Linda Montalbano (VP, Graff Retail, and key speaker on our #WebinarWednesday events) said something in one of her recent #WebinarWednesday talks that really stuck with me.  I have spent about 30 years in retail; close to 20 of those years with Linda, so you can see that she continues to inspire even after all these years!  Her statement was so simple, so honest, and yet I’ve never heard it before.  This is what she said…are you ready for it?  “Approaching a stranger is one of the most difficult things to do, and yet, we expect our staff to do that each and every day out on the retail floor; typically, with little to no training.”  Never talk to strangers…oh, except in retail, we want you to do that each and every day!  Let that settle in and really think about it.  If it resonates with you the way it did with me, this simple, honest statement is about to change the way you approach training and development with your frontline teams. 

Our parents all told us from a really young age to never talk to strangers. 

As humans, we instinctively shy away from people we don’t know and we stay clear of pretty much any socially awkward situations.  It’s ingrained in us not to approach strangers, but “approaching strangers” is at the very core of the job description for anyone on the retail floor, in a sector ranked #1 among all job sectors in Canada in terms of share of total employment.  So why is it we think our sales teams can just learn on the go?  Just get out there on the floor and start talking to customers without any preparation; without any formal training?  Why do we expect these people to just confidently approach strangers, get their trust, and then, buy something from them!  When was the last time you walked up to a total stranger, built rapport and then asked them to buy something from you right then and there?  It’s not intuitive is it?

Now do you see why Linda’s simple, honest statement has stuck with me?  If you don’t teach your sales teams (even just how to approach customers), you are not setting them up for success.  You are playing up the negative stereotypes of retail.  This is likely why we’ve got so many “Can I help you?” jokes.  No wonder it’s the #1 greeting we hear when walking into a retail store!  No one knows what else to say! 

Tips for finding the right Sales Training Program for your teams:

  • Find a training program or system that keeps your staff learning all the time. Cutting them off after a week’s worth of orientation training and throwing them out on the floor won’t do. 
  • Break it down. If you are teaching someone how to sell, based on the level of difficulty in approaching strangers, you better start with how to establish rapport. 
  • Find a training program that also teaches your Store Managers how to coach performance. Your sales teams are only as good as their leaders.
  • Make sure your training approach has an implementation & reinforcement strategy.
  • Ideally, your training should have a layered approach – combine e-learning with offline support resources and on-the-floor coaching.

If you’re reading this, we know you love retail as much as we do.  If we love it and want others to love it, if we want to attract and keep great staff, all the while continuing to change the mentality surrounding choosing retail as a career, isn’t it obvious that we need to offer proven, on-going training and development to our retail teams in order for them to feel confident and be successful?  Remember, never talk to strangers…except in retail!

Mary Gordon and Kim McCutcheon have been supporting retail front lines for as long as they can remember. A dynamic duo, Mary and Kim understand what it takes to make training work at store level and know how to inspire, coach and support retail teams in all of their training endeavours.

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