There is a difference between training and educating and the good retailers and restaurants are paying attention to that difference.
To think of this business problem in the simplest terms, you train a dog and you teach a person. Pretty simple to understand, but there is a lot behind this simple thought process.
Why would you simply train a dog instead of teach them? Well, and I am sorry dog lovers, but we don’t expect dogs to reason and figure out what the proper thing to do is in a particular situation. However we do expect dogs to be able to repeat a behavior given the proper reward; love, food, toys, affection. For instance, when we had a Cocker Spaniel we were able to teach him to sit, stay, lie down, shake hands, and roll over if we had a pancake in our hands. (Perhaps he trained us to have pancakes in our hands). We repeated this behavioral training with Joey every Sunday because that is when we made pancakes. He got to be very good at all of his commands, and eating pancakes. However, Joey never learned why we did these commands, how to make pancakes, or what ultimately the family unit was trying to get from him doing these commands. He was trained but he was not taught.
We taught our children the importance of looking both left and right before they crossed the street. We told them the positive consequences of looking around and the negative consequences of not looking around. We then talked about how we could apply this same lesson to other parts of life and LISTENED to how they responded. We corrected their course if they made a mistake and continued to ask them questions about their answers so they could teach themselves the why. Our kids have grown to be productive thoughtful adults and seem to be making good decisions because we (mostly my wife) realized the importance of teaching our children and not just training them.
Well, how many retailer and restaurants have training departments today and how many have education departments? When I started in retail the best education programs were with the department stores. They took the time to teach their buyers by putting them on the sales floor. These are the people that, today, are the merchants of all of the great retailers in the US. They got an education by listening to both the customers and the buyers. They understood the “whys” of how things were done before they actually had to do them.
But I continue to hear that retailers are putting in this new training program or that new training program. And these programs work for what they are designed to do. They train people to run the new POS system. They train people to put together a new “set” in a store. People are “trained” on how to make a sandwich, cup of espresso, or how to answer the phone. (Lewis Kornfeld TAUGHT us how to answer the phone in one of his Flyer Side chats in the 1970’s and I have never forgotten the lesson!)
Take the time to teach the “Y.” If all you want to do is train, and then train the same thing again, don’t bother with the Y. You will have full time employment because you will get to teach the next group of new hires and the next one after that ad infinitum. However, if you understand the importance of your employees learning to think through a problem with a good base of knowledge, then take the time to Teach The Y.
My second year as a Regional Manager I had about 150 stores and 6 District Managers I was responsible for. We were all paid on the financial success of the stores with no limit on the up side. So, with each DM in tow, we went and visited each and every store with a P&L and a voided blank check. At the first store in each district I sat down with the DM and the store manager and worked with them to project their sales for the upcoming year. We also worked on the expenses of the store because the store manager got paid on the net profit of the store. We taught the store manager how he could affect his net pay through increased sales and good expense control. And at the end of the session we had the store manager write his bonus check and pin it on his bulletin board. Riding from the first store to the second store the DM and I discussed what had just happened and how the DM could use that experience in the future. At the next store the DM ran the show with the store manager and me standing in the background. This was then done in every store in the district and every store in the region. While certainly not perfect, our group of store managers came to LEARN how P&L’s worked and how they could personally benefit from running THEIR business. Which was the purpose of the lesson? If, through knowledge, we could intellectually transfer ownership of the store to the store manager, then we would have an optimally running operation for years to come. It worked, by the way, as the region was the top region in the US earning store managers, DM’s, and RM’s record profits and earnings.
So Take The Time To Teach The Y in everything you are doing. It will build your profits, improve morale, and deliver to you a sense of satisfaction you will cherish the rest of your life.
As I have said in my previous blogs, if you are a professional sales person you should be making cold calls every day. I don’t care if you have been in the business for 1 day or 30 years; if you are a professional you should always be prospecting-and that requires cold calling. Making warm calls is very beneficial as it brings you close to people you already know or people you have been introduced to. But if you are a pro you have to practice your selling skills every day and nothing is better for that than cold calling. (Ask any sports professional how often they practice and they will each tell you they practice every day. They practice their skill set everyday because they know if they don’t, someone else will be and they will soon lose their edge.) And, you have to expand your universe of potential buyers past your base customers because, believe it or not, your current universe is on the way to retirement or dying.
Alright, let’s say that you have bought into my premise (if you have not, go a week without cold calling and tell me how hard it is to get back into the swing of things). You have just made your first cold call for the day. You prepared for the call by reading up about both the company and the person you are calling just before you picked up the phone. You have no food in your mouth and no distractions. And you made your call and you got all the way to the ever present and evil "Gate Keeper". Ever polite, the gate keeper told you that your target would call you back as soon as time was available. While probably truthful, time won’t be available until the Cubs win the World Series. It just is not going to happen, and if it does happen you won’t know what to do because you will be in shock.
So, what should you do to insure you get the appointment AFTER that initial call?
1. Keep good notes. What was the name of the gate keeper? When you spoke with the gate keeper what did you learn about the gate keeper’s background. How did you relate to the gate keeper? Will the decision maker be at any conventions that you will be attending? Did you get a specific call back time?
