Best practices for hiring salespeople

HomeInside FCNewsBest practices for hiring salespeople

Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15

By Nadia Ramlakhan

For a store owner in the retail floor covering industry, salespeople are among the most important moving parts when it comes ensuring the business is thriving. A salesperson’s job isn’t just about selling product; he also represents a retailer’s brand and interacts with customers on a daily basis. Tom Jennings, vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) and a former retailer himself, offered some insight as to how and where dealers can find exceptional salespeople.

Find the right fit in unconventional places

Excellent salespeople often come as a result of starting with no sales experience and tremendous “people skills,” Jennings said. He suggests looking for candidates in other industries that require heavy customer interaction such as food service, hospitality or interior design. People who work in the interior design field are more likely to have experience dealing with different kinds of consumers in addition to a good sense of color.

“I’m looking for attitudes,” Jennings said. “I can teach anybody the product—that’s the easy part. I’m looking for the people skills. If you’ve got a good training system for new hires I am never scared of taking on someone who doesn’t have a background in flooring.”

When Jennings was working in retail, he sometimes gave out business cards to people he encountered with friendly personalities. “I used to carry a few business cards with me,” he said. “I would say, ‘I appreciate the great attitude, if you are ever interested in a career change give me a call.’ Once I slipped the card in a waitress’ tip and another time I gave it to a teller at my bank. She was in my office as soon as she got off work.”

Ask the right questions

When interviewing candidates, retailers should be sure to ask about past experiences. Using the right wording can also provide some insight as to how the person will act under pressure or in another strenuous circumstance. For example, asking, “What did you do?” vs. “What would you do?” will allow the candidate to explain a specific instance in which he encountered a problem and solved it. These kinds of questions also prove whether the candidate can think quickly on his or her feet.

“I like to say, ‘Tell me about a situation in which you went the extra mile for a customer’ or ‘Tell me about a time she threw you a curveball,’” Jennings said. “I’m looking for someone to admit he or she screwed up. If the person learned a good lesson it means that’s a lesson he or she doesn’t have to learn on my watch.”

Start at the end

Starting a new salesperson on a Friday rather than a Monday can prove beneficial for both the store owner and salesperson. First, as a manager, owner or other superior, there is not a more hectic time in retail than Monday morning, Jennings explained.

“Fridays tend to be less stressful as far as you or your staff having some time to dedicate,” he said. “But mostly what you want to do is get the nerves knocked down. Have them come in Friday, do the walk-through and introductions and send them home with preliminary reading material. They can stew over the weekend and Monday morning they will be a little more relaxed and more ready to get to work.”

Look for signs of character

One tactic Jennings uses to sort out the better candidates from those less qualified is to ask abstract questions and provide challenging exercises that can help a retailer learn about a potential salesperson’s character. He suggests finding out where candidates buy groceries and why they choose to shop at those particular stores. “Before you can be a good salesperson, you have to first be a good customer—I am a big believer of that,” he noted. In other words, if an interviewee shops based on price, it contradicts the kind of salesperson a specialty retailer wants. Flooring retailers need salespeople to take the emphasis off price and sell based on other attributes like exceptional customer service, a personalized experience and attention to detail.

“If I run a full-line store where I want to sell service and added value, someone who shops to save 5% isn’t a good fit; if you walk the walk you have to talk the talk,” Jennings continued. “But if they say they choose a certain grocery store because it is nicer or the staff is helpful, that is who I want to represent my store because they are the ones who can convincingly say, ‘You might pay an extra buck but let me show you what you’re getting.’”

Assign tasks in the field

Jennings recommends assigning a potential candidate with the task of buying tires with an imaginary budget. “Very few of us really understand tires,” he said. “I would send him or her out with the task of coming back in five days with a decision after having visited at least three stores.” It’s important to note the reason a salesperson chooses to buy certain tires is that illustrates what consumers really look for when it comes to flooring. Rarely does a qualified candidate make a decision based on technical information; instead he uses referrals, financing offers or overall store experience as a deciding factor.

“It makes the person be aware as a customer,” Jennings said. “What you’re looking for in a tire is what the customer looks for in you.”

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