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Your Most Important Asset - Shared Values

Furniture World Magazine


A guide to transferring the ideas that built your business --to your employees.

One of the most important attributes of a successful sales organization is a strong belief system. These are the core corporate beliefs that set the tone for what you can expect from your sales people and what your sales people can expect from you. These are always business oriented; they are not moral, religious, political, or otherwise personal in nature. This article will focus on the importance of corporate beliefs as they relate to an organization as a whole and, more specifically, to sales people. On page 12 you will find a sample set of beliefs that we give to clients which may serve as a starting point for your own business.

Many retailers complain of sales people who steal customers from their teammates, drop customers for various reasons, and entirely avoid others who they believe are unlikely to buy. There are countless stories of sales people who cause on-going tension on the floor because they won't perform the daily duties expected of them. I've even listened to owners who speak of sales people who refuse to sell particular categories - one person avoided upholstery because working with fabrics was too difficult; he just sold case goods.

None of these store owners would have done these things when they were growing the business and they certainly don't condone the behavior now. Most of them shudder with horror at the way many of their sales people treat customers, each other, the warehouse people, and the office staff. In almost every case, these owners have not been able to transfer the very beliefs that were the foundation of the company to the people responsible for taking the business to the next level; the employees. Nor have these retailers taken the time to document their beliefs; the core beliefs of their business, in a belief statement.

The value of such a belief statement goes far beyond philosophical importance. It allows an owner or manager to show every new employee what the company expects of its employees. More specifically, it indicates how customers, sales people, and the business in general should be treated. A belief statement can also be used as a basis against which to compare the everyday behaviors of current employees. It becomes a key tool which you can use to make your salespeople responsible for their attitudes and behaviors. Not only does it allow owners and managers to maintain a consistent way of doing business with people inside and outside the company, but it gives sales people a tool which promotes inter sales person accountability.

Many sales people disagree with the way other individuals handle customers (e.g. what they've said, how they've acted, the methods they've used, etc.). Unfortunately, these individuals never speak to their counterparts about the inappropriate behavior. When questioned, the unanimous response is that it's none of their business, they simply shouldn't get involved in the way co-workers handle their own customers. The way one sales person thinks a customer, employee, rep or vendor should be treated may differ entirely from the way another employee handles the same relationship. Unfortunately, it all comes down to opinion.

The problem in these stores is they do not have a core set of beliefs that are a reflection of the owner's vision for the company. Nor are sales people asked to accept and conform to these beliefs when they are hired. As a result, sales people can not hold other salespeople accountable to those beliefs. So, while a belief statement can be a potent tool for owners to create accountability in their staff, it can also be a powerful tool to engender accountability between salespeople.

Furthermore, sales training is almost always doomed to fail unless the differences between what sales people believe and what the store wants are reconciled. If someone does not believe that each customer deserves an equal and specified level of service, they will never understand the need for a properly executed UPs system. If they do not believe that the store's growth is dependent upon the success of each individual, they will not understand why it is so important to develop their goals with the sales manager. If they do not believe that good working relationships are their responsibility, they will not recognize that it is their responsibility to work out differences with other sales people. You must establish a baseline behavior and demand that your employees conform. Obviously, the ideal time to implement a new belief statement is during training when you are asking your employees to change other behaviors as well.

In order for you to form effective teams of sales people it is essential for you to understand what each team should believe in. Over the last ten years we have developed a core set of beliefs that many of our customers adopt. Occasionally they use these beliefs as a foundation and add to or change them to more accurately reflect their organizations. These beliefs follow, with a brief explanation of each.

1.We believe our store must be Customer-Driven:
This fundamental statement eliminates many problems with sales people who argue over their 'ownership' of customers. When they consider what the customer driven solution is, they often come up with solutions that ordinarily would not have been considered.

2. We believe customer satisfaction must be the basis for all policies and procedures:
Many common store procedures place the customer second. A perfect example is sales people who are allowed to query customers about whether they have been in the store before and/or with whom they worked. This clearly places the sales person's needs ahead of the customer's. Before determining what the customer needs, sales people find out who will receive the commission. If we use customer satisfaction as the benchmark for everything we do, then we automatically invalidate procedures that put sales people and their needs ahead of the customer.

