Training Retail Truths

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Truth #229: Training doesn't cost, it pays.

Training is an investment with guaranteed returns—increased efficiency, better organization, improved reliability, more satisfied customers, more successful employees, etc.

Trained salespeople produce more sales than untrained salespeople. Customers appreciate their knowledge, listen to their recommendations, sense their conviction, and respond to their confidence. They buy from them and are grateful for their help.

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Truth #234: Sales people sell what they know.

Salesmen like to show products they understand.  As a result one of the most effective ways to enhance sales of a product is to teach the sales people about it. 

A good product manual includes: a glossary of product terms; an overview of product construction; short background information on the major manufacturers; and the features, benefits, and price points of the products.  But it can also include competitors’ products, features, and pricing; the shortcomings of non-standard products; an explanation of product accessories and their uses; a list of appropriate add-ons, etc. 

Sales literature, manufacturer training materials, and product articles are a good place to start.  They can be simply punched and added to the notebook at first.  Eventually perhaps they can be collated into charts and comparisons that can be updated with product and inventory changes.

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Truth #237: Write it once, teach it forever.

Chances are you’re going to need your training information again—over the long term probably many times. 

Collect and organize it in notebooks or manuals.  It doesn’t have to be formal or fancy—just a collection of your thoughts and ideas, or even literature and articles written by others.  Add to it whenever you think of something new or come across something worthwhile, and encourage employees and managers to add their thoughts.

Save it on computer, either in a word processor or scanned, and you can add to it and refine it easily.  Then when you need it for a new employee, print out the latest version.

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Truth #239: A manual is not a literary work.

Your manuals need not be formal; a strict literary style will intimidate staffers who might otherwise contribute.   

Just write it as you would say it.  The goal is simply to collect and share ideas and techniques that have proven useful.  The most useful information is often what you and your staff contribute from experience. 

Writing a manual isn’t the insurmountable task it might seem.  Most of the information is already in our stores and needs only to be gathered and organized.  As time allows staff can add background and the information can be organized into text, charts, and lists.

Once a manual is put in use, new information accumulates quickly and the manual evolves into a comprehensive training document specific to your situations and products.

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Truth #243: If it’s important to know, certify that it’s known.

Salesmanship and product knowledge are essential, but certification is an effective tool for all other aspects of operating a retail store as well—display, security, organizational skills, handling complaints, accounting, inventory control, computer system, telephone system, repair, delivery, purchasing, management, etc.  Any information you feel is important can be certified. 

Certification can be as simple as a written test, or it could include an oral exam, role-playing, videotaping a sales presentation, a written assignment, etc. 

Employees should be encouraged to pass the certification levels as soon as they learn the information—the sooner the better.  This not only encourages them to increase their effectiveness quickly, but also creates motivation by giving them control over their careers and advancement.

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Truth #245: When they learn, grant them a degree.

Those who achieve various levels of certifications can be recognized by granting them degrees—associate, bachelor, masters, and doctorate. 

Have a commencement ceremony in which you present a diploma followed by a graduation party.  Take pictures and put them in a newsletter.

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Truth #247: Training is never finished.

Retailing is never really “mastered” (which assures that we’ll never be bored).  Information must be reviewed, techniques must be practiced, new products learned, and changes in the market adapted to. 

Training must be continuous to keep a sales staff up-to-date and in peak selling condition.  Regular meetings, contests, comparing techniques, brainstorming, introduction of articles, books, and videos, independent study,

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Truth #249: The training schedule must be sacred.

Sales meetings must be regular—preferably a set day and time of each week.  If there is no regular schedule, they will be pre-empted by pressing but less important activities, and training will be another good idea we don’t get to.

It might be advantageous to have separate sales meetings, according to topic.  For example, there could be weekly operational meetings of the entire store, monthly salesmanship meetings (just salesmen), as well as regular product meetings (just the staff that deals with that particular product).

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Truth #252: The trainer learns the most.

Assigning a staff member to conduct training on a product or technique helps the trainer more than the staff.  He learns the material, gains commitment, and becomes an expert and advocate.

If no one on staff is knowledgeable about a new or important product, assign it to someone to learn and present to the rest of the staff.  He can get the information with a little effort and research—sales literature, a few phone calls, etc.  The presentation creates a deadline and insures the product will be learned thoroughly—no one wants to appear ignorant or unprepared to his peers.

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Truth #254: Video is the rare opportunity to see ourselves as our customers see us.

Sales people who video themselves are always surprised by something they see.  Typically they quickly resolve to change aspects of their appearance, mannerisms, speech, or wording. 

Telling them how they look doesn’t have the same effect nor result in the same commitment to improve something—seeing ourselves for ourselves is an education for which there is no substitute.

You can add some fun to this technique by creating a contest for which each person videos himself in a mock sales situation or presentation of a product.  The presentation voted best by the participants wins.  Creating an entry for this contest usually requires much more time than contestants expect—mostly because they don’t like what they see, change it, and re-record, often multiple times.  Significant prizes can help maintain enthusiasm through this process.

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Truth #256: If you have the books, open the library.

A library of books, audio tapes, and videos can be used over and over for many years for individual training.  Sales people can check the materials out, watch the videos at home or on their lunch hours, listen to the tapes in their cars, and read the books in their spare time. 

As for selecting the materials for the library, let the sales people choose—reimburse them for materials they buy and use, adding the materials to the company library.