESS (STEPS OF THE SALE)
When we say the “Sales Process,” we mean a pattern or road map by which the R.S.A. makes his way from the greeting to the close. For example, if you drive from Miami to Seattle, do you just get in the car and “go with the flow?” If you do, you probably will never get there. Selling works the same way. A great salesperson knows where he is starting from, where he is going, where he is along the way and how he is going to get there in a reasonable amount of time. You won’t have a GPS for this trip, but most successful sales follow a similar pattern and this pattern can help the RSA stay on track. Is this road map memorized and strictly followed? Not necessarily. No two sales ever proceed exactly the same way. Just as with our “drive” across country, there may be detours, road blocks and route changes. But without that road map, you probably will become irretrievably lost and never find your way back.
WHY DOES Your STORE NEED A TRAINING PLAN?
Most stores do not have a full time trainer. The job of trainer often falls to either: the store owner, sales manager, or an experienced R.S.A. In my experience, no one of these people has the time to devote full-time to training. Training has to be squeezed in between all the other every day chores. Without a pre-defined plan, the designated trainer usually doesn’t know where to start or what to do next with the new trainee who is eager to learn. How many times have you seen the trainer hand the new-hire a thick manual and tell him/her to “go read this and if you have any questions, I’ll answer them tomorrow.” There is a better way.
Every store needs a training plan that is carefully designed and in place before a trainee is ever interviewed. This plan must stuff as much information into the trainee as possible during the training period. It must keep the trainee busy all day and every day without having to interrupt the designated trainer. And, this plan must test the new-hire regularly (daily or more often) to ensure that progress is being made.
WHAT DOES THE BOOT CAMP PLAN LOOK LIKE?
We call this two week training program a Boot Camp because it needs to be a very intense learning session. No one can learn everything they need to know about retail sales in two weeks, but the RSA needs all the information he can absorb before he takes that first up. The reason for such intensity is to make it hard. You don’t want to employ lazy RSAs. Keep them busy. Don’t let up. The hard work will eliminate the dead wood early, before you waste time and money. Successful completion of the program will give the ambitious trainee a sense of accomplishment.
In college, the instructor distributes a syllabus (class plan) to each student before the class starts. The sales trainer should also do this. Let the trainee see the plan for the next two weeks, day by day, hour by hour. They should know what is expected of them.
The trainee must have training material to study. Each day should have its own set of training material that must be covered, tested and completed that day. The designated trainer must have all this material “at the ready” before the class starts.
THE TEN DAY CLASS SCHEDULE
Feel free to arrange this schedule however you like; remembering not to omit any of this material in your plan.
After the government mandated forms are completed, conduct a short orientation class so the trainees know: store hours, days open, break times, where the break room, etc. is located, where to park, etc. Orientation should also discuss dress code, personal conduct, cell phone usage, etc. As soon as the orientation is completed, I start with Product Knowledge, which is, in my opinion, the most important of the five groups.
The first hand-out should be a list of all mattresses displayed on the showroom floor. This list should contain the following detail about each mattress:
- Complete name of the mattress
- Comfort level (hard or soft) – I know there are degrees of hardness and softness, but it is helpful to assign a definite “feel” to each mattress.
- Queen price-point (the REAL price, not the sale, or regular price)
- Specifications – these include:
a. coil count and type, if applicable)
b. specialty type, if applicable
c. foundation type
For the first two hours, the trainees should memorize the name, manufacturer and comfort level of as many mattresses as they can. Divide the list into hard feels and soft feels to make memorization easier. The trainees should also try out the mattresses as they memorize. Every RSA should become VERY familiar with every product. After the two hours, test each candidate. After a short break, continue the memorization for another two hours. Test again. For those candidates who excel at memorization, when they complete the task, let them move on to memorizing price point and specifications. After a break, the trainer should discuss the various brands the store carries. After discussing the in-store brands, talk about the brands carried by the competition and how they compare to your store.
The next handout should be a detailed list of all other bedding products the store carries. This includes sheets, pillows, mattress protectors, etc. This list should include prices, manufacturer name and specifications. Let the trainees spend the next two hours examining the products and memorizing name, manufacturer and price. Test them again.
These exercises should have pretty much exhausted the first day.
We won’t go into as much detail about the remaining days, except in outline. You should already get the idea that they should have plenty of material and work assignments to keep them busy and out of trouble. The tests should show if they are learning or not. I recommend a very low tolerance of failure. Candidates who are not picking up the material probably should be warned and then if no improvement is forthcoming, terminated.
It is important to remember to RE-TEST the same material over several days. Some candidates may memorize quickly for tests and then forget everything the next day. The point is to learn, not to pass tests.
At the beginning of day two, re-test the entire first day’s material before proceeding. Those with weak scores must go back and do more memorizing and trying of beds. Everybody else can go on to studying the inventory control system. This should include a tour of the warehouse and introduction to warehouse personnel. Test after two hours.
With every group of knowledge, the trainer should discuss the competition and how they handle each of the groups. This means discussing what you know about each of your competitors’ inventory control systems.
The second half of the day can be devoted to learning about the company’s advertising and the competition’s advertising. Again, give a test after two hours of study.
This is a good day to get into the company’s and competition’s finance programs. Break the training up into manageable 2 or 3 hour segments. If you have a finance manager, ask him or her to explain the various programs. Test after every training segment. If this is completed before the end of the day, give a re-test on the entire product knowledge package.
Review the company’s advertising and the competition’s advertising. Re-test. Discuss the competition in detail, especially their products, advertising and finance programs.