2. Set a time that you will call the prospect back. Regardless of what the prospect said to you, you should set a time to call back. I normally wait a week to call the client back, but never more than two weeks. They have an obligation to speak to you. It is their JOB. They are responsible to their company to constantly know what is going on in the marketplace. If you have an idea or product worth an hour of their time (and if you don’t you are working in the wrong place) then they have an obligation to speak with you. Waiting for the client to call you back is like waiting for paint to dry; it is fun for the first few moments but pretty soon the fumes will get to you.
3. Think about other ways to get in to see the customer. Your initial call is just that, initial. It is the first step in your quest to make the prospect's business life more successful. So, if for whatever reason the prospect does not call back, you still have an obligation to help them with your product. Who do you know that knows the prospect? What interesting articles about the prospect's company can you send? Where did the prospect go to school, and how can you relate to that? Be creative in this area. The competition that is PLOM (poor little old me) is spending their time complaining about the prospect not calling back. They are never going to be given the chance to help the prospect be more successful, but you will.
4. Make sure you know specifically why you can help the prospect with their business. There are only two reasons a business should take their time to spend with you. Either you can increase their sales or you can decrease their expense. If you want to sell them a product or service that you cannot relate to one of those two business problems you should stay at home. Be specific on the business problem you want to solve. At Axcelora, our premise is that we can increase sales by getting our clients to retail decision makers, thus increasing sales. We also believe we can lower costs by lowering travel and payroll expense on wasted trips to see people that are not decision makers. At your company you have to be just as specific. If you can’t then you are wasting the prospect's time.
5. Practice your presentation. You are going to get the meeting because you will get to chat with the prospect eventually. Our “Pleasantly Persistent” program will make sure of that at an 85% rate. So you should be practicing your presentation. Make sure your slides are simply points of reference not something for you to read from. Images with few words will work the best. Write down what you want to convey to the client during your presentation. Don’t just say it; write it down. This will make all of the difference in the world. Anticipate the questions the prospect is going to ask. Write those down. This is what professionals do. I have always said the answers are not the problem, the questions are the problem. Because if the questions are well enough defined, the answers become obvious.
6. Develop a list of additional prospects. To some extent, sales is a numbers game. That is, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince. You have to talk to many people to make a sale. I have yet to find a successful salesperson that closes every sale. People that have a high percentage of opportunities that close often have a low sales amount.
So while you are waiting, work on your next group of prospects. Ask yourself some of the following questions: Where does the product have the most use? Who are the prospects that look most like my current list of clients? How can I group these by geography? What size company is my best prospect?
So now you know the six things you should do while waiting for the prospect to call back. If you get tired of waiting and want to get to the decision maker fast, and with a personal introduction, go to www.axcelora.com and learn how this unique company can speed your sales process.
Over the past 15 years I have had the opportunity to visit the corporate office of hundreds of national retail and restaurant companies. During these visits I always took the time to look around the lobby of the office. There were usually articles that would highlight the culture of the company. In one office I noticed they spoke about their employees and their value, in another office they talked about the drive to find new products or foods to satisfy the needs of the consumer. I have also seen many companies talk about their history; some even putting them into book form. All of these tactics of reinforcing the culture of the company are worthwhile exercises. It is when there is disagreement in the agenda of the company that things start to fall apart.
The easiest example of opposing agendas in the retail arena is the battle between brick and mortar and ecommerce. You can certainly understand how this happens; the brick and mortar is threatened by the high percentage sales gain (shiny new object) being constantly thrown in their face by management. They can see the numbers daily and become fixated by them instead of worrying about the real competition. The pay plans of each division are not designed to reward the overall gain of the company in a way significant enough to change behavior. While some management thinks this type of strife within an organization is a healthy way to grow the business, they are simply wrong. These two groups are fighting so hard for resources and attention within the organization they often forget about the threats from outside the organization.
Another area where there can be opposing agendas is in the area of inventory control. The merchant and the store team are often on the same side of the duel; they never want to be out of stock. They want extra inventory to mark down so they can drive sales during traditional soft periods in retail. On the other side of the discussion is the CFO. He wants to have inventory magically appear just as the customer reaches for it on the shelf. He does not understand the value of a full store to paint a merchandise picture for the customer.
In the franchise world of restaurants there exists another big area of opposing agendas. While a franchisee normally purchases a franchise partly because of his reputation, and that reputation is built on the back of a number of stores, he does not want another location anywhere nearby. The franchisor is normally paid on the gross sales of the entire franchise system; so the more sales the more they make. On one side of the discussion you have a party that wants exclusivity and on the other side you have a party that wants total coverage. So, what is the solution?
The solution to all three of these problems is simply respect. If you respect the other party to the discussion you will listen to what they have to say in the context of your opinion. The Brick and Mortar retailers should realize that the consumer likes to shop both on line and in the store. The e-retailer should understand that working with the Brick and Mortar part of the business gives the consumer a better shopping experience. They should stop worrying about protecting their turf and start worrying about working together. If this can be accomplished there is no reason the e-tailers like Zappos.com should even exist. Because omni-channel retailers have a huge strategic advantage over pure play e-tailers.
Respect is also the key to the inventory problem. When central planners realize that individual stores, given the right tools and pay plan, can do a much better job at the store level than central units can, they will be given back both the authority and responsibility to keep the store in stock. Store managers, in both specialty and big box retailing, can change the direction of the merchandise mix because of their personal preference. They will sell more of a product if they are excited about that product. This will also be the same for each department within a big box store. But, you cannot simply give the store team authority, you have to give them responsibility and hold them financially accountable. When you ask people to fly, give them the proper tools and explain how rewarding it will be, you will be surprised how high Orville and Wilbur will go.
