Over the past year, I’ve encouraged showroom executives to keep their focus on providing customers with “The Experience.” It spans a broad range of considerations — everything from beverages and snacks to a brightly lit store filled with pleasant aromas and spotless standards designed to encourage shoppers to linger in the showroom and increase their odds of making the sale.
A showroom owner recently asked me, “Didn’t we just see that business model fail in the past year?” I agreed, admitting it had happened in many cases. However, I should have added that when showroom owners implement a philosophy such as “The Experience,” their efforts must be backed up by employees who listen, care and can sell in a consultative manner. Let me be clear: Having great employees is far more important than any of the experientials a showroom might choose to add.
Showrooms must have the right employees and the right customer experience to maximize their opportunity for success in today’s competitive retail marketplace.
You may have picked up a Patrick Lencioni book when you were at a conference or trolling through books at an airport’s Hudson News store. I agree that Lencioni’s mantra of “humble, hungry and smart” generally works great when hiring staff for wholesale operations. However, in a retail environment, you need to look at other factors when interviewing salespeople, especially those focused on the luxury sector. Looking at candidates who have attributes such as listening ability, enthusiasm and willingness to learn is far more important.
Describing someone is “smart” depends on who is judging and who is being judged. Just because people are smart doesn’t mean they know how to sell — or even want to sell! Eagerness to learn and an aptitude for learning are important qualities. People who can’t perform basic math functions shouldn’t be part of the first round of applicants.
Hiring a new member of your showroom team is much more challenging than hiring someone to join the traditional wholesale side of a business. There are different definitions of a smart showroom salesperson. Smart to some means that you know how to sell above your pocketbook, or as some call it, being able to sell at an equal business level.
Because there can be such a wide span of target customers and price ranges — and the styles of salespeople needed — I suggest showroom owners rely on human resources experts to help benchmark the traits you are looking for. Most independent showrooms don’t have the time or inclination to create the necessary profiles needed to consider when adding to their sales team — and honestly, why would a showroom want to reinvent the wheel when they can get the hiring expertise they need at such a reasonable cost?
The attribute of being hungry is great, but having an overly aggressive sales approach in a showroom often does little to help your cause. Early on in my career, I often hired applicants who I knew had “overhead” — such as a family or a home — because I knew those responsibilities meant they had to get out of bed every morning and come to work.
Today’s competitive environment means that hiring practices must go beyond selecting someone who will just show up at work. Rather, showroom leaders need to search for and qualify someone who will be engaged in the process. While a hungry desire to succeed is a solid characteristic for employees to have, they likely won’t be content to stay in the showroom environment for long. They may want to move into a position of greater responsibility faster than your showroom may be able to offer. Instead, showroom leaders may want to focus more on looking for those who bring an attribute of stability because longevity in a showroom usually pays off.
Humility is an important trait for nearly all levels of hiring. If candidates demonstrate an appreciation for someone who is more talented than they are — and you can tell it is genuine — they will likely be a great addition to any showroom. An easy way to determine how genuine they are is if they can tell an embarrassing story about themselves in the workplace. That type of humble, genuine and grounded behavior is a home-run trait. It proves a candidate can work within a team of people, close a sale and own up to an error.
The Value of Listening
Historically, soft skills have not been a central focus of hiring in showrooms. At least that’s what I’ve noticed during interviews. However, a 2014 CareerBuilder survey notes that 77 percent of employers are seeking candidates who possess soft skills. In fact, 16 percent of those who took part in the survey said they considered such qualities more crucial than hard skills. I agree. Above all, enthusiasm and passion are what I look for when hiring. To me, the hard skills are typically teachable.
One quality that all showrooms should pay particular attention to among candidates is their ability to listen; specifically, active listening, which involves being present in every conversation you have. Listening with full attention communicates respect for the person with whom you are speaking. For example, when actively listening to another person, ask yourself what the person is trying to say versus what they are saying.
I believe this is the secret sauce for an excellent showroom salesperson. Consumers typically don’t have the showroom lingo down, and often have difficulty communicating what they want in their home. More importantly, they may be unaware of a feature or product that could make their lives exponentially better.
This is where your Net Promoter Score can go through the roof. Being attentive helps earn customers’ respect and admiration, which makes them feel in control and at ease. The probability of improving your sales performance is greater when hiring for this attribute.
So how do you qualify a candidate?
Ask the person to tell you about a time when they had to read between the lines to find out what was important to a customer.
Another tactic is to see if the candidate interrupts you during the interview process, which is a clear sign of poor listening.
If the candidate rambles or has “motor mouth,” it can be a sign of a poor listener.
You may want to ask a candidate to repeat something back you said during the interview. Or quiz them on a benefit of the company you mentioned earlier in the meeting.
It is true that you can teach listening skills. So, if you see great potential in a candidate who doesn’t have perfect listening skills, you may still want to make the hire — but only if you are committed to a training program that will help the new hire grow. Seeking professional coaching may be the answer here because many managers don’t have the time or expertise to coach a new hire on such skills.
Why haven’t showrooms done well in this area? Hiring the best showroom salespeople should be no different than finding and hiring any other quality problem-solver. Problem-solving comes from listening skills. Those who can crack the code will hear more than what is said. The fine art of emotional intelligence, passion and creativity will help unlock what the consumer wants, and then their inner product expert will get them to the finish line.
So, what is the secret sauce for a good hire? My advice is to use a local HR outsource specialist who can help you use some of the available insight tests and discover the attributes that will work best within your sales organization. The nominal cost of running a test on an applicant is a small price to pay in comparison to the cost of a bad hire.