How to help associates conquer their selling fears

Discussion
May 27, 2015
Bob Phibbs

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from The Retail Doctor’s Blog.

The death of creativity and imagination are at the heart of low sales in retail shops around the world. Some think technology is the answer — not me. We have to find a way to creatively open our heart to another person to combat our fear of not being liked, or not being taken seriously, or not making the sale.

Here are three ways to help employees overcome fear during a sale:

Provide retail sales training. Give associates a process to hang their sales presentation on rather than "winging it." Nothing knocks down fear better than knowing where objections might surface and how to handle them. And sales training is a skill set you constantly develop over time, not like training how to make a rose out of a radish.

Hold a daily contest. Create a daily sales contest for your employees. Choose an affordable item and show them all you can about it. Ask them to find other creative uses for the same item and to highlight those uses with their customers. This process develops creative pathways in the heads of your employees as they show the item and how it is used. It puts learning and creativity top of mind.

sales associate

Play. Rejection is expected in selling. Learn to welcome it. Role-play a sale with an individual on your crew. Have them role-play a stellar selling job, but when they try to close the sale say, "No." Let them figure out what their next moves are without telling them. The goal when coaching them is for those salespeople to keep the conversation going and then unpack what went right and what could have been done better. This way you will train their brains to look for alternatives and not shut down for fear their customer will walk.

Do you see selling fears as a common problem in retailing today? What tips would you add to those in the article to help retail associates overcome selling fears?

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Braintrust
"For example, if the sales associate understood the emotional drivers behind brand decisions in key categories that matter to the retailer, they could start conversations that bring those emotions to the surface for the shopper, causing them to feel the stimulus that actually prompts the decision to put the product in the cart."
"The selling fears experienced by associates are often rooted in limited empowerment. If the sales associates don’t believe they are embedded in the overarching success of the business they aren’t going to leave their comfort zones."
"There is a related and perhaps more interesting question:"Do today’s consumers want to be SOLD something?""

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20 Comments on "How to help associates conquer their selling fears"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I can think of a couple of suggestions that supplement Bob’s list of solid ideas: First, make sure the role-playing includes the lesson that you should never ask the customer, “May I help you?” (This was an early lesson learned for me.) The question triggers the response, “No thanks, just looking” — and the engagement between customer and sales associate is usually over at that point. Better to ask a product-specific question about whatever the customer is looking at (for example, “Can I find that color in the size that you’re looking for?”).

Second, make sure the training is not just about product knowledge and overcoming objections, but also listening skills. Demonstrating empathy with the customer by showing an interest in solving his or her specific problem is going to be a big step forward in closing the sale.

Anne Howe
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Training retail sales associates on human behavior and understanding how buying decisions are really made by the human brain would add a foundation of authenticity to what conversations can be had between shoppers and sales associates.

For example, if the sales associate understood the emotional drivers behind brand decisions in key categories that matter to the retailer, they could start conversations that bring those emotions to the surface for the shopper, causing them to feel the stimulus that actually prompts the decision to put the product in the cart.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
4 years 6 months ago
I think one large source of associate fear that is hinted at here but not directly addressed is the fear of not knowing the answer. Training would help address that issue, but not entirely — and this is where I think technology has a genuine role in the process. It can help surface associate expertise not just within one store but across the whole enterprise, and it can give employees access to the kinds of answers that aren’t so much about training as about things like inventory visibility, things that help them answer questions like “I know you’re out of stock, but when does the next shipment arrive?” So while I agree with Bob on all of the points raised, I think we need to be careful about making this an issue centered on technology. There are some things that consumers expect store associates to be able to do that they would never be able to do without technology. But no matter what, training needs to play a much greater role for store associates — certainly much… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

The selling fears experienced by associates are often rooted in limited empowerment. If the sales associates don’t believe they are embedded in the overarching success of the business they aren’t going to leave their comfort zones. If they’re treated as hourly employees then that is the level to which they will rise.

Any attempt to include the sales associates in the sales success can be both inspirational and effective in involving them in the overall process.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

There is a related and perhaps more interesting question:

“Do today’s consumers want to be SOLD something?”

The power of online shopping is that shoppers have access to almost unlimited information and choices. They often know as much or more than the associates on the floor. This will definitely cause fear in associates if they define their job as “telling” people about products and closing the sale.

The paradox of online shopping is that it can overwhelm shoppers with too much information and too many choices. When they do go to stores they want to “try before they buy.” They are literally looking for someone who can help them buy or help chose what is right for them.

One of the best ways to help associates conquer selling fears is to shift the focus away from closing a sale, and toward a role of being a trusted advisor who helps consumers evaluate choices and buy what’s right for them.

Kevin Graff
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Great article, Bob (as always!).

