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Creating a Dynamic Furniture Sales Team

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Editor's note: Here is the second in a series of tips for retailers by Jeff York of Premier Retail Services that will appear in the news section of the furninfo.com website. FURNITURE WORLD Magazine is one of the trade magazines Jeff refers to in the opening paragraph. To see many more articles on hiring and training retail salespeople consult the "Sales Management Article Index" on the furninfo.com site (click the Browse Articles link). Jeff is correct in his assertion that everyone agrees that furniture stores need better salespeople. Not everyone, however, agrees on the best ways to hire and educate them. ___________________________________________ I find a lot of information in the furniture trade magazines about training sales people. I think we would all agree that what our furniture stores need are better-trained salespeople. In Jennifer Litwin’s new book, “Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever”, she discovered during her research for the book that furniture salespeople did not really know a lot about the products they sell and often make the process of buying very difficult for the consumer. Not a very shining endorsement as to the effectiveness of these sales training articles. However, I believe that the root of this comment by Litwin has less to do with sales training or management and more to do with something more important than training. The first step to building a dynamic furniture sales team is HIRING! Over the course of my 17 years in the furniture industry I have become convinced that hiring skills are as important, and in some instances more important, than management skills. In all honesty I cannot suggest to you that I discovered this on my own. During my tenure at one of America’s largest furniture retailers, I received some exceptional advice about managing salespeople… before it was too late! I was working as the International Sales Manager for a very large retail operation here on the east coast. I will not disclose the name of this company in order to protect the innocent. The owner, the general manager, our wives and myself were in Spain on a company-sponsored trip. We men were off on a mission to find the location of a good restaurant for the evening. As we walked along I asked the owner a question that had been nagging me for sometime, “I’ve been doing everything I know to bring our sales team up to our desired level of sales and yet I just can seem to get them over the line. Maybe I need to change my management style.” The owner stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, turned around to face me, smiled and said, “There is nothing wrong with your style of management. However, our success in sales will come more from your ability to hire thoroughbreds than from your expertise at managing workhorses. Thoroughbreds WIN, work horses just work!” At first this remark had a bit of a sting to it. But in the years to come it proved to be one of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever learned. He was right. No amount of management or training expertise can turn a workhorse into a thoroughbred. You must learn to spot and hire thoroughbreds! Let me share a few tips on how to separate these “winners” from the “workers”. First, and foremost, make certain that the candidate has basic knowledge of furniture construction and the industry. I realize this may restrict your pool of prospects but how many customers are you willing to sacrifice to your competition because your newest piranha lacked the skills and knowledge to win them over? During the interview process ask them to explain veneer and solid wood construction. Ask them to describe 3 types of spring systems for upholstery. Ask them to explain what a quality mattress should do for the consumer. Your success at reaching your sales goals will greatly improve if you hire “winners” with furniture knowledge. Next, listen to the candidate during the interview process to determine how they will handle stress. Stress is an ever-present adversary in retail furniture. The mentality of the average salesperson is like this; when they are selling they are the most upbeat, positive, cheerful people to be around. When they are in a sales slump you need to hide all the scissors, knives and any other objects they can use to commit suicide! “Winners”, although high-strung, possess the ability to keep a cool head in stressful times and stay focused on the goal…a satisfied customer. To determine if your candidate has this quality you may want to ask them to describe a time in their previous employment where they were under a lot of pressure. Ask them what they did to get out from under the pressure. You need to listen for those answers that suggest that they persevered through the pressure. If they display the “flight or flight” personality they may just be a candidate for another company. Another personality trait that you want to discover in all the “winners” you intend to hire is a history of winning. By this I do not mean that you want only top producers. Sometimes they get to be top producers by default. All the other salespeople were just not very good or maybe they achieved “top sales” honors by devious means. Instead, you want to look for “winners” that played team sports or were involved in the military. Both of these teach people how to accomplish goals through cooperation with others. If they played individual sports like tennis or golf, find out what motivated them to be better. What you are looking for is the desire to win without the obsession to win. The former will strive to be better today than yesterday while the later may very well kill the golden goose for one big win and spend the rest of the month bragging about it! Another quality you want to discover in your potential candidate is whether they possess a mentality of “abundance” or “scarcity”. These are personality traits I learned from Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. As Mr. Covey sees it most people have a “scarcity” mentality. They believe that there is only one pie and if someone gets a big chunk of it there will be far less for them. They, therefore, thrive in winner take all games. They generally look down on others success as if it only points to their failure. They rarely if ever are team players. On the other hand, according to Covey, people with an “abundance” mentality believe there is plenty to go around. They are secure in themselves and confident. They encourage success in others and are more likely to work with others for the success of the company. Ask your potential candidate which is more important; achieving their personal sales goal or helping those around them achieve their sale goals. Someone with an abundance mentality will say that both are important. The last trait for hiring “winners” is the hardest to measure but may be the most important. HEART! You want to have a sales team full of “winners” who have heart. In the movie “The Replacements” there is a short conversation between the coach of the professional football team and one of the replacement players concerning what it means to have heart. He explains it like this; “The player with heart is the one who wants the ball when the game is on the line”. In furniture the salesperson with heart is the one who always wants to be a part of the critical moments during the sales process. This means they want to involved in not only getting the sale but in all the critical times until their customer has had delivery and is satisfied. One of the ways to help determine if your candidate has “heart” is to ask them to describe a time when a previous customer had a challenging customer service issue and ask them to explain how it was solved. Be sure to ask them about their personal involvement. A response stating that they maintained contact with their customer service department does not display “heart”. You want to know that they carried the “ball” until victory was won! As I look back over my 30 plus years of managing people it took me almost half of that time to recognize what most professional sports owners know and what the owner of one of the companies I worked with was gracious enough to share with me. It’s not enough to hire able-bodied people to make a great sales team or pro team. You have to hire “winners” that: Have the necessary skills to do the job Know how to effectively handle pressure Realize that life is a team sport Possess an “abundance” mentality Have “heart”. If you will concentrate on your hiring practices with as much effort as you have your sales training program and adopt these guidelines for hiring “winners” your chances of having a successful and profitable furniture store will greatly increase. As my granddad used to say, “Son, you just can’t turn a mule into a racehorse!” Jeff M. York of Premier Retail Services, LLC has been in the furniture industry for over 17 years at the retail level and as a consultant. Currently Mr. York spends his time consulting with furniture retailers and writing about the industry. His expertise in the industry covers management, sales, customer relations, merchandising and marketing. Questions about this article or related topics can be directed to Mr. York at jeffyork@furninfo.com or call him direct at 336-688-0433.

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