No job in a retail furniture store is more important to the store’s success than that of the sales manager. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that no job is as important as the sales manager’s job. Come to think of it, managing sales, or, in other words, making sales is the sole purpose of having a store, but there are two divergent paradigms in our industry regarding how to get the job done.
Let me explain. I have worked with the largest players and the smallest players in our business and there are several things that set the great stores apart from the mediocre stores. Here’s one: Great stores (meaning great store owners) know that success in sales results from salespeople successfully interacting with customers. They know that the combination of salespeople possessing customer problem-solving skills and great products is necessary to make sales. In these stores, sales training is relationship and people-centered. These stores are customer-driven.
The mediocre retailers, on the other hand, don’t know this. They look at their stores as outlets for all the great things they buy and consider salespeople a necessary nuisance. In these stores, sales training is product-centered and closing-centered. They are merchandise-driven. This was one of the issues at Homelife that contributed to their demise, though not the only or most significant one.
In the great stores – the customer-driven ones – sales managers have the role of coach. These managers are performance-driven. In the merchandise-driven stores, the sales manager has the role of administrator. These managers are procedure-driven. Often, in merchandise-driven stores the primary role of the manager is to approve discounts off tagged process. They’re also usually the overseers of the T/O process to ensure that no customer leaves without buying – no one gets out alive!
Making your sales manager a performance coach is how to best capitalize on each customer opportunity. One of the best run furniture retail companies has average closing rates of 30% in their dozens of stores. This means that two-thirds of shoppers can’t find a solution to their decorating needs in these stores. The opportunity for growth and improved performance is tremendous in this chain and it’s just as tremendous in your store if you take the right course.
There are two parts to sales management: First, there’s performance – how individuals work and the results they achieve. Second, there’s administration – how the sales support system (service, scheduling, etc.) works.
Most sales managers expend more time and effort on administration than on performance issues. Here’s an analogy: Suppose Joe Torre, the field coach (manager) of the NY Yankees spent his time ensuring that there was enough beer in the concessions, that the right uniforms were cleaned and ready, that ticket sales were at the level required and that the bus was there to take the team to the airport. These business functions are the responsibility of the support staff – under a different kind of manager.
What does Joe Torre do? He manages day-to-day, on-the-field performance! Could the team be as consistently successful without a coach? After all, the players would still be the same, wouldn’t they? They all know how to play the game don’t they? Well, you know that the results would be disastrous. Same team, same players, same place, but without a coach and leader, different results.
Your store teams are no different than the Yankees. The players need a coach – a performance coach – to win games and become champions.
Of course you need good players too. Sometimes you need great players, but in our business there is not a pool of professional players to pick from. There is no "minor league" system to develop good players into better ones. It all has to be done in the big leagues – your store with your customers. If you don’t have a performance coach to develop players and to coach the game you play every day with real, live customers, your players will not perform and your store will not improve. While a .300 batting average can get you into the Baseball Hall of Fame, .200 hitters seldom make it, yet, your store has some .200 hitters. You also probably have a .350 hitter on your team, but without some plan for coaching the .200 hitter and making him better – without some standards of performance that define how to play, how will they ever get better?
What would baseball be like if nothing was measured except the score? All of the statistics are kept to help managers coach players and make decisions about who will be on the team. Statistics help specialist coaches work with players who need help improving some aspect of their game – hitting, fielding, base-running, etc. These coaches know what to do. There is a body of knowledge that describes the skills required and how to develop them in people.
How is the body of knowledge that describes selling furniture and solving customer problems communicated to your players? Are they on their own? Is your .200 hitter batting clean up? Is the range of performance among all your players so wide that a significant number of customers are served by the bottom of your lineup?
These are all the things a performance-driven sales manager should know and be dealing with. Great players are hard to find and they are usually already playing for another team, so you have to develop them yourself. You owe it to your customers to give them a top performer to serve them and if you don’t, both you and your customers pay a price; you lose revenue and your customer isn’t satisfied with her visit to your store. Now, everyone can’t be a top performer, but you can significantly improve your overall staff performance through coaching with training, observation, feedback and goal development coupled with a relentless pursuit of excellence.
If your sales manager is tagging the floor, handling customer service calls, calculating discounts for customers to help salespeople close sales, handling display issues, reviewing sales orders, filling out or filing reports, or doing everything except managing and coaching performance, you need to seriously reconsider how you have defined the role.
Too many stores have no one in charge of improving sales performance. If sales go up, it’s usually because traffic has gone up (or margins have gone down). Poor performers continue to be poor performers until they leave your company having severely damaged hundreds of customer relationships you might have developed. When you replace these people, the new hires have no plan or process by which to ensure they become successful by their measures and yours in as short a time period as possible. Neither can the skills they need be developed so this can happen. They’re pretty much on their own – they have to bring the skills with them or they’re likely to fail. Worse yet, they’re likely to stay too long because you know how hard it is to get them in the first place.
Rethink your sales manager’s role. If she is not in charge of performance improvement, find a way to change that. Look at your support systems and your merchandising functions to shift as much non-sales work away from the sales manager as possible. Don’t let your sales manager manage the "sales team". Rather, insist that they coach individuals. Remember, people don’t need to be managed – they need to be lead, they need room and processes to allow them to develop their skills and achieve more for themselves, your customers and your store.
Joe Capillo is a furniture industry veteran with 35 years combined experience as a retail consultant and retail industry executive. He is a contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD and a frequent speaker at industry functions. See all of Joe’s articles on the furninfo.com website.