Add to the list a few things and you’ll drive performance even higher:

  1. Clearly defined goals and expectations that are reinforced every day.
  2. Clear and ongoing measures of performance, so the staff always know if they are winning or losing.
  3. Make winning actually matter — accountability must go up!
  4. The training must be ongoing. Every day you have to talk about how to sell more effectively.
  5. Make success worthwhile. As Bob says, contests are great. Add to that a comprehensive reward and recognition system and you’ve got a winner!
Tom Redd
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

First, Bob is on the money. Technology is not the answer — it is the problem. Kids spend so much time with texting, video games and TV that they lack interaction skills. Some can handle all the tech and do great in a store/customer situation. The best answer is role playing and having the best associates teach others. When I visit my favorite retailers and end up with a kid that just does not get the game due to fear, I help them sell me. I spin the lines for them and have them repeat. They learn from me, face-to-face, and trust me — because I am a customer.

Kids can become really good at floor selling and upselling if you spend time with them and role play — or have me work your store! The associates never forget me, so when I return to the store I get a great welcome! Store greeters are my next target.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
4 years 6 months ago
Along with religion and politics everyone has an opinion of what selling is and how it should be done. Those outside this practice seldom see it as a trained set of disciplined skills that can require a predetermined aptitude for those capable and willing to learn. This same agenda applies to those selected to train sales candidates, their managers and their executives. Along with these misconceptions is the misapprehension of how much we are taking on when the decision to train employees for any skill set is approved and implemented. Once a candidate is recognized as in possession of the necessary aptitude for any and/or all of these skills a regularly scheduled assessment of the candidate’s ability to successfully apply the lessons taught is needed for the candidate, the teachers, the management and the course. It must be understood that a shortfall of any kind is the proof of error in the system. Locating the error and implementing the needed corrections should be the only goal of the company. There are countless reasons for mistakes… Read more »
David Zahn
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Chris Peterson’s response is closest to my own. I would add to the list an understanding of how “trust” is developed (Charles Green has much to say about this at http://www.trustedadvisor.com) and the specific questions one can/should ask to better get at the needs and wants (hopes, dreams, desires, etc.) of the prospective customer.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I think Chris Peterson asks the key question, “Do the customers want to be sold something?”

One thing that technology has provided for consumers is information. They often know what they want before they go to the store, or at least they have narrowed it down to a couple of alternatives. What the associate can provide is additional information.

I believe the photo in the article is from Home Depot. This is a perfect example (a choice of the best trained associates I have ever come across). The shopper needs a faucet. Show me the faucets, tell me the pros and cons. Don’t show me sinks, don’t show me water softeners and don’t talk to me about anything else. Just give me the information I need. This example could apply to grocery, apparel, tech, electronics, etc.

“Shopping” has evolved. There was a time when it was entertainment. Today it is more functional and the associates should be trained to interact with these customer’s needs.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

If proactive selling is not already in the culture when the staff is hired, then there is a change in the way they are used to working that will be occurring. This change needs to be taken seriously, as many attempts to drive in-store and online sales with staff have failed due to poor execution, and often, even no real strategy in the first place.

If this selling focus in not already in your daily plan, you need to engage a professional services firm with expertise in this area. I believe that’s the first step in determining what you should try to achieve with this program, and how to effectively implement it. Much easier said than done, believe me.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

How about this for an idea? Let’s change the hiring practice from hiring whoever can “fog the mirror” to someone who actually wants a career in sales. Too many retailers are hiring people who come in looking for a job in order to fill a slot at the lowest wage level. This does nothing to solve the problem. This adds to it.

I recently went to a large retailer to buy a pair of shoes. The salesperson was incompetent, and barely spoke anything understandable. I had to ask the manager to either help me or let me walk my business to another store.

P.S.: he helped me and a sale was made. But the point is the first person had no idea what she was doing in the shoe department or anywhere else in the store. Whose fault was that?

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
4 years 6 months ago

Nice piece, Bob. As someone who has been in sales longer than I care to remember, I believe retail associates need to be trained or helped to: 1. Be friendly. 2. Engage with shoppers. 3. Solve problems. 4. Have a very thick skin. 5. STAY friendly. 6. Be persistent. 7. Know when to move on to other customers.

Most of these are innate at least for some people, others have to be taught. Over time, enthusiasm can wane, so it is up to organizations to regularly make sure the employees are having fun and making the process pleasant for customers and employees, rather than just barking out the next daily, weekly, or seasonal goal that must be met, or else.

Liz Crawford
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Do Customers want to be sold? Probably not. I know I don’t.

I agree with Chris that the role of the sales associate has changed, because the shopper has access to more information than ever before. So, what is the role of the sales associate now?

