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Quality Sewing & Vacuum, which opened its first Washington State location in 1985 and now operates 13 stores in the state as well as an online store, decided it was time to boost retail associate sales skills as well as its customer service.

But few retail training programs provide such a dual tract – most either focus purely on sales training or target interpersonal communication skills. But in SalesRX the retailer found both skill boosting capabilities and is reaping rewards in sales, customer service and customer engagement.

The quest, according to owner Paul LaPonte, was to provide customers great service during each visit and simultaneously introduce customers to a new product. But the big challenge was how to do both with a sales staff scattered across 13 stores.

The right prescription

All it took was an email to find the solution. A fan of Retail Doctor Bob Phibbs, LaPonte read Phibbs’ weekly email and caught information on Phibb’s SalesRX program.

Phibbs initially launched his SalesRX program as an in-person retail sales training approach. In 2013, realizing the need and potential for an online option, he began offering the training program on an interactive video platform. The platform allows Phibbs to ask questions, and based on each participant’s answer, customize and adjust the learning path.

“On top of that, retailers wanted the training to be traceable and in real time with certifications at the end. I made sure my SalesRX included those components,” he told Retail Customer Experience in an email interview.

In the fall of 2017, LaPonte initiated SalesRX and with the first quarter of 2018 he saw the results: increased sales and more satisfied customers.

“A large percentage of our sales are created by the interaction between the sales staff and the customer,” LaPonte explained in an email interview with Retail Customer Experience.

“The staff that do this well, have much higher sales per hour. It has always been a challenge to turn clerks into sales staff and we felt this program would help those folks, particularly newer staff see how easy it can be.”

One reason for the program’s success, added LaPonte, is that Phibb’s approach to retail store associate and sales training is very much in sync with Quality Sewing & Vacuum’s approach to customer service.

“The sales philosophy that Bob’s program is based on closely matches ours: give people great service each time they visit, show them something new and then ask them to buy it,” he said.

The training program, said LaPonte, proved to be easy to deploy and manage, and tracking employee involvement was simple due to a weekly monitoring report provided. The report indicates the number of time training is accessed by an associate, their personal progress and their ‘passing’ rate.

LaPonte initiated the program at an all-staff sales meeting, launching it at all 13 locations. Each store manager then set up a specific half hour time block during the week when staff were expected to participate in training via a company computer in the store.

“We also encouraged them to train from home or on their breaks from their cell phones,” said LaPonte.

More than just sales

The training impact was clear from the get-go, noted LaPonte.

“The staff that embraced the program registered improved sales per hour. Some staff did not really embrace and naturally we did not see improvement,” he noted, adding that one challenge was getting every associate to participate on a consistent and enthusiastic basis.

Yet even that hurdle didn’t deter its success. The first quarter of 2018 was the company’s best ever and LaPonte attributes part of that revenue increase to the positive benefits from Sales RX.

“I think we also improved overall customer service and reduced customer complaints by learning to listen and communicate better,” he said.

“I think the those that took the training to heart learned how to communicate better and listen better when helping customers and that improved our customer’s experience also reduced complaints.”

The misconceptions with retail training

Retailers, said Phibbs, often have misconceptions when it comes to associate and sales training. Some mistakenly believe training is a one-time, full-day effort.

Training, explained Phibbs, is never done.

“That’s expensive and rarely affects behavior because training has to be done in bite-sized lessons,” said Phibbs. “Taking someone off the floor for just 10 minutes a week and then practicing what they learned allows them to master the information,” he explained.

Phibbs describes retail sales training as “behavior training,” and akin to learning how to play tennis.

“Just knowing how to hold the racket or swing backhand won’t get you to Wimbledon.  You don’t read a book and take a test, so you get it right once; you have to practice again and again so you can’t do it wrong.”

Many retailers may also mistakenly view training as expensive.

“What they don’t realize is that they are giving away thousands each week with 20 percent off entire store sales and friends and family sales. That’s real money a salesperson should be able to keep in the retailer’s pocket,” said Phibbs.

Store associate training, he added, can play a huge role when it comes to selling the pricier items in a retail environment. Products, he said, don’t sell themselves.

“Unless you can engage a stranger, build rapport, and become a trusted adviser, your more expensive items will sit. And why is that? Because your employees are selling from their own wallets. They can’t afford it, so how can your shopper? And your younger crew are buying used, consignment, or even renting so untrained, they are put in the position of giving great customer service to people they may feel are fools for paying full price.”

Opening up the heart

Phibbs added that 83 percent of the retailers using SalesRX report increased sales and customer satisfaction, often in double digits within a few months. Then there is the intangible benefit — enhancing the customer experience.

“One client wrote and told me, ‘since using SalesRX our shoppers all became nicer.’ I had to correct her, ‘Since using Sales RX, you all got nicer.'”

“What we teach is how to open your heart up to another human being. You have to show your humanity – that there’s another human in front of you- before you try to pitch product,” he said, adding “I teach the buyer journey.”

As Phibbs describes it, in the ‘buyer journey’ 60 percent of shoppers know they want something but unsure what it will be and come to the store for options. Thirty percent are in the consideration stage and may have seem something online or in an add and are looking to compare and contrast and 10 percent are in the decision stage.

“They have done their research, they know what they want, and they just want to validate it and take it home with them,” explained Phibbs, noting that’s where a retail associate asking, ‘can I help you find something,’ can play a pivotal role.

But the associate can also play a pivotal role with the majority of shoppers, added Phibbs.

“The opportunity for brick and mortar retailers to make more sales are with those 60 percent in the awareness stage. They want to discover something. But they’ll only do that when you are willing to make their day first,” he said.

“Online retail is fast and friction-free. Brick and mortar retail can compete because only in-person can make a shopper feel they matter. When shoppers feel they matter, they buy more. That takes retail sales training.”

Posted with permission from 
Photos courtesy of Quality Sewing & Vacuums.


Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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