I have observed many different franchise organizations. There seems to be an incredible amount of friction in so many of them. This friction comes from a lack of respect. From the moment the franchisee purchases a franchise he forgets the reason that he agreed to pay a lump sum of money and a percentage of all revenue that his/her franchise could generate. He goes from “I am so grateful you wonderful people allowed me to be part of this wonderful team” to “You are stealing my money and I am not getting anything for it.” He forgets all of the effort that went into developing and growing the business. And, he forgets that he agreed to the terms without any gun being involved. And the franchisor is no better. Rather than looking at the overall health of the business, the franchisor forgets about the hard work that the franchisee does each and every day. Work that he agreed he would support with store visits, advertising to drive traffic, and continued product development to keep the franchisee competitive.
All of these opposing agendas can be fixed with respect. I was at the Restaurant Leadership conference two years ago and a group of franchisees came to my booth. They were accompanied by a member of the franchise leadership team. It was like the pied piper leading around his flock. You could tell that this group was all on the same page. They looked toward each other for continued success. And, during the past 5 years this franchise has had outstanding success. It wasn’t an accident.
So, how do you fix opposing agendas within an organization? By respectfully listening to each other. If you put your own individual success ahead of that of the organization then you are just waiting for your next job. When you start caring about the success of others you will realize that their success will make you even more successful in your life.
Let’s start out by saying that I am a Baby Boomer. Now, for those of you who don’t know, the Baby Boomer generation are the people that were born to the Greatest Generation. This is the group of Americans who survived the Great Depression, went off and won World War II, and came back and rebuilt America. When they came back to America they got married, started careers, and had children…lots of children. Remember, they had been off to war so there was this huge void of children being born until the men and women got back to America. Hence, the Baby Boomer generation. Much like the media likes to put names on the various generations of today, we got a name.
For the next 60 years everything we touched became huge. When we started going to school, there were not enough schools for us so our parents built more schools, lots more schools. When we got to high school, they wanted us to stay in school and get a better education than they did so they went and built more colleges. Lots more colleges and even Junior Colleges (later called Community Colleges). Then we fought our own war and came back from that, but not to cheering parades like our parents. So we used our education and went to work.
While we didn’t start Silicon Valley and Silicon Prairie and all of the other places where you could use a transistor, we sure put the fire in their growth. Because our parents insured we had every opportunity we took advantage the ones that make sense to us. We did well in our lives.
President Kennedy had us involved in physical fitness so we played sports, exercised, and traveled more than any other generation before us. He also ignited our technology leadership when we began to lag behind Russia in the space race by declaring we would be first to the moon. This effort might in fact be responsible for our current technology leadership decades later.
As adults we got to be part of the beginnings of the computer as a tool usable throughout business, not just in the IT department. We got to enjoy the easy access to cellular phones (yes, we used the entire word) and cable TV (not sure what ever happened to the outside antennas and rabbit ears. Remember when you would yell at your brother for walking in front of the rabbit ears and messing up the signal?)
And, as a whole, we did well financially. While not everyone became rich, we did more than OK. The Baby Boomer generation today is the wealthiest generation in the history of the world. We can, as a group, buy what we want, eat well, and travel to see our grand children.
But, there is no store for us. Shocking if you asked me and if you didn’t you should have. How can the entire retail community and their collective minds have forgotten about the Baby Boomers? We fueled them through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and now we have been kicked to the curb. No one cares that we have more disposable income than Gen X, Y or whatever letters they come up with. We are simply not paid attention to. Our parents are certainly catered to with all of the special services being offered by Senior communities and health organizations, but we are not ready for that. While we are in our 60’s now, we are not an old 60 thanks to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and the goals we had. We are, for the most part, pretty young for 60.
So, someone pay attention. There should be a clothing store for us. For women Chico’s and Talbot’s do a good job. Stylish clothing that fits the body that you have when you are 60, not 16.
But, what about the men? Where do we go for similar options that women have? In the specialty arena there is simply not a store aimed at the male end of the Baby Boomer Generation. While we don’t get dressed to go out to dinner like our parents did, we sometimes want something nicer than a golf shirt and shorts. And, we want to be able to chat with employees that knows what he or she is talking about. Chico’s has this and so does Talbots. Why not men? If you were to walk through a mall and look at the stores you would quickly come to the conclusion that American women are well dressed and men walk around naked. I have seen men naked before, this is not a sight we should want to share with anyone.
Next let’s go onto electronics. The Baby Boomer generation is more informed about electronics than our parents, but much less informed than our children. We have the money to make our life more enjoyable as well as a basic understanding that things can get done, we just don’t get excited about the next app that can bring us nirvana. We had nirvana in the 60’s and it was not nearly as good as we thought it was going to be.
The problem with electronics in general is the opposing pull of two different forces. One the one hand is the constant pressure of lowering prices of products. In 1972 a four function calculator cost $119.95 and we could not keep them in stock. Today they are $2 or less. In 2005 a 50 inch Plasma TV cost $3,500, today that TV is all but blister packed and cost $299 or less. So the manufacturers add more features to the product to keep the retail price up. So, instead of a four function calculator you get a calculator that is functions you wanted in 1972. And that TV now is 4X HD with features that no one can explain, and if they could you still would not know why you needed them.