The second half of the day, start a discussion of the company’s policies. Policies cover a lot of territory. They include:
- Ticket writing
- Document storage
- Security of customer’s sensitive information. Your store receives and archives a great deal of credit information on many of its customers. It is critically important to stress the necessity of protecting this information. Do not be guilty of carelessly abetting the crime of identity theft.
- Delivery and customer pickup
- Comfort exchanges (if applicable)
- Handling warranty situations
- The “up” rotation system and turn-overs (if applicable)
- Merchandising policy
- Pricing policy
- Sales policies, such as special orders, layaways, refunds, etc.
Continue with learning policies and re-test on product, financing and advertising.
In the second half of the day, introduce the Sales Process (The Steps of the Sale.) By this time the sales trainee should have been thoroughly drenched in the Five Groups of Knowledge. Now is a good time to start learning how to use this knowledge. Go over the steps of the sale in general. Test the candidates on Steps of the Sale, financing and product knowledge.
The reason that we save the Steps of the Sale for the last half is because the Five Groups of Knowledge are tools that are used in the sales process. You need to know your products, etc. in order to sell correctly.
STEPS OF THE SALE
The steps of the sale, in the sequence they are executed, follow the general pattern of:
(1) Meet and greet
(3) SELECT the right product
(4) DEMONSTRATE and PRESENT
(5) Close and write up the ticket
(6) A productive Good-Bye.
The trainees should know enough about the five groups to get started covering the first two steps of the sale, the Greeting and Qualifying. The trainer may need to spend more time lecturing and teaching in this segment. Unless your students are experienced salespeople, just reading about Greeting and Qualifying may not click much with them. The trainer needs to “sell” the idea of proper greeting and qualifying so that these steps will make sense to the trainee.
After discussing the Meet and Greet, and a discussion of Qualifying and its purpose, have the trainees spend two hours memorizing a printed list of qualifying questions. If you need a primer on qualifying questions, my book How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual lists and discusses fifty-six different qualifying questions in the sixteen page chapter “Qualifying Questions” beginning on page 235. After memorization, ask the candidates to list as many questions as they can in a ten minute quiz. Discuss qualifying and re-start the memorization again.
Start the day with a test of the Five Groups of Knowledge. This should be long and thorough enough to take at least twenty minutes to complete. By day seven, the trainees should know their beds (products) well enough to begin studying the Selection Step and do the Selection exercises we will describe.
The Selection step is, in many ways, the most important of all the steps of the sale. This is where the RSA helps the customer pick out the CORRECT product. To Select correctly means the RSA must know ALL the products on the floor, in great detail. This is the only way the customer will have a chance to find the RIGHT bed (product) for them.
The trainer, after discussing Selection and its fine points, can turn the trainees loose on an exercise to sharpen their qualifying and product knowledge skills, give them practice in the selection step and have some fun in the process. Here is how the exercise, or game, works. Two trainees play. One plays the customer and one plays the greeting R.S.A. The designated “customer” picks out a certain bed on the floor but doesn’t say which one it is, steps out the front door and re-enters as the customer. The designated RSA greets the customer and asks qualifying questions, the object of which is to discover which bed the “customer” picked out. See how many questions have to be asked and how many beds shown before the RSA gets it right. It is sort of like role-playing (which I don’t like) but in a more realistic setting. Trainees can occupy themselves with this game for several hours. The non-participants can watch and then have a round-table discussion after each exercise.
On the first half of day eight, discuss both Presentation and Demonstration. Have your trainees demonstrate the features and benefits of each bed. This can also be turned into a game, or fun exercise. The trainer should keep an eye on all these exercises. Make sure they are productive and don’t degenerate into a free-for-all or gab session.
In the second half, repeat the Selection exercises and retest on Products, Advertising, Policies and the Competition. Have separate tests ready for each.
Time to learn something about Closing the Sale. If your store has copies of my book, have the trainees read the chapters on closing. This will dispel some myths and hopefully enlighten the trainees about what closing really is. All trainees need to understand how to close, but that does not mean trainees are going to be good closers at the end of the Boot Camp. When they start taking real “ups,” it might be best to have them turn over reluctant customers to more experienced RSAs or sales managers. After 3 hours, administer a test on closing techniques.
The second half of the day, re-do the Selection exercise for two to three hours. Re-test on Selection. Then re-test on Qualifying questions.
The trainer should be available for most of the morning to discuss concepts and answer questions. The promising applicants should have a lot of questions, because they will be going on the floor the following day, if they pass the final test.
In the last half of the last day, let the trainees study, practice, discuss and prepare for the demanding final test. This test should take at least one hour for even the smartest candidate, so allow two to three hours for everyone to complete. This test should cover every detail that has been covered in the preceding ten days.
I hope that whoever reads this will notice that, in this plan, the burden of training has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the trainee, and less so on the trainer. Notice also that at least twenty to thirty tests have been given prior to the final test. This “structured” setting should keep the trainee busy with real work and be less bothersome to the trainer, who probably has a million other things to do besides being trainer.
The benefits are:
• the results are measureable – the tests will tell you who is succeeding and who is failing.
• Poor candidates are eliminated early – once again, the tests tell who is progressing and who is not.
• Reduces the burden on the trainer.
• The successful candidate will be far more capable on the floor than they would otherwise.
For this program to succeed, it must be developed and ready before any trainee candidate is hired. Take the time to have a plan ready to go. As long as your store is open and in business, the job of training new-hires will never end. Don’t re-invent the wheel with every new training class.
One more thing; training just begins with that first two weeks. Advanced training is next.