Time to play ball!
Major League Baseball isn’t the only organization to benefit from the annual rite of spring training. The following nine pregame exercises will help you coach your bedding team to a winning summer selling season.
BY JULIE A. PALM
Major League Baseball’s spring training is over for pro players, but as mattress retailers, you still have plenty of time to strengthen your team’s skills to stay in shape for the busy summer sales season.
That’s right: It’s time to take to the field, swing that bat and run those bases—or what Sleep Savvy thinks the retail equivalent of those activities might be. We’re recommending nine selling skills and sales development strategies you and your retail sales associates can hone and implement during your own spring training camp.
1. Throw a curveball.
A pitcher who wants to stay in the game can’t throw fastball after fastball—and neither can RSAs. Almost everyone who’s worked in mattress sales for any length of time has go-to greetings, favorite mattress sets to show and preferred ways to ask for the sale. RSAs stick with them because they work, and there’s much to be said for the success that comes from practice. But shoppers can sense when a sales pitch has become rote—and that’s when RSAs need to be able to change things up.
Encourage your team members to toss in a knuckle ball or a slider. They can even make a game of it: On a slow day, they can try something new once a shift; on a busy weekend, maybe every third customer. As a manager, you can suggest specific pitches or ideas for each RSA to try or, during your next team meeting, toss around some ideas among the group and have every RSA commit to a new tactic.
2. Put on-deck time to good use.
Baseball players on deck to hit might take some swings, study the pitcher or repeat a positive phrase to ready themselves for their turn at bat. Taking a few minutes to prepare yourself at the start of the workday or shift can be just as helpful for someone in mattress retailing. RSAs should make it a practice to take a quick tour of the sales floor to familiarize themselves with new products or displays, remind themselves of current promotions, and they should check competitors’ websites, social media posts and print ads for deals they’re offering. Team members at online retailers can create similar on-deck routines.
For their part, managers can create a checklist of specific tasks they’d like RSAs to do early in each shift. Another idea for managers to help team members get off on the right foot: Provide a fresh sales tip, a bit of new product information or an inspirational message for RSAs to read each day. (Every issue of Sleep Savvy is full of such tidbits. Feel free to share!)
3. Create a minor league.
Baseball’s minor league system cultivates players’ skills and readies them for the majors, but major league players also can be sent back to the minors for additional development. Many retailers have comprehensive training programs for new employees, but no formal system for retraining and further developing long-term team members. One idea we like is to have all RSAs—regardless of tenure or success—undergo a period of retraining every year or every other. You can use a mix of classroom and on-the-floor training. We like the idea of pairing RSAs with other sales associates they can shadow and learn from. It can be an especially effective tactic if you have multiple locations and can team up RSAs who don’t typically work together.
4. Study the stats.
Baseball is all about statistics—the number of home runs hit, walks allowed, assists made, games played and more. There’s a fair bit of controversy these days about the value of traditional annual performance reviews, but there’s little doubt that giving employees regular, constructive feedback is useful, even if the word feedback itself can be a little off-putting. As Forbes contributor Josh Bersin wrote in an August 2015 article, “At work, the word often has a negative connotation. When a manager has a problem with someone, they often pull them aside and say, ‘Hey, let me give you a little feedback.’ … As one consultant put it to me, we should use the concept that ‘feedback is a gift.’ Feedback is a gift to give (i.e., we should give it kindly and with respect) and feedback is a gift to receive (we open it carefully, take it with respect, and thank the giver).”
Managers should recognize team members who perform particularly well—say, by soothing an unhappy customer or coming up with a clever social media campaign—soon after those big plays happen. But also make time to go over each team member’s overall performance. For RSAs, you can look at how each person’s average ticket, attendance, closing rate and other stats compare to store averages and top performers in each category. Use other metrics to evaluate delivery drivers, online customer service reps and other team members. With each person, pick one or two areas for them to work on during training camp. Reassess around the time of MLB’s all-star break in mid-July, and reward most-improved and outstanding players as post-season play heats up in the fall. Knowing they are working for the opportunity to earn gift certificates, a paid day off, tickets to a ballgame or other bonuses can keep your team motivated.
5. Bring in a new manager.
We don’t mean literally hire a new manager, though for some mattress retailers that might be what’s required to have a winning season. Instead, we suggest inviting someone with new ideas and enthusiasms to rally your team. Bring in a successful retailer from your area who sells something completely different to share strategies or host a physician who specializes in sleep issues.
You might want to go even further afield: Invite a comedian to talk about using humor in customer interactions or an artist to discuss approaching situations creatively. If you have an RSA on a winning streak, have a lunch-and-learn so he can share with teammates what’s been working so well.
6. Go for the triple.
In other words, don’t sell a queen size when you can sell a king size. This isn’t about forcing up the average ticket, though that’s a nice financial benefit. RSAs do shoppers who sleep with a partner an enormous favor by strongly recommending they purchase a king-size set (unless, of course, their bedroom dimensions or budget absolutely prohibits it).
As the Better Sleep Council puts it, “a king-size mattress is the best choice for couples who want maximum personal sleeping space. It’s also the best bet to accommodate that time on Sunday morning when children may pop into bed—or if the pets in your house have mattress privileges.” (The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, which publishes Sleep Savvy.)
Have your sales team practice how to deal with queen-size owners’ objections to stepping up to a bigger bed.