And on the other had you have consumers that simply don’t need to have 2,000,000 apps on their phone, 200 features on their SLR, and a refrigerator that will order food for you.
We need our own store.This EASY Electronics store would be for Baby Boomers. It would have “not so smart” phones. Phones that would have big buttons already installed with extra loud speakers that could be compatible with our hearing aids. There would be just a few features already installed that would make sense. Perhaps a program that would allow our kids to know where we are…if we wanted to let them know. It would have just a few SLR cameras. The software attached with this would be easy. Perhaps an RF product built in that would allow this camera to talk with our computer. It would have easy-to-use computers without most of the features that gamers are looking for, but basic communications software. It would have electronic health equipment that would make our lives easier. And if we bought a product like a Fit Bit, we would be asked to bring our laptop to the store and we would load the app for you. Because this store would not be the cheapest store in town, it would be the smartest. The employees would be trained to speak to Boomers. We don’t mind paying for things that we need to make our life better. Easy Electronics would also have products that would make our travel life better. EE would be happy to insure your GPS worked and would show you the easiest and most economical way to use it in the country you are traveling to. We would also set up your phone so that it worked in that country.
And finally in EE we would have a “grandchildren’s” section. This would be the place where you could find smart electronics. Our smart electronics would be products that would prepare grandchildren for the future. Not just computers projects, but robotic projects as well. Our customers would be known as the cool grandparents who think about their grandchildren’s intellectual growth without making it boring.
So, someone build us a store. We promise to come and visit and buy if you have done it right. We need our own store. We all promise to give you free “consulting” on this store for the first 10 hours of questions you have, but build us a store. Whoever does it first will have a winner.
B2B selling can sometimes be such a long sales cycle that it will make you crazy. As a colleague of mine once said, “customers can suck all of the joy out of the sale.” But it is not a lost cause. There are some very specific things you can do as a professional sales person that can cut the sales cycle in half.
First let me define my steps in a sales cycle:
• Define the prospect
• Get the appointment
• Prepare for the presentation
• Present to the prospect
• Close the sale
My steps may be different from others that you have read, but they are all similar. Not only will we help you understand these step buts we are also going to be specific and help you cut out activities that are prolonging the sales cycle today
1. Define the customer. Here is where most people fail. Let me state one important fact…Not everyone is your customer. At Axcelora, we know that people selling small tickets to small retailers are not our customer. While they might want our ability to introduce them to the retail community, they simply cannot afford our price. It doesn’t add up. So, take the time to define who your customer is and who your customer is not. For the first six months don’t vary from your definition. There will many temptations, don’t fall into the trap of “everyone needs what you have”…it simply is not true.
a. Once you have defined who you think your customers are you should define, in the terms of your company, which service or product you have that they need. Here is one of the big time savers of shortening the sales cycles; don’t force what you have on the customer. If it is not an obvious fit, go onto the next customer. You will have plenty of time to fish for the outliers; don’t spend your initial work on this unlikely candidate.
2. Play business geography. If you don’t know how to play you should learn. After you have defined company XYZ you should first take some time to determine who you know that works at that company. It does not have to be at the same department, in headquarters, or still working there (although those would be preferable) just someone that has ties to the company. If that doesn’t work think of someone that works in the same vertical as they are most likely to have connections to your target company. Don’t forget to check out Social networks like LinkedIn to spur your imagination. If you can get an introduction from a person into the target company, you have just cut your sales cycle considerably. Being introduced to a decision maker by a friend of the decision maker breaks down one of the biggest barriers to the sale…lack of trust.
3. Cold call with confidence. As I have mentioned in my previous post, Is your Sales Force Getting the job done? no one likes cold calling. However, one way to improve your success in cold calling is preparation. If you are going to call a prospect on the list you have just spent considerable time to create you should KNOW about the prospect's business. You should certainly use the internet to do your initial research, it is invaluable. I would say it is the 2ND best source of information. The best place to find out about a retailer or a restaurant is in their store or restaurant itself. Visit the store, touch the merchandise, look at the customers, and most importantly talk with the staff. Tell them you are about to call on the home office and you want to be prepared. Ask them what they can tell you about the business. What are the problems they are seeing in the operations of the business? (You should be constantly thinking about how you can help them solve those problems.) The more informed you have before your first call, the more success you will have once you get to chat with the appointment maker. You will KNOW their business. Having this confidence will keep your mind in the game. In the past it typically has taken me 9-10 calls before I got to speak to a live person…most of my colleagues stopped at 2.
4. Visit the customer right BEFORE you visit the customer. Now that you have scheduled the appointment, don’t stop preparing. Go back to either the same store or a different one and do your research once again. Then, go to the stores' competitors. When you go to the appointment you want to have visited the store more recently than the client. You should look for the problems your product or service can solve. Prepare yourself for how your service can deliver increased ROI. While technology is exciting, if it doesn’t deliver increased ROI your prospect will not and should not buy from you.
5. Practice your presentation. It always amazed me when someone would come to the office to present their service, merchandise, or real estate and it would seem like it was the first time they had ever seen the presentation. Practice your presentation; then practice some more. I once went on a presentation with a brand new sales person from our team at Buxton. It was his first pitch so he was nervous. But he did a great job. He knew the presentation as well as anyone in our company. He later told me he had practiced the presentation with his wife as his audience so often, that she could do it as well as he could. He turned out to be one of our best sales people. Because he practiced.
a. Two hints on the presentation. 1- Always start out by asking what the state of the company is. While you did your research, they may have made a big announcement that morning you would know nothing about. 2- NEVER read from the slides. If your client can’t read then you have the wrong client.
