That sensation happens to your sales team, too, argues Bob Phibbs, in a recent column for his blog The Retail Doc. People are naturally inclined to do things the same way, over and over, he writes. If something feels novel — including an effective sales technique — they’re likely to ditch it the first chance they get and revert back to the comfortable.
That’s why it’s so important for retailers to focus on training year-round, he writes.
“Untrained employees are the bane of retail as they are left to their own devices,” he explains. They bring all their bad habits onto the selling floor … [And] it takes longer for an untrained employee to sell something than a trained employee because they are inefficient and passive when it comes to driving a sale.”
Here are Phibbs’ tips on how to create a year-round training protocol at your business, along with advice on what to focus on and how much time to dedicate to each area.
When to do it: As soon as an employee starts
Time commitment: 5-10 hours
Goal: “At its most basic, onboarding training needs to convey that when working in your store, the customer comes first,” Phibbs says. “This really is just a practical baseline teaching about how to open/close a register, how to ring a sale, how to ship, how to stock shelves, how to pick web orders, how they will be using mobile POS on tablets, etc.”
Common mistakes: Keep onboarding focused on those basic, must-know processes and principles. “The key to onboarding is to teach black and white, no gray,” he writes. “Exceptions can come later, but you only get one chance to say at the outset we do it this way. Don’t confuse it by including except when, or your new hire won’t be able to confidently know what they are supposed to do.”
When to do it: Once an employee is finished with onboarding and as new products come in.
Time commitment: “Product-knowledge training of your top 25 products should take about 10 hours,” Phibbs says. “This would include knowing who this product is for and who it is not, what situations it is good for, competing products in the marketplace, and hands-on trial.”
Goal: Most customers today come into retail shops with extensive background knowledge of products. They could have jumped online to order that birthday arrangement. Instead, they are calling your store or coming inside, because they want expertise. “They are looking for someone who can compare and contrast other models or options, challenge the reasons they thought that one product was the best, and be able to upsell them to something they may not even have considered,” Phibbs says. “That hope is what drives brick and mortar retail sales.”
Common mistakes: Keep it simple and clear. Business owners forget to use technology in training — and videos, in particular, can be wonderful tools. “Product training lends itself very well to videos, everything from unboxing videos on YouTube, to manufacturer videos on their website, to videos you make on your iPhone,” he says. “These training tools help demystify particularly complex products or features.”
When to do it: Consistently, year-round, with all employees
Time commitment: Endless — but don’t underestimate how helpful a five-minute refresher can be.
Goal: Behavioral training focuses on changing the behavior of your staff, to ultimately change the buying behavior of your customers. One example from Phibbs: Discouraging sales team members from asking questions such as, “Can I help you?” and “Are you looking for something in particular?” (conversations customers can shut down quickly with a terse, “no”) and coming up with open-ended alternatives.
Common mistakes: Never assume that once you’ve done sales training once (or twice or five times), it’s being universally applied. Check in frequently with staff meetings, workshops and quick reminders about new techniques and store procedures.