One good talking point: King-size mattresses give each sleeper as much room as a twin, while a queen-size bed provides partnered sleepers only as much space as a crib. Another effective talking point: Customers who purchase kings don’t return later to say they wish they’d bought a smaller bed. And don’t forget to mention that split box springs make moving king foundations more manageable.
7. Become a home-run slugger.
Sure, a triple is nice, but an out-of-the-park home run is best. In mattress retailing that means selling your customers everything they need to create a comfortable, inviting bedding ensemble. Set aside time this spring for your sales team to refresh their knowledge about the adjustable bases, pillows, linens and other sleep products you carry. Once a week or maybe once a month, concentrate on a single category and have RSAs practice incorporating those products into their sales presentation until they do so in a natural, effortless way that makes shoppers eager to make the additional purchase.
8. Sharpen those umpiring skills.
Umpires aren’t typically the fans’ favorite people on the baseball diamond, but they are necessary. It’s their job to know the rules of the game inside and out—and to make well-educated, well-reasoned judgment calls. RSAs need to know everything they can about the features and benefits of the products they are selling, but to help customers find the right mattress set, they need to be able to expertly evaluate people—just as umps need to skillfully read plays on the field. This doesn’t mean judging shoppers on their clothing or speaking style but, instead, listening carefully to their needs and desires and deftly assessing their reactions to various products.
This spring, have your RSAs work on reading body language. (The Psychology Today website has a comprehensive guide to body language at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201206/the-ultimate-guide-body-language.) Both sales and customer service teams will benefit from practicing active listening skills and asking effective questions. (The website Study Guides and Strategies offers tips for improving listening skills at www.studygs.net/listening.htm.)
9. Master stealing bases.
When it comes down to it, base stealing is about putting your team in a better position to score. It’s about hustle. If you’re selling mattresses, you’re in one of the most highly competitive divisions of retail and to succeed, you must distinguish yourself in the eyes of consumers.
Pull your team together and brainstorm. What is your current competitive advantage? What do you do better than the retailer across the street and the online seller who vies for the top result when shoppers type “mattress” into a search engine? Do you have the biggest selection in the area? Are you a factory-direct that can do custom orders? Do you have the fastest, most efficient delivery team? Are you offering a new sleep technology? Figure out what truly sets you apart. Next, decide how you can you stretch that advantage and commit to making three steps in that direction by the time the World Series starts.
Next, plan for a few extra innings with these baseball-themed marketing and employee relations ideas for the entire summer:
1) Have an all-star break sale
Major League Baseball’s 2017 All-Star Game is Tuesday, July 11. Extend your Fourth of July sales with a promotion tied to pro baseball’s midseason break, which starts in mid July. How about showcasing your own All-Stars—the mattress models with the best sales records of the season thus far?
Repurpose the red, white and blue bunting and other decorations you used over Independence Day, adding in baseball bats, mitts and balls to dress up the store entrance and sales desk. Rent a popcorn machine to re-create the inviting smell of the ballpark, while giving shoppers something to snack on as they compare mattress models.
2) Open a concession stand
It’s always nice to offer shoppers something to drink and nibble on. This summer, plan to stock red, white or blue coolers with icy bottles of water, lemonade and soda. Customers will appreciate the refreshing beverages on hot days.
During busy weekends, bring in a hot dog cart or ice cream truck. For a trendier take on the same idea, host several food trucks in your parking lot for an eating and mattress-shopping extravaganza.
Another idea you can use year-round: Send customers who’ve just bought a bed set or pillows home with a sweet treat—a little bag of individually wrapped mints they can use to create their own hotel-style turndown service.
3) Need for a 7th inning stretch
The seventh-inning stretch is one of the great traditions in baseball. It gives players a short break as they head into the final innings and, for fans, it’s a chance to stand, stretch and sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” before grabbing a final beer and bag of peanuts. Everyone needs a break, even while watching a three-hour game.
Retail is not an easy career path. There are great rewards, but also long hours and, let’s be honest, dealing with the public all day can be tough. Burnout is a real threat to productivity and sales success. Here are some signs of physical and emotional exhaustion to watch for in yourself and your employees, thanks to Psychology Today’s website:
1. Chronic fatigue
3. Forgetfulness or poor concentration
4. Physical symptoms, such as chest or gastrointestinal pain, heart palpitations, dizziness and headaches
5. Frequent illnesses, such as colds and flu
6. Loss of appetite
Other signs of burnout, according to Psychology Today, are irritability, decreased productivity, apathy and pessimism. In a Feb. 23 Huffington Post blog, members of the Young Entrepreneur Council offered up their best ideas for combating burnout. We like this bit of advice, in particular, from Fenella Kim of Reliance Star Payment Services: “Tell (employees) to stop working, go home, take a vacation, breath or get a good night’s sleep. A well-rested mind and soul are the best solution to burnout so that they can get back on track.”
Other ideas: Switch up an employee’s schedule (with her agreement, of course); relieve a team member of some routine day-to-day duties to tackle a new brain-stretching project; provide new training or education to relieve boredom; or offer a massage or spa day for a bit of feel-good pampering.
“Everyone gets burned out here and there. As a leader, you need to ask, listen and then create a solution. There is not one single reason people get burned out. We are all individuals with unique tasks, thoughts, problems, etc.,” says Jeff Cayley of Worldwide Cyclery in the blog post. “Ask and listen to people. Then come up with the best solution you can both agree on and put it into action.”
Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.