Selling Means Being Prepared

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Did you know that there are 9 Ps of selling? It was October of 2009, and I was at my first High Point Market as a rep, which meant that I had a boss for the first time in almost fifteen years. It was also my very first day as a rep. I was Martian green and wandered the showroom before the sales meeting, wondering how it would be possible to learn all the products in the next 18 hours. My then boss, the incomparable Chuck Reilly, delivered his usual smoothly styled sales meeting and presented us with the 9 Ps of Selling. For the life of me, I can’t remember them all. Although I was Present in the showroom, I was about as Prepared to conduct business as I was to perform heart surgery.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I was on a layover in Denver headed to El Paso, which was perfect timing because I had two hours on the ground to watch what was billed as Serena Williams’s last tournament. I love sports, and I thought that, since the US Open was getting into the later rounds, the competition would be tough, and Serena may not play another match. I got off my flight at the Denver airport, found the AMEX lounge, and settled in to watch the match as much as possible.

What I observed was a player who was not prepared to compete. She showed up in the right clothes and brought her racquet to the court, but she looked completely unprepared to go to battle and win. I sat there stunned that this once great player, whose name is synonymous with the word CHAMPION, showed up in less than game shape. If you watched the match, you know what I mean. The sadness I felt knowing that Serena would end her career unprepared turned to bitterness when I thought about how she let all of us down, hoping to see her emerge victorious.

So why am I sharing this story with you, fine furniture folks? Well, when it comes to working on the retail floor, the most important P on the list is to be prepared. I know that’s true because that’s one of the 9 Ps I remember. The fun thing about being Prepared is that there is no such thing as being 100% prepared for anything. It is perpetual as there’s always more you can do.

I’m a fan of Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book, Extreme Ownership. It has definitely changed the way I take responsibility for things. No Excuses. I try to take the hit for everything that goes wrong and learn from it. It is a sobering experience to analyze when things go wrong and reflect on what different choices could have been made to avoid the bad outcome. I tried this out on my 15-year-old daughter when she told me it wouldn’t be her fault if she were late for class. I shared my thoughts on the topic, and she had a great comeback. “Yeah, but it’s still not my fault.”

I have a picture of a soldier going to battle as my screensaver. This dude is ready to go. He has every gadget, device, weapon, and apparatus he can possibly fit on his body. He consistently reminds me that being unprepared when you go to work will not cut it. If he’s unprepared, he may not come back. If a salesperson is unprepared, he may not make the sale. But that sale he “just doesn’t make” costs the storeowner much more than it does to the salesperson. I take it seriously, and it is not uncommon for me to be half an hour early to a sales meeting, bagels at the ready so that I am prepared to deliver an engaging hour of power, while salespeople filter in late with no ramifications or consequences.

I’ve mentioned this to store managers and owners every so often, and the sheepish response I get is always the same… “do you realize how hard it is to get people to show up to work?”

Listen, I understand that the labor market is another one of those things that sucks about the landscape of the economy right now and that the Big Resignation is real. However, I still believe that not everybody wants to be in charge. Not everyone wants to own something because if they did, they would own something by now. I contend that your employees want to do a good job for you, but they may not have the discipline to pull it off. To have a solid sales team, your brigade must be prepared to accomplish the selling mission. For that to happen, there must be accountability, and for accountability to occur, leadership must prevail. Without leadership, everything breaks down, rules become a punchline, and you have anarchy everywhere you look.

Let’s start with the basics. Define being prepared and write it out. Here’s my list.

  • Being prepared means being on time and ready to greet the guests. Whether that guest is a trainer from out of the organization or the first customer of the day. Being on time means early, and arriving on time means you’re late, and late gets you sent home for the day.
  • Prepared means you have your tools; notepad or tablet, pen, business cards, calculator that is not on your phone, tape measure, graph paper, and mints.
  • Prepared means you know what the promotions are and/or what is advertised. You know what is out of stock and coming in. You also know what the company is inventory rich in so you can help sell it down and get paid.
  • Prepared means you have appointments coming in to see you today.
  • Prepared means you fueled your body and mind before you came to work with healthy food and listened to something encouraging on the drive.
  • Prepared means you know what your customers are getting delivered today so you can check up on them when there is a lull in the action.
  • Prepared means you’ve checked on your customer’s back orders and know their status so you can let them know. Your customers are your responsibility, and leaving them at the mercy of your call center is not fair to them.
  • Prepared means your cell phone stays off the floor. When customers see a salesperson on their phone on the floor, it looks like they are disengaged.
  • Prepared means your zone is ship shape, squared away, and proudly presentable.

This sounds like a lot to expect, right? Maybe. But if you’re running a business, then it’s not too much. Pro athletes on a team need to know what the coach expects from them so they can perform to expectation. If you have a non-negotiable standard that every sales team member is to be prepared for their shift, and the definition of prepared is clear and concise, then there is no ambiguity. I promise you that when you have a sales team that understands there are rules that exist to further the professionalism of the team, the experience of the customer for whom we all work, and the profitability of the business, you’ll find that the right people will stay and others will want to be a part of it.

Jonathan Schulman

Jonathan Schulman started in his father’s Los Angeles case goods factory, working the floor during college at Shelves and Cabinets in San Diego, and then owning his own stores that he later parlayed into a few Ashley Homestore locations. For several years, Jonathan was on the road as a furniture rep for the AICO family for his first eight years, then as a multi-line rep. Jonathan is the current President of IHFRA.

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