6. Stop Selling and Start Listening. I don’t know why, but sales people just cannot seem to shut up. God gave us two ears and one mouth; use them in the correct ratio. This will shorten the cycle faster than anything you do. If you are actively listening, your prospect should be selling herself on your ideas. Listen to the clues. If you are presenting to a group, they will begin by talking with each other; let them talk. You should also be listening by asking questions of the group. If you have done steps 4 and 5 with the necessary diligence you will have no problem guiding the conversation to a successful conclusion. Don’t worry if the conversation gets very animated; that is a good thing.
7. AFTO. AFTO stands for Ask For The Order. The customer knows why you are there; you know why you are there; Ask For The Order. Too many sales people forget that the customer wants you to ask for the order. So you leave the meeting thinking you did a great job. The conversation was animated, the presentation was to the point, and the client seemed to want the service you were presenting. You left the room without ASKING and thus prolonged the sales cycle. A NO answer is better than no answer. If you have a NO answer then you can try and find out the why or you can go onto the next prospect, either way is OK. But if you don’t have an answer you simply go home thinking you did a good job. You wait weeks for the customer to get back to you or not returning your calls. Cut the cycle time and ASK. It won’t hurt.
And now a message from sponsor Axcelora (www.axcelora.com). If you want to cut your cycle time even more (cutting out steps 2 and 3) simply go to www.axcelora.com and set up some time to chat with our team. They can help you determine who the decision maker in most of today’s retailers and then set up a personal appointment to meet with them. So, in accordance with step 7, will you contact us today?
The Board of Directors of every retail organization has one primary responsibility, picking the Chief Executive Officer of the Company. Now, they have other responsibilities which include insuring the integrity of the company, setting the salaries of the top people, agreeing to the strategy of the company, but their most important job is picking and retaining the CEO.
I have been observing boards over the last several years, and I can tell you that some of them seem to have not done the job the way I would like to see it done. So here are the 5 things that I have observed that seem to bring a poor CEO to a retailer. Stay away from these 5 things and you improve your chances of bringing the right leadership to your retail company.
1. Hire someone from outside your company. This is a huge mistake.
a. It gives the current executives of the company an immediate dismal review of their efforts. When you have a retail organization with hundreds, if not thousands of units, you would think a CEO could be developed from inside the company.
b. The new CEO has to spend time to learn the history and culture of the current company.
c. The new CEO wants to bring in friends from other places he/she has worked in the past. To me this says that he is not a teacher and that, without firsthand knowledge, thinks the current staff cannot get the job done. What type of message are you sending?
d. Your new leader should be with your company at least 5 years in leadership positions before being elevated to the CEO role.
Now I must say that there are exceptions to this rule. The best exception is the Pier 1 hiring of Alex Smith. He has done an exceptional job of leading this retailer back to success. Mr. Smith was, and is a merchant first and he has a passion and history in the category.
2. Hire a CEO with a Finance background. Perhaps this should be Number 1 in the list, but it surely is number 2. Retail is an industry of passion and finance is an industry of dispassion. While understanding the financial aspects of your company is a must, it can be taught and it can be hired. You simply cannot hire passion for the product and the customer. I think the downfall of one of our nation’s largest retailers is when they got into the credit card business. The profits from this enterprise were huge. What the board forgot was that unless product was sold there would be no profit. The financial tail was wagging the merchandise dog and the company began its long downward slide.
3. Hire someone for the CEO’s job that is not a merchant. I began my career in retail running stores. I loved and still loved all aspects of store operations. However, the true genius of retail is in the buying not the selling. The Chief Executive Officer, the heart and soul of the company, must come from the merchant ranks. If you want to be a CEO, go spend time as a merchant. Not a store ops person, not an attorney, not in finance, not in logistics but as a merchant. Not that all of those aren’t important, they are vital for the success of the company. But just as a nurse, dietitian, X-Ray technician, and anesthesiologist are important in a successful heart surgery, you really want the cardiologist running the team. The merchant will set the tone for the company. Look what happened to J.Crew when Mickey Drexler came on board. He is a merchant, in fact many have called him a modern day Merchant Prince. He is the soul of J. Crew, and a great hire.
4. Hire a CEO that is not outgoing and doesn’t want to visit the customer, the vendors, or the stores. I know that this sounds incredulous, but there are retail CEO’s that have been hired that simply only talk to the board and investors. The other three constituencies of a retail company (customers, employees and vendors) are totally ignored. I just don’t think customer interaction is one of the topics that is probed during the interview process. If you don’t love the customer, enjoy being with employees, and respect the vendors you simply cannot be a successful retail CEO. That does not mean that you cannot have a successful business career, it means that retail is not the place for you. When we opened one of our stores, not only was the CEO out front greeting consumers for 8 hours in a row, he had his wife were working the grand opening as well. The passion for the business is something that you just cannot fake.
5. Hire a CEO that is worried about his board. As I stated earlier, hiring a CEO that does not care about the employees, customers, or vendors is one of the 5 steps necessary to hire a CEO that will fail. The fifth and final step is to hire a CEO that will care more about pleasing the board than pleasing the other three constituencies. There should not be a fire drill every three months to make a presentation to the board. If leadership is working right, and the first job of a CEO is to be a leader, then pulling the information for a board presentation should be easy. If the board has put such fear into the CEO’s mind, then the board has made another misstep. The CEO should be worrying about the sales report, P&L, Cash Flow, data security, company integrity, the future threats to the business, personnel growth, anything but whether or not the board is happy with the font of the presentation. Don’t worry about the stock price either. If sales and profits are right, the stock price will follow.
