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Teaching Seasonal Retail Employees How to Sell

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If you’re a small retailer ramping up to hire season employees you’re a small retailer who is going to need to train most of these employees how to approach a sale.  More than that, as surprising as this may sound, you need to inform your seasonal employees that selling is a part of their job and their continued employment depends on their sales ability.

Wow – that sounds harsh.   It also sounds obvious.  Of course seasonal employees understand that this is a retail business which means you’re hiring them to (among other things) SELL.  However, sales training doesn’t begin after hire – it begins during the interview.  First and foremost, even more important than asking the question “Do you have any retail experience?” is asking the question “How do you feel about sales people?” 

One the biggest barriers for a seasonal associates’ success in sales is their attitude towards sales professionals.  If a prospective seasonal employee views “what sales people do” as being manipulative or dishonest (or other negative characteristics), they are most likely not the best candidate for the job – even if they have past “retail experience” listed on their resume.  Interviewees who demonstrate an ability to make the connection between providing superior customer service and the process of selling are prime candidates.    

The fact is, if you want sales associates – seasonal or regular employees – to succeed in sales you’ve got to create a culture in your store that presents sales as a respected and desired skill as well as provide ongoing training and coaching.  That culture includes policies and programs that reward performance.  However, you are not likely to be handing out too many sales awards if you don’t set sales objectives and then train employees how to meet them.    

Which leads us to the next obstacle – time.  Within the retail industry it is rare for even regular employees to receive more than a few hours a month in sales training.  Time to train is even more restrictive for seasonal employees.  In both cases this means retail business owners need to take the bull by the horns and either get out on the floor themselves, or ensure that their managers are out on the floor monitoring job performance and reinforcing sales skills.  But, before you do that, you need to make time to provide your employees with at least basic sales skills.  And there is no more basic skill than how to approach a customer. 

Train employees to (almost immediately) greet customers as they come into the store.  If you’re a small retailer that may mean something as simple as a bell sounding when someone walks in.  If you have someone at the cashier’s station at all times, put it where that person can greet the customer. 

Train employees not to “pounce” or greet customers by asking “How can I help you.”   This sounds like a “personal service” question, but in reality is an open-ended generic question that customers find very easy to ignore or deflect.  Instead, the initial greeting can be a simple yet sincere “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.”  However, the goal is to greet all customers within 30 seconds of entering, or they can come to feel ignored or their business unappreciated – neither of which inspires the customer to make a purchase.  Once the customer has oriented themselves, associates can then take note of what the customer appears to be interested in and ask a close-ended question.

Example:  Those are great earrings.  Are you buying a present or looking for something for yourself? 

Train associates not to say “It’s over there.”  If a customer asks you where something is this means they have already looked (even if they’ve simply scanned the store) and couldn’t find it, or they are pressed for time.  Whenever possible the associate should walk the customer to where the item is located. 

Train associates never to say “Will that be all?”  If they do, then that will most likely indeed be all the customer will purchase.  Instead, train the associate to make another offering in the form of a question.

Example:  Great choice.  That color is great on you.  It would look great with a jacket – did you see the really cool jackets we’ve got on sale?

Example:  What a pretty plant!  It’s going to need to be transplanted, do you have a pot – some really beautiful ceramic pots just came in just the other day, let me show you. 

TAGS: retail, management,
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