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Retail Sales Staff Training: Benefits, Tips and More

While some employees have instinctively good retail sales skills, others sometimes need more support and development to reach their potential. Business owners should consider implementing retail sales training programs to help both skilled and underperforming employees develop and polish their retail sales abilities.

An employee retail sales training program can offer many positives to your business, including improved sales, productivity and employee retention. In this article, we’ll discuss what retail sales training programs look like, the advantages they can provide to your business and important skills they can help develop and refine.

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What is retail sales training?

Retail sales training refers to the training process by which retail sales employees develop and hone their skills to relate to customers. Employees in retail sales must be able to meaningfully engage with customers and deliver a lasting sales impression. They have exceptional product knowledge and use it to sell strategically. When used in combination with interpersonal skills, retail sales associates help customers find exactly what they’re looking for, resulting in closed sales and an overall positive experience.

Related: What Is a Brick and Mortar Store? An Overview

Types of retail sales training

Retail sales training can be delivered in various ways. Employers can offer retail sales training as part of initial onboarding and throughout an individual’s employment. Training is delivered through either traditional or virtual learning methods, or a combination of both. Common training modalities include:

  • Instructor-led training: Lectures, workshops and seminars delivered to groups or individuals
  • Video learning: Employees watch pre-recorded video lessons, possibly followed up by brief concept quizzes or assignments
  • Electronic learning: With support from a manager or designated trainer, employees complete online learning modules that may include videos, assignments and quizzes
  • Role playing or virtual reality: Retail sales associates participate in customer interaction simulations to improve responses and reactions

Read more: How to Create an Effective Employee Training and Development Program

Benefits of retail sales training

Your company’s retail sales associates are the front line of your brand and have more customer contact than any other employee. As such, it’s necessary to implement effective retail training for a successful business.

Having a comprehensive employee training plan can help increase staff job satisfaction and retention, meaning lower turnover, less time spent on managing day-to-day operations and lower ongoing costs as your business spends less time on basic training for new hires. In addition, well-trained, happy employees are typically more productive, and are likely to make more sales too.

Read more: Tips for Effectively Managing a Retail Store

Skills for retail sales associates

Retail sales associates need both technical skills (product knowledge, the ability to operate the Point of Sale System, etc) and soft skills. Soft skills relate to interpersonal communication and customer service. Some people are naturally good at these soft skills, but others need more support or guidance to develop them.

Employers can screen for those with naturally good soft skills during the interview process by asking questions about times an applicant has shown strong communication, conflict resolution or problem solving skills. Someone who is able to give fluent and coherent real-world examples of them using those skills in previous jobs is likely to be a good candidate.

It is possible to develop soft skills, however. Employers can use a variety of training methods to support this:

  • Coaching and mentoring from more experienced sales associates
  • Role play exercises as part of general training
  • Providing positive feedback when employees do a good job
  • Reviewing employee performance/customer satisfaction and offering constructive feedback
  • Using training needs assessments to identify the areas associates need the most help with

Working with employees to identify their weak areas and training needs is important. A mystery shopper may report a salesperson as dismissive or rude, but the cause of that may not be deliberate poor behavior. Rather, the employee could feel under pressure to close a sale within a target time, or may be struggling to understand the computer system. Determining each employee’s real pain points will go a long way towards improving their performance.

Individualizing customer experiences

Some people make the mistake of engaging with customers in formulaic and forced ways, but customers typically don’t respond optimally to scripted experiences. Individualizing customer relationships implies building rapport with customers based on their unique profile. This means getting to know customers and connecting with them beyond the sales aspect of the interaction. Individualizing experiences can be as simple as noticing small details and asking related questions or connecting over a common interest. The main point is that the customer sees the interaction knowing that their sales associate is engaged and interested in what they need.

Body language and facial cues

Body language and facial cues are always important, even when most employees must wear masks. Training programs should teach employees how to create welcoming body language to appear friendly and confident and make customers more comfortable. This means making eye contact, having a relaxed stance and an open posture.

Listening to customers

Not every customer walking to your business has the same profile. That is, they all have different needs, goals and approaches. Retail sales associates should be skilled at listening to what customers say and be able to read between the lines to accurately assess what customers are looking for. For example, if a customer says that they enjoyed the look of their previous winter coat but it lacked durability, the sales associate should direct them to trendier styles with high-quality components rather than the warmest or most expensive coat.

Aligning with brand culture

Good customer service shares qualities, but might look different according to your business’s personal brand and culture. While customers may seek out brands simply for their products, they often select products according to the brands they most align with. Since they spend the most time with customers, your sales associates should be able to represent your brand’s culture. This means demonstrating the company’s unique vision and values in conjunction with sales interactions to help customers buy into the brand and its products.

Strategic upselling

Another common mistake in retail sales is unnecessary upselling. Many sales associates mistakenly upsell as often as they can, constantly plugging current specials or discounts into the customer interaction. This is often ineffective since it doesn’t appeal to customer needs or provide them with real value. Instead, employees should be able to identify and assess customer needs and factor those into their upselling strategies.

For example, a customer visits an outdoors store to purchase ski equipment. As they test pants and jackets, they mention how they struggle to stay warm when skiing. With price points in mind, the employee can make suggestions like higher-end clothing with better insulation, or more budget-friendly options such as hand and toe warmers to conveniently slip into socks and gloves.

Practicing interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are a type of emotional intelligence. Since each customer has their own unique personality, it’s important that retail associates be able to gauge and respond with emotional intelligence during short customer interactions. This means they can communicate in a way that customers best identify with and listen with full attention and empathy. These interpersonal skills are especially important when convincing a customer of a sale or de-escalating a conflict.

Following up

Timing follow-ups with customers is a delicate balance. Too much persistence comes off as pushy and may scare a customer off a sale, while too little may show customers that their sales associate isn’t committed or invested in their needs. Sales associates shouldn’t hover over customers’ shoulders as they shop, but they should be accessible, enthusiastic and anticipate customer needs or questions. Some businesses even offer loyalty programs where a customer’s preferred employee can contact them periodically with information about new products or deals they may specifically be interested in.

Focus on experience over sales

Retail sales associates should understand the customer as the focus of the sale and not the product itself. Approaching sales by focusing on the customer instead of the sale ensures that customers are connected to the right products and have a positive experience. The best retail sales associates understand that their primary goal is to help their customer, which means understanding which products are genuinely useful to each customer and informing them on the pros and cons of their options.

Reviewing sales experiences

Even top-performing sales associates should continue to review and improve on their customer interactions. They can check in with managers and colleagues to gain insight as to customer opportunities they may have missed, or take notice of when certain strategies are more or less effective. The best retail sales associates are those who are committed to developing and refining their skills on an ongoing basis.

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