Retail and Restaurants are a special place to work. No other business categories have closer ties to their consumers than retailers and restaurants. Picking the right CEO with the right leadership capabilities is vital. As George Santayana said “those that cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Over the 25 years that I was responsible for store operations I learned a few practices that made my visits more productive. I thought it was about time I share them with the rest of the world.
1. Look for what the store team is doing right
Too often when a District Manager or Regional Manager goes to visit a store they are on a mission to show the store team how smart they are by finding everything they can that is wrong. While it is certainly everyone’s job to make things better, a more productive way to start is to find some things that the store is doing very well. After all, you would not have made your manager the manager of the store if you had not seen some skill sets in him/her. Ask yourself these questions: Is the pricing correct? Is the merchandise functioning? Are the front windows well displayed? Is the cash and wrap uncluttered? (An interesting side note on clutter - how much does the home office send to the stores that is at cross purposes to itself? Is there a central PERSON that has to approve EVERYTHING that goes to the store?) As you are finding what the store is doing right, ask the store manager to point out what could be better. If they can’t or won’t point out areas that can be improved, you have a problem with your store manager.
2. Look at the store as a customer would see it
When I was first a store manager I learned how to run a store from three people, Bud Hollander (my dad) Sam Golub and Sam’s wife. (store managers in our Ukiah store). All three of them told me to look at the store like a customer. To do that, you should ask the following questions: What overall story is the store telling? Is it neat and clean or is it dirty? Is there something special going on or is it business as usual? Is it easy to find things by themselves or is the signage a mess? Is it a friendly store with excited people or does the store not have any life? If you think about the customer viewpoint as you walk in the store, just for a moment or two, you may very well see a different store. If the store is not aimed at helping the customer shop, then you have a problem.
3. Ask where the “hot spot” of the store is.
Every store I have ever managed has a “hot spot.” This is the spot that every customer spends a bit of time. I was just in Nebraska Furniture Mart in The Colony (Dallas) TX and they have a "hot spot" in each of the sections of the store. Ask the sales team where the "hot spot" in the store is, they all know. Then work with the team to determine what merchandise should go there. Don’t worry about the Plan O Gram, because this is more important. You will be empowering the manager and her team to be successful. What could be more important than that? Write down what item is going to go into the "hot spot" and have the manager drop you a note on the sales. You will be shocked at the results of this empowerment.
4. Go to the bathroom
Now doesn’t this sound odd. However, I have found that this act will give you the opportunity to find out what is really going on in the store. Everyone will, of course, leave you alone on your chore. If the bathroom is clean, then the store is most likely to be clean. If there is no toilet paper on the roll then you probably have a manager who is not looking at the details and has not put pride into the performance of the store.
5. Look around the back room
When you are finished in the bathroom, walk around the back room. Is there merchandise in the back room that should be out on the sales floor? Is there discontinued merchandise that is not out on the floor? The efficiencies that can be had with an organized back room are worth a fortune. If your back room is organized you can spend more time on the sales floor.
6. Sit down at the managers desk
Every retailer should want his store manager on the floor as much as possible. I don’t care what size store you have, your manager must WANT to be on the floor teaching sales people and helping customers. It is easy to find bookkeepers; it is tough to find sales managers that are passionate. By sitting at the manager’s desk you can tell where she is spending her time. If there are magazines that should not be there then continue to look around. If the manager is keeping his personal finance at the office you have found a danger sign.
7. Find something to sell.
Every store has many items for customers to buy. You should walk around the store and help the team find one thing they can sell. It really doesn’t matter what that one thing is; just find one thing. Then help the team create the story they want to tell about that one thing. Then challenge them on how many of that one item they can sell in the next week. You should look for an item that has a more universal appeal but in the end that should be the team’s decision.
8. Look for cell phones.
I think this is a huge issue for retailers today. I can think of NO reason that any sales people should carry a cell phone with them on the sales floor. If there is an emergency they can be reached on the store phone. Phones on the sales floor are like phones in a moving car…they are a distraction. They DON’T belong on the sales floor. And, they don’t belong with you while you are making a store visit. Most likely you are only in this store once a month. While you are visiting the store, pay attention to the people and operations in the store. Make your calls either before you visit the store or after you leave. While you are there talk with the team and the customers…it is your job.
9. Ask what you can do to help them
Ask the team at the store what you can do to help them…and write it down. Listen carefully to both the words and body language. Then follow up with them getting any questions answered within a week of your visit to the store. This is retail so no question should take more than a week. You may not be able to do everything you discuss with the store team, that’s OK. But make sure you let them know what is going on. The best person I have ever seen follow up is Bob Higgins of Trans World Entertainment Corp. He is simply unrelenting. I admire him on this and so many other areas.
