Hire for experience and aptitude, or hire for attitude?
Some of the top performing sales associates in my past were the least experienced in the retail industry. If a candidate has a positive attitude, a willingness to learn, and an ability to build rapport with people, you can coach and develop him or her to be a great associate. You may even have better results molding a relatively green associate to the brand’s selling and service standards rather than breaking bad habits of a seasoned associate from another company. Now, this doesn’t mean you should hire only candidates without retail experience for your team, but it does open up potential outlets you may not have previously explored in an effort to hire associates who will deliver great customer service.
How do you shape a new associate into a high performing salesperson? First, create a training plan and schedule uninterrupted time for the associate to learn. Involve and engage management and peers to teach based on their respective skill sets. Not only does this empower existing team members with responsibility, it allows the new associate time to build rapport with colleagues and begin integrating into the team. Once your new associate is armed with product knowledge and selling service standards, he or she should feel confident applying new skills with customers on the sales floor. After the initial training concludes, consider pairing new associates with partners to shadow on the sales floor, and emphasize continued support and guidance.
Continue creating a learning environment through ongoing coaching and feedback, both critical to your associates’ development. During an associate’s first month, the store manager should conduct a formal conversation to set expectations and goals, and provide insight on how the new associate engages with team members. And even more importantly, this meeting should establish an understanding of how the associate wants to receive feedback, as well as his or her aspirations for career planning. Even if the associate’s goals seem lofty, be honest with what actions it will take for attainment or discuss a more reasonable plan in his or her progression. Once you have set a clear picture of expectations, ensure you provide regular feedback including both formal and informal dialogue.
Associates do not develop and grow without feedback, and being consistent is imperative. Feedback and coaching sessions should not be conducted when you feel like it, but rather every day you are at work. Make coaching a priority and you will build a strong, high-performance climate in your store.
Lastly, build trust with your team members and connect with them on a personal level. This doesn’t mean you have to take them out dancing or invite them to your family BBQ, but show a genuine interest in their lives outside of the store. Don’t gloss over the small details, because it is the little things you remember that make the difference in building your relationships. Not only will they feel valued and respected, it may provide insight into what makes them tick and how to motivate them.
When building your store team, keep in mind your best candidates might not meet all of the initial criteria listed on your job description. But, with the proper foundation of soft skills like an ability to connect with customers, a positive mental attitude, and the practice of proactive behaviors, you can train and develop product knowledge, store operations, and service standards, and build a high performing team that truly differentiates your store through service.
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