Training the workforce of tomorrow

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January 2/9, 2017: Volume 31, Number 15

In this Internet age, successful RSAs need to understand the language of lead generation

By Danielle Brooks

Today’s retail floor covering salespeople require different competencies and skills compared to 15, 20 or even 30 years ago. While the core fundamentals of selling skills and customer service are still relevant, a change in the way consumers research and shop for floor coverings has forced store owners to adapt accordingly.

A big driver behind that change is technology. Thanks to Internet sites, online product reviews and social media, consumers are armed with a wealth of information (and sometimes misinformation). This represents a dramatic departure from, say, 15-20 years ago, when Mrs. Consumer was more likely to stop at several stores prior to making a purchase. This not only means fewer face-to-face interactions during the research phase of the shopping cycle, but it also requires RSAs to be better prepared to provide additional information and guidance to the consumer as they work toward closing the sale.

So, how are retailers ensuring that their staff is equipped with the necessary skills to gravitate from the online checkout to the in-store checkout? For many retailers, it all goes back to recruiting and training.

“As a company we understand the average consumer probably spends at least three times as much time online as they do in our stores, so when they come in, it’s a different shopping experience, especially with the millennials,” said Tom Heffner, owner of All About Floors, Birdsboro, Pa. “It has changed so that when they come in they already have the basic knowledge of the product when they hit our doors.”

While All About Floors employs seasoned, experienced salespeople, management strives to continue to develop their representatives in order to adapt to emerging market sectors and demographic groups, millennials included. The key, according to Heffner, lies in relating to the shopper. “I think the real answer is to sell based on fashion, because I don’t think that’s ever going to go away,” Heffner explained. “I think some people lose track of that sometimes.” Heffner cites recent data showing millennials represent the single-largest group of floor covering purchasers in the marketplace today. Although they may have delayed the purchase of houses, they are planning to buy. To that end, All About Floors is currently looking at online purchasing metrics and other options to target and capture millennials’ disposal dollars. One effective approach entails working closely with manufacturers (Mohawk, in this case) to convert online shoppers into bona fide leads. The company utilizes consumer websites and reviews, search engine marketing and behavioral targeting campaigns to deliver these high-value leads to retail partners. Having salespeople who fully understand this process, retailers say, makes all the difference in moving the sales process toward a successful completion.

Hence the reason why some dealers emphasize the basics when coaching salespeople. “There is a fine line between having knowledge and proper knowledge,” said Winston Whitehead, owner of Sterling Carpet Shops in Sterling, Va. When coaching his staff, he finds one-on-one training sessions to be the most effective. “This is why it is important to continue to have the face-to-face discussions, to ask questions, identify what a customer is in the market for and what their expectations are.”

In an ideal world, store owners hope to develop retail sales associates who can demonstrate a wide range of selling skills. This way, they are equipped to handle the traditional consumer and the modern customer alike.

“Customers are enlightened to the quality of goods and services but are still visiting the showrooms to buy,” said Bill Zeigler, co-owner of Charles F. Zeigler & Sons in Hanover, Pa. “Consumers want to view the product, touch it and see it in use. This is increasingly important when hiring new staff as the individual must be up to date on new technology and ways to integrate that into marketing and sales to create a modern sales manager.”

This creates both a challenge and an opportunity for retailers to equip their staff with the necessary skills to transition consumers from the online to in-store shopping experience. Consumers demand both, the best value and personalized service. With the many options available for customized training and educational development—be they workshops, seminars, online training or utilizing lead-generation techniques—retailers have a variety of tools at their disposal. Industry associations are doing their part as well. The World Floor Covering Association offers a wide range of opportunities for educational development incorporating regional camps and seminars, plus more than 40 online training modules that encompass areas such as back office management, leadership sales training and installation training.


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