10. Ask how we are wasting their time
And finally, find out what the home office is doing to waste their time. I can guarantee that they have been given tasks that are just pure time wasters. The people in your home office think nothing about having the stores count this or more that. They will have the Store Manager go out of the store to see the competitive set of retailers within 100 yards of the store. That is not what you want the store manager to do. Len Roberts once said that “We have two types of employees here those that serve the customer and those that serve the server.” Too many retailers think they have a third type of person in the mix…those that serve the home office. Kill that attitude. Tell the store people that they are not allowed to do anything that does not come through the retail chain of command. You have to keep everyone focused on one thing …Selling.
When you visit the store you are there for one thing, to help the store team become successful. If you follow the guidelines above for three months you will see a startling difference in your results.
For another startling idea go to www.axcelora.com as we would like to chat with you about joining our team.
Help your employees get rich, you will like how it feels
Today I would like to talk about the stupidity of small thinking. While I worked at Radio Shack (1972-1997) our company was run by Charles Tandy. While we had other leaders during that time, and Charles actually passed away halfway through my time there, we were run by his ideas.
Charles was a brilliant man. He realized early on, that if the people working for him participated in the success or failure of the company the company would do well. I know, you are all saying “duh” about now, but that concept is the history in many of our biggest companies. Everyone in the company only did well if there was success. There were some lean years along the way, where we all suffered, but the years that were successful were very successful.
Charles also realized that you couldn’t pay your winners too much and you couldn’t pay your losers too little. He believed that any store could be turned around. I don’t know how many times I heard about the store in Bakersfield that was a loser until it got the right store manager in it, and then it was a big winner. And when that store turned around, the store manager made a bundle - as did the District Manager, the Regional Manager and the Divisional VP.
That passion of recognizing and rewarding the winners survived past Charles Tandy through Lew Kornfeld, Bernie Appel, and John Roach. They never worried about paying people too much or too little. They followed the pay plan that Charles developed that did not pay anyone anything; rather it let people earn what they were worth. You never had to go in and negotiate with your boss for a raise because you knew exactly how to increase your pay, each and every day. The more you sold, the better you protected the assets, the quicker you got rid of old and excess inventory and the more money you made.
We were paid well. In 1980-81 fiscal year I had the opportunity to run the most profitable district in the history of Radio Shack. The average store manager working for me that year made over $50,000…in 1980. And their average salary that year (not total earnings but salary) was less than $20,000 per year. They earned the rest. No one, not the CEO, CFO, Treasurer, not anyone worried about how much we were paying our team because every single one of these people earned their pay. They worked hard, “owned” their business and worked to develop more people just like them. That year we promoted 20% of our Store Managers to District Managers. Many of these people took pay cuts for promotions because they knew that they could earn more in the next job because we had with no limit on what could be earned-either on the high end or on the low end. We loved to pay big money.
Today, that same company is struggling because they let fear and worry invade their business. They worried about the manager of the small volume stores and they feared paying their top managers too much money (I had 5 store managers make over $100,000 running one Radio Shack in 1980 out of 25 total stores). They should not have worried about the small store managers. They should have spent that energy working with the small store manager to become a big manager by improving that small store. And, they should have looked at the criteria they had to build a new store. With the fear of opening a small store hanging over their head, perhaps they would have been more careful in their site selection. Opening a store just for the sake of opening one is not smart business.
And now, worrying about paying people too much money! I can tell you I never had an easier job as a District Manager than running that district in South Florida. Because the people were doing so well, and our smaller store managers saw how well the big store managers were doing, everyone worked very hard. We improved in every single category we measured. In stock, sales gain, gross margin, names and addresses, inventory turns, every single area showed improvement, because we had people that had a taste of success and they liked the flavor.
As a young DM, Marvin Cash told me that everyone who reported directly to Mr. Tandy was a millionaire. Marvin said Mr. Tandy had the best job in the company because everyone working for him knew what success tasted like and knew that hard work and good execution would keep that taste in their mouth.
Don’t be afraid to let your people earn so much money that they will be rich beyond their biggest dream. Give them a reason, encourage the culture and pay for success. You will enjoy the moment.
Guido Pentsy, the most successful manager in the history of Radio Shack, once told me that if all my store managers got wet in the shower of money, that I would take a shower as well. He was very right. I would like to invite all of you to take a look at Axcelora (www.axcelora.com) and come get wet with the rest of us.
For more than 10 years I led the sales force of the now, leading retail customer analytics company in the country. But when I started there, things were not the same as they are today. In my first attempt at B2B sales I thought it would be simple. I thought I would determine who I wanted to speak with, call them up, and have a conversation about our products and services. I thought I would then determine exactly what their need was, which product would solve that need and close the sale. I was so wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to start.
The first problem that I encountered was that there were no territories for the sales people at our company. That’s right; there were no geographic territories, no vertical territories, no size territories, and no specifically defined customers. If an article came out in the newspapers, we had two or three different sales people start chasing the same customer. Someone would start chasing real estate, someone else would be working the CFO’s office, and someone else would work the office of the CEO. And, on top of that, none of the sales people would share within our own organization that they were chasing because they did not trust each other. It was the old Wild West come to life. While it made some of the sales people very aggressive, it also made us look unprofessional in front of a few clients.
As I began to see some of the faults of what we were doing, (even though we were growing at a 20% + pace), I knew that I would be able to successfully drive more business if I worked within a territory. So I defined a vertical territory for myself and started to concentrate on that vertical. I got buy-in from senior management and went to work.
