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Hiring & Keeping Salespeople - Part 6 - They're Almost Acceptable

Furniture World Magazine
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How to avoid hiring someone who isn't right for the job or your company

Strong Candidates For Selling Furniture In A Team Environment Should Have...

  • Intelligence and communication skills: Can they construct good sentences
    extemporaneously? Do they grope for words? Is their personal style pleasing? Do they listen?
  • Enthusiasm and friendliness: Absolutely required for obvious reasons. You want people with high energy and a positive attitude.
  • Attractive appearance and personal grooming: Customers have to trust this person to make style recommendations for their home.
  • A strong ego, but not too strong: This is a tough one because you want salespeople to
    pursue their personal goals, but you also want people who are comfortable sharing the "sandbox."
  • Self-motivated and goal oriented: You don't want to have to personally jump start your staff every morning. They need to come to work with their eyes on the prize.
  • Organized and accepting of procedure: You want people who follow up and who are
    capable of adhering to your systems. If the orders aren't written properly, they're useless.

Over the past couple of years, many home furnishings retailers have been compelled to hire a salesperson who is not quite right for the position.

THE STAFFING PROBLEM
Here is a common scenario you might have faced:
Business is good, but you don't have enough people on board. It is clear that your sales team is "drinking from a firehose", unable to keep many motivated buyers from flowing right out the door. Your staff is "dancing" as fast as they can and several are showing signs of stress from the sustained heavy pace.

THE RECRUITING RESPONSE
In response, many retailers put their recruiting hats on – which they never should have taken off in the first place. First they look for job candidates in all of the most obvious places, but nothing turns up. They then start to get a little desperate because of the sales opportunities that are being missed.

THE HIRING MISTAKE
And that's when an almost-acceptable candidate comes knocking. He's not perfect, but in this cautionary tale, our retailer overlooks the blemishes. After all, he's a warm body who seems capable of writing orders. We rationalize that this is a stopgap that could work out well once the new guy gets acclimated.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work out at all well. In fact, within three months, the once harmonious staff is polarized. Turns out that the new guy is a politician who alienates half the staff while attracting the other half to his camp. The sales team is now bickering and unhappy. A few veterans are telling this retailer to choose between the new guy and them because they're not going to work like this much longer.

If you have gone through anything like this during this recent expansion cycle, believe me, you are not alone. What happens, is that many retailers fail to make recruiting a regular part of their activities, and they allow their stores to fall into a people shortage that can quickly become a crisis. Of course, very few qualified and talented people are actively looking for new opportunities so the retailer lowers his sights and winds up hiring people who aren't right for the job or the company.

This is too bad because a retail organization is only as good as the people who meet and greet customers. We cannot afford to let our standards slip on this critical issue. Whether you are looking for new people while in "panic" mode or as part of an ongoing process, it's in the interview stage of recruiting where you should be weeding out potential problems. This doesn't happen as often as it should, because many retailers and store managers don't know what questions to ask and what signs to look for in response.

Before delving into this topic, we must issue a disclaimer. Remember, the law says that you may ask questions only about the applicant's ability to perform the job based on the position's description and requirements. Because of all the federal law and regulations created around this issue, an employer can get into a jackpot of trouble if every applicant is not treated fairly and with respect. Human resources management is about as complicated and potentially troublesome as any business issue. Proceed carefully and always make sure you are acting within the law.

Interview Guidelines
These questions have been developed over 30 years of hiring people for retail positions. The answers, along with the manner the applicant uses to answer them, tells a great deal about whether an applicant will be a strong addition to a sales team.

That's the key. You want to build and enhance your team. Of course, each individual must pull his or her weight, but I believe it's equally important that we have a united and harmonious team. When owners are asked to identify their best salesperson, they rarely mention the top writer. That's because the top writer is frequently high-maintenance. Usually the "best" salesperson is someone in the top 20% who not only writes a lot of business but it is also "clean" business. This person gets the job done and fosters a team spirit that is infectious. We need more team players and fewer prima donnas.

The first thing to do in an interview is ask the applicant about his personal background. This helps him relax, and during the response, there is an opportunity for you to take note of his appearance. Does he appear to be fashion conscious and neat? Is he making eye contact? Put yourself in a customer's shoes: Is this somebody you would want to do business with? You can look professional in a company shirt and khakis, but the grooming has got to be right.

  • Take note of what he tells you about his education. Did he finish what he started? Ask about personal achievements. Does he look confident and proud? You do want a competitor, but you don't want someone who is too egotistical. It's a fine distinction, but in building a team, you want people with high self-esteem but still capable of playing with others.
  • Ask about her preferred selling style. Have her sell you a pen. How aggressive is she? Does she argue? Does she seem to like the process, and be comfortable on stage? Again, how will a customer react to this person?
  • Here's the question that every applicant hates, but it's worthwhile. Ask them about their strengths. This is an uncomfortable question for many people, and you are just as interested in how they respond as what they say. Are they plausible? Do they fidget? This part of the interview will give you insight into how they will respond when a customer raises an uncomfortable objection.
  • Ask the applicant to describe the ideal furniture salesperson. The answer should be consistent with your own vision. If it's not, you must make it very clear what you want and expect of salespeople if you are going to move forward with this particular applicant.
  • Ask what she liked about her old job and then what she disliked? Then consider whether she will find the same things at your store. Even if this person is still employed, she is out looking for a new job because she wants something better. While she may focus on money in conversations with you, she is almost always looking for a situation that is more rewarding, stimulating and comfortable on a personal level. If, coming to work at your store, she is trading into a new set of the same problems, she will be a short-term hire at best.
  • Why is he changing jobs? Is his response valid and plausible? Would the person leave your store for the same reasons? Why would he like to work for your store? This response deserves careful scrutiny. Will he find what he thinks he'll find at your store?
  • Ask this: If I only had one job opening, why should I hire you? Again, you are looking for convincing self-confidence and healthy self-esteem.
  • Ask about long-range goals and where this person would like to be in five years. I believe you should be looking for people who are goal oriented: Does she have a vision of where she wants to be next week, next year and five years from now? What approach does she have toward reaching her goals? This reveals much about whether a selling career is right for this person.
  • Ask what past supervisors will say about this applicant then check with those supervisors. You want to see what kind of filters this person uses when looking back at past experience.
  • Ask for a description of the ideal work environment then consider whether they'll find that at your store. Ask if there are any situations in their lives that would prevent them from fulfilling the schedules and duties of this job. Obviously, you can't use somebody whose weekends are all tied up.
  • Ask if they would prefer a healthy salary or the potential of an unlimited commission. Assuming that you pay on commission, end the interview if they choose the salary. Ask if they would prefer to sell indoors or outside the store. If you don't have any outside sales jobs, you have to consider whether this person will be miserable confined in the store every day.
  • Finally, make sure the applicant understands the requirements of employment before offering the job. The more detail the better because stores need people who are not only talented but committed to both personal and team success.

Sam Leder, wrote this article while President of Shepherd Retail Recruiting. Sam has 34 years of retail management, consulting and recruiting experience in the home furnishings industry. He has been in management positions for top 100 furniture retailers including Breuners, Haynes and Rhodes and has provided consulting services to more than 300 retailers. For more information about the topics in this article contact Sam care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at sleder@furninfo.com.


Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.


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