Informed Consumers Raise The Importance Of An Educated Sales Staff
Best Practices by Lou Dzierzak, Lkdcom@visi.com
No matter what day, time or season the questions never stop coming for sales people at snow sports retailers.
“I want to buy my daughter her first snowboard. What should I be looking for?”
“I heard about these new ski boots. Will they work for me?”
“I want to upgrade my bindings? What do you suggest?”
Specialty retailers often hire sales people who are enthusiastic about the sports the shop specializes in to address just these kinds of queries. At times, those “stoked” employees may not be accurately informing customers about apparel and equipment choices.
“I tell our employees to never BS a customer. That’s the worst thing that can happen. You will be caught quickly and lose all credibility,” says Jonathon Southworth, owner, Adams Ski & Snowboard, Dayton OH.
Since product knowledge is the lifeblood of a snow sports retailer’s credibility, storeowners place great emphasis on training sales people. Kim Pearson, co-owner Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus, Grand Rapids MI, believes the training begins during the job applicant’s interview. “Our hiring process is one of the most important parts of the success of our training program,” Pearson says, “part of the hiring process is determining “trainability” of that person. If somebody tells us they know everything they may not be the best candidate for us. Customers don’t like know-it-alls.”
Southworth says,” We make sure new hires are passionate and knowledgeable about the sport and have basic background knowledge.” He continues, “A potential employee may be a great skier and snowboarder and can talk to someone on a ski hill but they don’t know the technology in depth and what makes this binding than another. We take time to teach them the correct way to deal with a range of customers from a 10-year old boy to a grandparent. We make sure they have the product knowledge necessary to talk to across a product segment.”
Sales training methods include a wide variety of tools. “We use every tool available including 3point5, manufacturer’s resources, the experience of senior staff, trade journals and magazines,” explains Pearson.
Ken Bradford, owner Ken’s Bike-Ski-Board, Davis, CA brings in outside speakers to talk about customer service issues and encourages his staff to participate in industry and brand demonstration events to learn about new product features. “Demo day events are a valuable experience. Our sales people attend demo days in spring, talk about what they’ve seen and learned, then sell those products in the fall.”
More experienced managers and staff introduce new employees to company processes and the brands carried. “Our ski and snowboard techs train floor staffs about brands, industry lingo and product features,” says Matthew Stump, ski hardgoods buyer, Appalachian Outdoors, State College, PA.
At Ken’s Bike-Ski-Board, the sales manager in ski and snowboard department requires new employees to sign up with 3point5. “We want the employees going through the modules when they don’t have tasks for customers in front of them,” says Bradford. “The managers do push new employees pretty hard when there’s a new season coming up to learn about the new products.”
More than ever, consumers may walk in the door filled with opinions formed about products garnered from their own online research. That new dynamic reinforces the importance of an educated sales person.
Pearson encourages Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus sales staff to read the same resources customers use to stay informed. “We train our employees to embrace that consumers are more knowledgeable today, especially if they are totally into a product,” says Pearson. “It’s important to respect that knowledge.”
A customer that’s done their homework may not be the easiest to work with on the sales floor. Bradford explains, “That customer that thinks they know more than you do because I’ve researched it all online is probably no one’s favorite customer. We don’t try to outdo them knowledge-wise. We want to converse with them intelligently. You are never going to win that battle. If you do, you’ve shown them up and they are going to leave.”
Bradford uses outside training resources to teach sales people about the selling process and building long-term customer relationships. “We have a knowledgeable staff but we don’t push a ‘we know more than you’ approach. We don’t let anyone get over their heads and start making stuff up,” he says.
Since a sales staff can include a mix of ages and experiences, managers have to adapt training to keep senior sales people engaged without overwhelming new employees. “Some employees have been through clinics a dozen times but it doesn’t hurt to get refreshed with what’s new. There’s always something to learn about the season coming up,” Stump of Appalachian Outdoors says.
Bradford adds, “Our experienced people will ask questions new employees wouldn’t think to ask. We tailor our clinics to the collective wisdom. People still interested in learning the new information.”
Encouraging more experienced sales people to assist with training is an important team-building too. “We have a close-knit team,” says Southworth of Adams Ski & Snowboard. “Everyone helps everyone else to make sure the training process goes smoothly.”
Pearson of Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus adds, “We train our senior employees to realize their presence and experience in a clinic helps the younger staff get better. Training keeps the energy going forward when people are learning and sharing information.”
Training sales associates is an ongoing process that’s critical to the success of snow sports specialty retailers. Pearson reports, “A lot of my peers in the industry say training costs so much money or their people don’t care. People do care. I’d rather spend my money on something positive than constantly be hiring and not have the quality of service in the store that our customers expect.”
Managing a successful snow sports specialty retail store requires expertise in an ever-changing array of business operations. Human resources, event planning, marketing, product selection, social media and e-commerce are just a few examples. Lou Dzierzak has written about these topics for over a decade. Best Practices will shorten the learning curve by offering case studies, resources and how-to tips from experts in specific fields. If you have suggestions for future topics, please feel free to contact Lou at Lkdcom@visi.com.