By defining which companies I wanted to talk with I was able to learn much more about the industry. Some of the things I researched were:
• Who knew who and where did they come from
• Who were the natural competitors
• Who did the company wake up worry about every morning
• What were the key factors for the success of the industry
• What made this vertical different from all other verticals
• How could our company help this vertical avoid pain
• What were the key points of pain
• How important was growth in the industry
• What was the Return on Incremental Revenue
• What was the cost of build out for a typical unit
• What was the impact of additional competitors in the market place? Was it positive or negative?
I then went back in the archives of our business. I looked to see in this particular vertical if we did a better job in landing the biggest clients, mid-size clients, or small clients? I wanted to know what our sweet spot was. I thought that we might as well fish where the fish had been biting before. The search began to narrow.
So I knew the size and type of company that I would chase. My next step was to put together a list of every company that had the first two characteristics. I was looking to see if there were any geographic clusters that would make sense. If we could set appointments with more than one company in a market, we could significantly lower our cost of appointments. And, surprisingly, companies of the same industry tend to cluster together. Central Florida has more casual dining restaurants headquartered there than any other part of the country. Portland, Oregon has more athletic shoe companies than anywhere else in the US. With all this new found knowledge, I was able to cold call with confidence. I had a plan. I found that it was much easier to make the second appointment in a city once I had the first appointment. People were willing to meet with us if they did not feel the obligation of the financial cost we incurred to visit with them.
Here is something else that I learned along the way; a lesson pushed on me by one of my colleagues. If I worked the phones with my business friends and followed the string I could sometimes find an introduction. Believe me, this was a painful path, because not only did I have to find the right friend, I had to convince them it was in their best interest to introduce me to their friend. But, when I could make that happen the way my colleague did, I would have a great appointment.
The idea of a personal introduction being the best way to get to a prospect is nothing new. My colleague that taught me the beauty of this works at it every day. He is constantly grooming his contact list. He is sending interesting articles to his business friends as well as notes for their birthdays etc. In short, he is probably working harder at his craft than the poor souls that are chained to the desk cold calling…and he is being rewarded with huge sales.
In the competitive world of B2B selling there is now an alternative way of getting that personal introduction. Axcelora is a one of a kind company. A company that has put together a group of professionals with strong Rolodexes that are willing to share them with the right company. These Partners with Axcelora have spent careers in the retail and restaurant worlds. They have access to decision makers and are willing to share that access with professional organizations that will help their friends succeed at their jobs.
This is the new world of selling into the retail and restaurant space. Access to the right people with the ability to present your product or idea with just one phone call. What could be better?
Contact Axcelora today. www.axcelora.com
On average your Sales Force is getting the job done for you. On average they are making budget (whatever that number is). On average they are exceeding last year’s sales. And on average they are driving enough business to keep you in business. So, if you are happy to live with “On Average” then there is no reason to keep reading because this piece only deals with people that are working to be Above Average.
Here are some facts:
• Sales people would rather sell than anything else. They put selling above planning, preparing, ground work, cold calling, paperwork, following up and even final delivery. A good sales person does all of those things, but the one thing they are most passionate about is selling. Don’t ever forget that.
• Sales people hate cold calling, especially good sales people. They cold call because they realize cold calling is a necessary evil. They would much rather warm call (call someone they know), wait for a prospect to call them, do paperwork, clean the trash, work a trade show (very close to cold calling but they get to go to exotic places and sit around and commiserate with their fellow sales people about cold calling and standing at trade shows) or clean up their Salesforce.com files than cold call. They simply hate cold calling. But, to get leads, they will do it until they are successful and relying on referrals - the sweetest sound a good sales person has ever heard.
So, is the average Sales Company average because they have their best sales people do something they dislike half their day? I think the answer is yes. That also leads me to the conclusion that they are average because they use too many unqualified sales people just to generate enough leads. When you don’t have qualified leads for your good sales staff to talk with, you demand that they actually talk to unqualified leads thinking it is a numbers game. This effort has you hiring junior sales people because they are a bit hungrier than your senior staff. This also requires either you, or one of your best sales people to train the new folks, go on a few appointments with them, shepherd the deal along if it gets close to closing.
Your Sales Force probably gets the job done you ask them to do, but not the job you either hired them for or they are passionate about. Remember - they love to sell, they want to sell and they are good at selling. .
Why do you have someone that can earn you several million dollars a year in revenue making cold calls? It costs you about $7,000 for every good appointment a sales person makes from a cold call (based on one appointment every week and a one in four close ratio) with a travel expense for each of those appointments. But that is only the hard cost. The bigger cost is the cost of morale. When your Sales Force has a bad meeting they blame it on the product, the Power point, anything except that they made an appointment with the wrong person. So how can they avoid a bad appointment in the future?
There is a new solution to this problem and that solution is Axcelora.
Like the show, Would you like to be a Millionaire, we suggest you Phone a Friend. You say you don’t have a friend at the right company that can make decisions? Axcelora does and we are happy to introduce your company to our friends; a proper introduction and appointment at that.
So what can Axcelora do for you?
• Set appointments with our business friends that are decision makers
• Eliminate your need to make useless cold calls
• Improve your close ratio because you are speaking to decision makers
• Eliminate the cost of unproductive sales people
• Make a happy, more productive Sales Force because they are doing what they love all of the time
• Increase sales
So, if your Sales Force are cold calling for leads, stop them right now and contact Axcelora.
Axcelora will help your Sales Force get the job done you hired them to do…SELL. www.axcelora.com
Rich Hollander is a retail expert with over 40 years in the industry.