In apparel, it’s usually to help the “active” customer gather sizes, colors and styles. Sometimes, sales associates act like the “shopping friend”—telling the customer whether the item is flattering.

In electronics shopping, the sales associate may be helping the customer understand how something works, whether it is compatible with their other electronics, and giving them the “really, really” on product and brand performance.

In grocery, it’s usually about helping shoppers navigate aisles and locate products.

Shopping used to be a similar process for nearly every category. Shoppers had a need, went to a store, evaluated items, and ultimately bought something. Today, the shopping process is beginning to diverge for each category, as evaluation, price-seeking, recommendations and delivery may be conducted outside of the linear process and the store walls.

Roger Saunders
Guest
4 years 6 months ago
Call reluctance is a part of every human being, whether it lies in being a part of a conference, a neighborhood cocktail party, or actively on the floor with the merchandise. Having ownership of 28 retail Quick Service Restaurants in the past, I applaud Bob’s thinking on the three topics. Train, motivate with a contest, play. In a QSR environment, and we ran some of the highest volumes and best run facilities, we had high school and college associates in the evening and weekends, and individuals who are delivering their best during the daytime hours during the week to do their part. We had first time job seekers who came from lake front homes, and we had individuals who took public transportation to be a part of our teams. Our managers and supervisors were continuously encouraged to work some training into a shift—they proudly took some of the college age students through the 4-Step process of Explain, Demonstrate, Try-out, and Evaluate. Those college students loved it, when they were given the leadership opportunity to conduct… Read more »
Shep Hyken
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Why are these retailers hiring people who have “selling fears” or lack confidence? It’s simple, hire the people with the right attitude and personality and then do the the Retail Doctor’s “prescribed treatment” of the three steps outlined in the article.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Usually it’s the sales manager who fails their employer—not the salesperson. These ideas are a great start.

Luxury hotels routinely train their entire staff every day—from the front desk to housekeeping. It’s an integral piece to serving clients. Your company should do the same.

Some of my colleagues have questioned whether customers want to be sold. Understanding that each category is different; my training sessions focus on selling the DNA of the store/showroom—sell prospects on who you are and why you exist. This completely changes the dynamics of the rest of the selling process.

Product is then about fascination and education so customers can make an informed decision. Create customers/drive sales by creating desire to do business with you rather than trying to sell them a specific product.

And, to the point of the article, reinforce every day.

Dave Wendland
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

It cannot be overstated that retail associates generally don’t like or want to sell, it doesn’t feel natural or authentic. To help them gain confidence it begins with training, coaching and granting them permission to engage with customers. The goal of “retail selling” is to provide customers with a more complete solution — isn’t that what they came to the store for in the first place?

Ville Levaniemi
Guest
Ville Levaniemi
4 years 6 months ago
This was a good read and I like the human nature of the three proposed ways around making the job more fulfilling, interesting, even exciting for the associates. One can try and bring all the latest technology available in the world to the store, but there is still the most important part of the supply chain—the store associate, who needs to succeed as well. The more motivated they are to succeed every day and every minute, the more successful they will be. We see every day with our retail clients that allowing more responsibility to the local staff (to try different things and to execute and test their initiatives in real life) and of course providing them with the tools to validate, monitor and assure their own success every day, really makes the good things happen. Also, when you “Play” and hold the daily sales contests, you still need to keep in mind that the customer who leaves the store smiling is more likely to return again to spend their hard earned dollars again in your… Read more »
Bill Hanifin
Guest
4 years 6 months ago
This article addresses what seems to be a simple topic, and does a great job uncovering a most fundamental barrier to sales in the retail setting. It seems the poll results overwhelmingly put training at the top of the list and I agree. The one unspoken aspect of this issue is that many retail associates don’t see themselves as sales people from the time they are hired. They might be people to “man” the store, provide product knowledge and be helpful while customer try on various items, but I don’t think many of them buy into “selling” as one of their mandates. In addition to an emphasis on training, maybe there should be an adjustment to the job descriptions written and the hiring process. I just asked all of associates to complete a DISC assessment and it brought revelation and perspective to myself as well as the associate. Including these forms of assessment testing during the hiring process could help ensure the right people are hired for the job. With that box checked off, training… Read more »
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Braintrust
"For example, if the sales associate understood the emotional drivers behind brand decisions in key categories that matter to the retailer, they could start conversations that bring those emotions to the surface for the shopper, causing them to feel the stimulus that actually prompts the decision to put the product in the cart."
"The selling fears experienced by associates are often rooted in limited empowerment. If the sales associates don’t believe they are embedded in the overarching success of the business they aren’t going to leave their comfort zones."
"There is a related and perhaps more interesting question:"Do today’s consumers want to be SOLD something?""

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