Sage Advice for Store Managers: Sales vs Task Orientation
Most people would agree that it is much more pleasant and rewarding to occupy one’s time with activities that we find enjoyable or have a natural talent for than it is to engage in activities that we dislike or have no talent for at all.
When faced with a choice of which activity to engage in it stands to reason that an individual will choose the former.
Many people choose careers that they find appealing and, even though they may still be faced with some undesirable tasks, for the most part they enjoy their work and probably strive to be successful.
Unfortunately, for some the situation is not so clear cut.
They find themselves in careers, or jobs, that they do not find appealing and may not be driven to succeed.
A relatively large percentage of retail store employees fit into this group.
With the exception of self-serve retailers – those who have designed their business model around the self-serve concept which does not require sales associates to drive the business – store employees are required to actively promote and sell merchandise to their customers.
The ability of store associates to perform the ‘selling’ activity will often make the difference between success and failure.
As stated above, if it is reasonable to expect people to do well in activities they enjoy, or at least, do not find difficult and unappealing, then it would be reasonable for sales associates who enjoy selling to be more successful, and to make a bigger contribution than those who do not.
For the individual who does not enjoy selling-either because s/he does not have the skills or simply does not want to do it – a position in a retail store may still attract them due to ease of entry.
Store Managers should be very wary of this individual.
There are so many tasks to be performed in a retail store that individuals, like the one just described, can easily make themselves quite useful.
However, the task-oriented associate will not help you reach your goals unless, of course, you have hired them strictly for the purpose of performing tasks that will allow selling associates more time, freedom, and energy to pursue the real goal – sales and revenue generation.
The luxury of having sales associates and service/maintenance associates is something few retailers can afford.
With wage costs being such a large portion of their expense base, most retailers require associates to generate revenue.
Some retail Store Managers have lost sight of the real business goal.
In many cases, they have lost sight because they are consumed by the realities of managing the store.
This is to say that the overwhelming number of tasks to be completed seem to leave no time or energy for selling to the customer.
Of course, that can’t be so a manager who becomes task driven shouldn’t remain in the position and probably doesn’t really want to, truth be told.
Again, with the exception of the self-serve retail outlet, Store Managers must make every effort to ensure that the selling activity is going on in their store…above and beyond every other activity.
This requires a consistent, unrelenting focus on sales and other key productivity indicators.
There are things that can be done, or practiced, by Store Managers to keep that focus.
The first, and most important, is that you show yourself to be a sales-oriented individual.
You must always role model excellent selling behaviors. Talk about sales at every opportunity.
Approach every conversation with sales top of mind.
If you do not see yourself this way, you need to do whatever is necessary to become this way very quickly.
The second is to hire only real ‘salespeople’ for selling positions – people who enjoy selling and who know how to do it.
This may mean that you have to nudge them to make sure they perform their share of non-selling duties, but this is preferable to hiring task-oriented individuals and then attempting to get them to sell which, by the way, is the sad state many, many Store Managers find themselves in.
Hiring too many task-oriented individuals is the least effective way to help the store reach its goals and will, almost certainly, create roadblocks to success.
Hiring sales-oriented individuals, on the other hand, will naturally enable the consistent, unrelenting focus on sales to be maintained.
Next, make sure your expectations are crystal clear.
If you tell an associate to clean, dust or otherwise maintain a particular space or thing, make it clear that task is to be stopped immediately upon the arrival of a customer.
If you don’t make it clear, the individual may think that your instruction to perform the task trumps the need to attend to the customer.
It is natural for some people to view everything in terms of the hierarchy they are in.
To this type of person, the Store Manager is the most important individual and any instruction or direction received from the Manager will be seen to be more important than anything they, themselves, might come up with – serving the customer, for instance.
After all, the Store Manager is the person who hired and trained the associate; s/he is the one that reviews performance; s/he is the one making it possible for the associate to earn a living.
Therefore, you need to make it clear that any task or direction coming from you is always secondary to serving a customer.
Say it as often as you must just to get that expectation across. The level of success the store achieves depends on it.
When you visit retail stores you will find that most Managers have not been completely successful at making the expectation clear to everyone, even though they may try very hard.
Worse still, the Managers may not even have that expectation themselves. That is another story.
Let’s assume that a store is staffed by individuals who believe they are salespeople who want to sell but who are, in fact, task oriented. It’s easy to determine if this is the case simply by observing the activities taking place.
If a customer enters a retail store and associates immediately leave the task they were performing to provide their undivided attention – and this does not mean that they crowd the customers, refusing to let them wander around comfortably, only that they are clearly available to assist should they be needed – then they are sales focused.
They will find ways to start building rapport with the customer and will likely progress to other ‘selling steps’.
If, on the other hand, they say hello and continue with their task – head down – while the customer wanders around their store, they are not sales focused.
These employees are expected to sell, and they say they understand that but, as evidenced by their behavior, clearly they prefer to do tasks. They will even seek out more and more tasks rather than have to sell to customers.
This is why so many retail stores are not able to provide quality shopping experiences for their customers – the task-oriented individuals who may, indeed, be pleasant are not looking after customers…they are avoiding them.
It’s not possible to be a productive salesperson if you avoid customers or have as little to do with them as possible.
These individuals always have something else to do that absolutely must be done because serving customers leads to, or should lead to, selling to customers.
If a person does not want to sell, then they will try avoidance. In the event they cannot avoid the customer they will likely assist cheerfully and do their ‘job’. But not necessarily sell.
A good salesperson understands that appearing available to the customer is an absolute minimum.
It is not good enough to say “let me know if you need anything” and then continue with a task.
That would require the customer to ‘bother’ or ‘interrupt’ the associate and many people are not comfortable with that, especially if they aren’t really sure about an item.
Customers who may not be sure that they are ready to buy may feel that they should not occupy the associate’s time.
I can’t begin to cover all of the possible reasons why a customer would not approach a ‘task consumed’ individual and it is not necessary to do so. Just suffice to say that they may not.
And, of course, some customers would interrupt the ‘task consumed’ individual just because. The point is successful salespeople do not allow room for misunderstandings like this.
They are perceived to be available and focused on the customer. Period.
Tasks must be managed very carefully in retail stores. The work must be done, of course. The store must be cleaned and well merchandised. Paperwork must be kept up to date. Stock must be received in a timely manner. The list goes on.
All these tasks are certainly important to the business and contribute a great deal to the success of the store.
The Store Manager is responsible for managing in such a way as to allow associates to sell and to perform required tasks.
There is no task that can be a top priority during open hours of operation.
Building relationships with customers, selling to them, and treating them with the respect they deserve are top priorities during open hours of operation.
Nothing else makes sense.
Please pass this message along to your Store Managers.
Until next time…All the Success!