3.Professional courtesy is essential to the overall harmony and growth of our business:
Two doctors would not stand in a waiting room arguing openly over who had the rights to a patient in front of them. Retailers, however, often tolerate this type of behavior when sales people interrupt coworkers during a sale declaring that the customer is his or hers. We also tend to tolerate sales people who fume at coworkers because their former customers don't ask for them and end up working with a new sales person. Professional courtesy condemns this behavior.

4. We believe each individual is ultimately responsible for his or her own growth and success. The company's success is dependent upon the success of each individual in the company:
A company's sales goal cannot be one cent more than the sum total of the individual goals for each sales person. It is, therefore, essential to have a goal development process to establish credible, individual goals, and that individuals understand their contribution to the team.

5.We believe each customer who enters our store is deserving of, and will receive, an equal and specified level of service:
Sales people have only two things to offer customers, their time and their knowledge. Owners should have some control over both by ensuring that each sales person has adequate time to spend with each customer and has the skills, knowledge, and ability to make that time a value to your customers. This may require additional staff, changes in the way the floor is staffed on the weekends, and/or additional training.

6.Our store must offer an above-average combination of values which include merchandise, pricing, and, most importantly, sales service:
Clearly sales people must believe in your products. Additionally, however, the merchandising department has the responsibility to buy products in which the sales people have confidence and to maintain good relationships with vendors.

7. We believe open communication is an essential ingredient to good working relationships between management and sales personnel:
Managers and owners must provide a venue in which open communication can take place. We recommend that sales people meet with the sales manager for a minimum of forty minutes to an hour every month. In these meetings, the manager should ask:

1) What are your concerns? 2) What are the roadblocks preventing you from reaching your goals? 3) What can I do to help? For more information about one-on-one meetings, see my article in the June, 1996 issue of FURNITURE WORLD.

8. We believe good working relationships are every individual's responsibility -
Sales people must not fight openly amongst themselves. Aggressive behavior brings down the entire organization. I know of one sales manager who puts two feuding salespeople alone in a room and tells them to work out their differences. If, after 30 minutes, they can't convince him that they have solved the problem, one of them is sent home. It's amazing how fast they forget their petty differences and focus on getting along professionally. If sales people have a problem with someone in the company, they have a responsibility to work it out. If they can't work it out, they should involve the sales manager. If the manager can't work it out he or she has the responsibility to send one of them home. It's natural for sales people to occasionally disagree, but it is unacceptable to allow those feelings to permeate the work environment.

9. We believe our store must be profitable:
Sales people often do things that may satisfy one customer but hurt the overall profitability of the company. Good customer service must be balanced with overall profitability. Selling display merchandise may satisfy one customer immediately. This practice, however, may cause nine or ten lost sales if subsequent customers who would have purchased, are forced to look elsewhere. Sales people should not be ashamed of their role in helping your organization become profitable. This ensures not only their security, but the security of everyone in the organization.

10. We believe we must have a strong sense of pride in our store and in ourselves:
Workplace pride is exhibited in many ways. It might be manifested by a salesperson who cleans a section of showroom that's being neglected by an assigned sales person; not just complaining about it and leaving it alone to make some kind of point. It might mean talking positively about the company with those outside the organization, or not talking at all. All companies have problems, but badmouthing in public causes additional problems; never solutions. Sales people must also take pride in themselves. This means that they come to work on time, well groomed, ready to work, wearing neatly pressed clothes. It also means that they must continually invest in themselves through education, positive experiences and skill development. The pride that sales people and others exhibit in the workplace serves as a nonverbal cue to customers that they are in a professional environment in which they should feel comfortable doing business.

Organizational beliefs are often a larger contributor to success than skills, merchandising, or many of the other disciplines you work at every day to improve your company. Without exception, when these ten beliefs are introduced to sales people, they unanimously accept and embrace them. They agree that if everyone believed these ten statements and acted in accord with them, their stores would become better places to work. Equally important, their stores would become better places to shop. Both have an undeniable impact on a business.

Ted Shepherd is the founder and CEO of Shepherd Management Group. The company specializes in changing the selling culture of furniture stores from merchandise-driven to customer-driven using an intensive hands-on process of consulting, training, and mentoring. For more information on the topics in this article contact tshepherd@furninfo.com.