Seven Best Practices to Improve Your Retail Sales Training Program

Retailers have tight payroll budgets and typically staff their stores based on the projected customer foot traffic their stores will experience.  As a result, retail sales representatives are often pressed for time and find it difficult to get involved with retail sales training programs.   When you add-in thin budgets, employee turnover, and some leader’s skepticism around the importance of delivery quality training for retail employees, ensuring a quality customer experience through delivering training can be a challenge.  But in today’s competitive retail marketplace, your company’s survival may depend on doing just that.

Virtually everyone agrees that the retail sales and customer service environment has changed dramatically over the past few years.   Our customers have less time to spend in our stores, have less money to spend, and more choices on where to spend it.  Retail sales associates – and the retailers that employ them – have typically relied on their ability to “learn while doing.” – in other words, learning the craft of retail sales, customer service, and retail management by trial and error instead of executing planned sales and management processes that have been communicated to them ahead of time.  But when you may only have one shot at getting a customer involved with your product and enticing them to return to your store for another purchase is that really the right method? 

“Many retailers are so focused on the operational aspects of running their business – things like handling cash flow, meeting payroll, and regulatory issues – that they ignore their most important assets,” said David Goodwin, principle owner of Retail Training Services.  “Without customers and the retail sales associates who interact with them every hour of every day, none of the other stuff matters!  The results of your retail sales training program are out there for everyone to see and studies show that many customers think retailers can be doing a better job of delivering on the customer experience.”

Unfortunately, even when they have much to gain from a implementing an ongoing retail sales training program, many retailers shy away because of a fear that the time away from the sales floor will hinder income generating activities.  Instead, they rely on periodic classroom programs (usually when sales are already suffering), product training from vendors, and the motivation of retail sales associates to seek out information on their own. 

“A better retail training method is to have an ongoing program,” says Goodwin.  “This should include providing a company-wide framework for success including definitions of what success looks-like, methods for tracking those results, a blended retail training program that includes regular updates, and training for leaders on performance management.” 

The following seven practices can help ensure your retail sales trainingdirectly affects a sales team’s performance both today and tomorrow:

1. Start by Communicating Customer Expectations: Your customers have distinct thing that they expect from your company in terms of service and selection.  This includes what sets you apart from your competitors both on-line and down the street.

2. Explain the Buying Process: “Help retail sales associates to understand and uncover the buying process of your customers,” says Goodwin.  When sales representatives understand the things that the customer needs they will be motivated to dig-in and get the most out of your retail sales.

3. Make the Training Relevant: Focus your retail sales training on topics that solve common issues that your sales associates encounter.  This could include how to handle common sales objections, how to deal with difficult customers, or properly preparing the store for selling.  And don’t forget to explain the bigger picture of how improving their retail selling skills will result in more income, better career prospects, and more profits for the company!

4, Communicate Specific Tactics: Now that you know what issues you plan to train on make sure that you make the retail sales training worthwhile by providing specific tools and tactics that your team members can put into practice.  Combine video or role-playing examples so that they can see these techniques in action!

5. Use Efficient Training Methods: Taking retail sales associates out of the store for training should be part of your training mix – especially for major product launches or seasonal sales rallies – but key sales training messages can be delivered via retail e-learning courses in 15-20 minute increments direct to the store.  This keeps retail associates in the stores where they can train between customer interactions or other activities.  It also saves money in times of shrinking budgets.

6. Measure Your Team Members’ Results:  “Many of our clients track whether or not an associate has completed their retail sales training,” says Goodwin.  “But we advise them that they need to take the next step by tracking the key result areas that the training is designed to impact.  Usually this is done by measuring things like average transaction amount, items per ticket, sales per hour or other KPIs through the POS system.”  Once you begin measuring results you can begin to have your leaders begin the performance management activities needed to drive sales and profits.

7. Make Training an Ongoing Activity:  It is unfortunate that many retail sales training programs and retail management training programs are looked at as a “one-and-done” activity.  In these situations it is not unusual to get a short-term spike in sales only to have results return to the original base line.  But retail organizations as diverse as The Container Store, Wegman’s, and Pep Boys have proven that by conducting regular refresher trainings via the classroom or e-learning  they can maintain higher levels of productivity while reducing employee turnover.

Crafting a retail sales training program that engages employees and drives long-term results requires, planning, commitment, and perseverance from the retailer, but the payoff is higher productivity, lower employee turnover, better engagement from team members, and stronger customer loyalty.

 If you would like assistance with developing an impactful retail sales training program then contact us for a free one-hour consultation.